California-Oregon Dispute : Border Fight Has Townfolk on Edge
Pat Burkett, who used to live in San Jose, doesn’t want to be a Californian again.
Eddie Fisher, who retired as a Hollywood special effects man, says his property taxes will be lower if New Pine Creek becomes part of California, but he doesn’t really care.
Burkett and Fisher are among the 300 Oregon residents who would become instant Californians if the Golden State succeeds in having the border moved about a half-mile north to the 42nd parallel.
A Matter of Greed
“They’re getting greedy down there,” Oregon Gov. Vic Atiyeh has said. “They’ve got all the California coast, and now they want a little chunk of Oregon.”
Preliminary studies indicate that, as the result of an 1870 surveying error, Oregon has about 31,000 acres of California, while California has about 20,000 acres of Oregon.
California sent a delegation to Salem, Oregon’s capital, in December to discuss the border issue, but officials said settlement of the boundary question could be several years away.
No one is affected more directly than the residents of New Pine Creek, the only community to straddle the Oregon-California border.
Angry at the Press
Last winter, Burkett’s patience ran out after a stream of television news crews came into her Stateline General Store on the Oregon side seeking an interview on the border controversy.
“I bodily threw them out,” said Burkett, who moved to Oregon three years ago. “What angers me is the animosity the press has created between the Californians and the Oregonians. It wasn’t there and the press has done it.”
“Most of the people here are satisfied with the way it is,” said the Rev. Frank Reedze, pastor of the First Baptist Church. “It would cause a lot of heartbreak.”
If the border were adjusted, Reedze could move back to the church parsonage, which is on the Oregon side. He moved to the California side of town so his son could attend seventh grade at the Stateline School rather than ride a bus 14 miles north to Lakeview.
Faulty Job in 1868
The border dispute has its roots in the survey done by Daniel Major, who passed through Goose Lake Valley in 1868.
Joseph Ross was the only settler. He had a place on what was then defined as the California side. John O’Neill, who ran a pack train for the Army, settled on the Oregon side in 1869, the year the survey reached the Pacific.
In 1901, residents rejected changing the name to Orcal to commemorate the fact the town straddled the border.
During California’s last gold rush in 1912, the town’s population swelled to 5,000. There were seven bars, all on the California side, since Oregon was dry. Wendt’s Opera House showed silent movies.
Today, all the bars are closed, and residents rely on television satellite dishes for entertainment. Many old buildings are boarded up. Cattle and hay ranching support the local economy.
Until 1976, no one really cared where the border ran. That’s when Bud Uzes, a boundary official for California, started researching a book on the boundary.
The 42nd parallel has served as a boundary since 1819, when it was cited in a territorial treaty between the United States and Spain. At that time Spain held California and the United States had what was to become Oregon.
When Major traced the 42nd parallel, he took astronomical readings with a sextant only three times, Uzes said. As a result, he wavered back and forth across the true line as he made his way west from the 120th meridian to the Pacific Ocean.
Another Issue to Fight
Uzes did not pursue the boundary matter immediately, because California was waging battle in the U.S. Supreme Court over its border with Nevada, claiming that part of Nevada north of Lake Tahoe was actually California’s. But once that issue was settled--the justices decided to let the line stand--California looked at its northern boundary.
“I sort of woke up one day and somebody called us from California and said, ‘Gee whiz, we’re going to sue you,’ ” said Ed Zajonc, director of Oregon’s State Lands Division. “I said, ‘I beg your pardon?’ And they said, ‘The boundary is off.’ At first I thought it was some kind of a joke. Then I thought it was ludicrous.”
Two months later, the California delegation visited Salem.
Meanwhile, the California attorney general’s office has recommended taking the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, which handles border disputes between the states.
“There could be a lawsuit based on the jurisdiction of the two states in taxation,” said David B. Judson, the California deputy attorney general handling the case. “There could be an auto accident in which the question would arise over which state law applied. There could be a criminal matter.
Question Over Revenues
“We just want to put this thing to rest once and for all.”
Also at stake are potential revenues if any oil, gas or mineral deposits are discovered offshore within the three-mile state limit. Preliminary studies indicate that California would gain about 1,000 acres offshore if the border is moved.
California Gov. George Deukmejian hasn’t decided what to do yet.
Atiyeh has opposed any litigation, saying it would be costly and unnecessary.
“I moved to Oregon and I want to stay there,” said Burkett, who came up from San Jose three years ago.
She added, “Sure, it’s just a few feet, but I am in Oregon. I like Oregon and I like California, but I want to live in Oregon.”
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.