I heard a report on the sad state of affairs at the Mateel Community Center on KMUD’s Local News the other day. Faced with immediate bills and overshadowed by a looming half-million-dollar debt, SoHum’s most celebrated non-profit has very few options. Some hope that the Mateel can secure a debt consolidation loan through the Humboldt Area Foundation using the Mateel Hall as collateral. If that happens, the Mateel will have to repay the loan, plus interest, which means that our community will make payments on that debt for many, many years to come.

The other option, it seems, requires the Mateel Board of Directors to declare bankruptcy, sell the hall and the rest of the Mateel’s assets, and if there’s any money left, after all of the creditors have been paid, they can use whatever is leftover to try to start a new community center. There’s a good chance, however, especially in today’s real estate market, that liquidating the community’s assets won’t raise enough capital to cover all of the Mateel’s debt, in which case some creditors will take a loss, and the community will have to start from scratch.

It boils down to this: Will we, the SoHum community of today, spend the next twenty or thirty years paying for the excess and irresponsibility of SoHum’s aging dope yuppies, in order to save their dream, the aging and irresponsibly excessive Mateel Hall, or will we write it all off as a total loss? Unless those aging dope yuppies dig deep into their own pockets and come up with that half-mil, right now, we no longer have a community center. Instead, we have inherited from them a yawning chasm of debt that they now invite us to throw our money and our lives into.

Did you expect anything else? Did you think the black market marijuana industry was going to leave the Mateel Hall to the SoHum community as a gift for posterity? Drug dealers throw great parties, but they don’t generally leave nice community centers in their wake. Instead, they leave gutted buildings and trashed properties. Why should the Mateel be any different?

Drug dealers often, and with good reason, feel guilty about their dirty Drug War windfall, so they sometimes donate large sums to churches and non-profits, especially when money is easy, but these donations come sporadically, and rarely continue long term. Drug dealers also tend to gamble irresponsibly and spend too much money on status symbols. Drug dealers need visible status symbols to compensate for the deep negative status of their occupation. Inevitably, the gambler’s luck runs out, and the trashed status symbols get hauled off to the scrapyard, or in this case, sit vacant, waiting for demolition or immolation. The Mateel was both a charity and a status symbol to the black market marijuana industry in Southern Humboldt, but now that the money’s gone it may just become part of the trash they leave behind.

Thankfully, the Mateel has had the forethought to prepare the community for this moment by discontinuing the only program people really needed and relied on them for, namely the Mateel Meal, a free lunch program, years ago. We still have plenty of hungry people in our community, but they already know better than to look to the Mateel for help. For them, nothing will change if the Mateel closes permanently. The Mateel never offered shelter to those in need. Hundreds of people in our community who sleep huddled under plastic tarps outside in the rain, because of the lack of affordable housing, will not miss the fancy dress balls or A-list reggae shows at the Mateel, so the venue will be no great loss to them.

The Mateel Hall primarily serves the dope yuppies who live in the hills, have plenty of money, and want a swanky place to party, and because of that, the Mateel feels more like a country club than a community center. I’m not really a country club kind of guy, and the Mateel has done a pretty good job of turning my partner and I off to events there. First, precious few of the events held at the Mateel Hall interest us. Second, we’ve had enough bad experiences at the Mateel that we’re very hesitant to go back. Third, most Mateel events are outside of our entertainment budget. Exclusivity achieved! So, as tragic as it is to lose the Mateel Community Center, when it comes down to it, a whole lot of us here in SoHum will hardly notice that it’s gone.


John Hardin writes at Like You’ve Got Something Better to Do.