RANCHO TEHAMA RESERVE, Calif. - A former Tehama County Sheriff’s deputy said he wasn’t surprised about the series of deadly shootings in the rural Northern California community of Rancho Tehama Reserve Tuesday.
Kyle Pflager, who worked for the sheriff’s office for three years and now runs a Facebook page that monitors police scanner traffic, said a mix of gun-toting former felons, large-scale marijuana grows and frequent disturbances often stemming from the illegal operations, are a dangerous mix.
Pflager claims there are 50 to 100 marijuana grows within a mile of Rancho Tehama Elementary School, where two children are among the 10 wounded.
He said deputies are routinely called for disturbances in the community of 1,500, and more often than not it’s with marijuana growers.
“There’s a lots of violence out there,’’ he said. “The people out there know how to grow marijuana and they do it very well. But there’s also a lot of disturbances between people and there is usually a weapon involved. There are a ton of guns out there in the hands of the wrong people.”
The telltale signs of pot grows are clear, he said.
“You get out there and you know it’s a marijuana haven. You can smell it and you know behind the 8- foot fences there’s a garden,’’ he said.
The county’s drug task force said it’s fielded hundreds of complaints about pot gardens in the area. And a few years ago residents complained to county supervisors about the grows.
What’s more, Pflager said, keeping law breakers off in check is a tough challenge. Law enforcement is stretched thin and the county jail is small.
“We used to joke around the Rancho Tehama is the wild, wild west,’’ he said. ‘’They don’t respect law enforcement.”
Pflager has no inside information that the shooting, which left five people dead, including the shooter, is linked to marijuana, and police have not released a motive.
Rancho Tehama Community Church Pastor Stephen May, who was praying for the victims Monday, said there is another side to Rancho Tehama Reserve as well.
“The Rancho Tehama community has some really neat people in it. We do have some homeless, some guys who have been in prison and a lot of people who just want to get away from things. But in the midst of that is a great little community church and it’s really gorgeous up here.”
Rancho Tehama Reserve sits in the heart of Tehama County, about 130 miles north of Sacramento. It has a country setting with a seasonal creek winding through its rolling hills of oak and pine trees. It’s a haven for a variety of wildlife and residents have views of Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen.
It’s the type of place where town leaders discuss such things as renaming a bridge and the watering of dirt roads at their meetings. People meet for bingo on Friday nights and there’s an antique car club.
People there don’t have a lot of money, however. The poverty rate is 43.2 percent and the median income is about $27,000, which is less than half the median income for the state of California. You can buy a home here for less than $75,000. There’s a VFW, a church with about 45 congregants and a crafts club.
There’s also an active Facebook community. Among it, the Rancho Tehama Growers Community, which advocates that “marijuana is medicine,” and the Take Back Rancho Tehama page, which focuses on “the issues of the issues of the influx of commercial marijuana growers who are taking over the ranch.”