I had a brand new M.B.A. in sustainable business. I had a vision for a green community that could be good for the planet, good for people, and strategic plans to make it profitable. And I had the land. Everything had come together. I thought.
Cassie and her father // photo: © la luz photography 2010
It was the summer of 2008, I was 27, and my dad had just asked for my help managing property that had been in my father’s family for close to a century: 200 acres, the last large acre parcels in the urban growth boundary in Spokane County in Eastern Washington. The only glitch? Dad needed help refinancing the bank loan on the property.
Back before the crash, in 2006 or earlier, it would have been no problem. My dad’s credit score was over 800. My project was worth an estimated 200 million dollars. But with everything crashing, banks were in upheaval.
And so were my father’s finances, as it turned out.
Show the Losses
From his hospital bed, Dad admitted to me that he hadn’t filed taxes in nearly 20 years … on the advice of his accountant. Because he’d hemorrhaged money in failed businesses he’d started on the family land over the years, my father had been counseled to hold off, then file all at once to show the losses. How would he ever have gotten a bank loan with no tax returns?
Turned out this same accountant brokered a $2 million loan between one of his clients and my dad, receiving a commission from the transaction. A week after my father got out of the hospital, this accountant tried to have $700,000 wired out of my dad’s account. The only reason the transfer was stopped was that Dad happened to call the bank that morning to ask for his balance, about 20 minutes before the wire would have cleared. My father refused to call the police, much less press charges. He was afraid.
Investors Closed the Doors to My Requests
But I kept trying. Even as I exhausted the banking resources locally and what I could find nationally and internationally, I still somehow thought the goodness of people and the randomness and perfection of the Universe would find a solution. I really thought that I could do something bold, and somehow, that would connect me to the investors I needed to do it.
There were all kinds of people and organizations that I reached out to during that time that had made public demonstrations about their commitment to investing their funds to sustainability, even as they closed their doors on my requests.
I know very well that no one owed me anything. Just because someone publicly says one thing about their money and commitments to green living didn’t mean they actually want to finance my project. There was just silence. Or coolness, followed by polite distancing. The polite distancing stung the most.
I’m Embarrassed Because I Had to Ask for Money
It feels petty, yet the rejection and what it cost me, though not personal, is still painful.
The truth is, I’m embarrassed to look the local millionaire philanthropist in the eye because I even had to ask him for money in the first place. I’m embarrassed to see him at the fundraisers for causes I love. I don’t want to shop in his grocery store or eat in the restaurants in his buildings. I am also glad that I don’t have to see often or at all everyone else I sent letters to ask for help.
I’m glad I don’t see the neighbor who commented on my Facebook page that she didn’t want the land developed and didn’t support my IndieGoGo campaign.
I somehow thought that my extraordinary vision for a green community, the story behind it and the economic returns would carry the day.
I thought if those things didn’t, that compassion might. It didn’t.
My Best Wasn’t Good Enough
My lawyer and I were able to negotiate a life lease for my Dad, so he could live out his days in his house. He was 69 at the time, and not in great health, and for that I was grateful. But they came back and wanted a lease payment from him. The main partner was rumored to be worth over $100 million, and they came back and asked for $250 a month from a man who had given them and leveraged every last asset he had and was now living on $1,200 a month in Social Security.
When he died, as per the terms of the life lease, I had 60 days to have the property cleaned up: to have 100 years of farm equipment and sawmills and family history sorted through and gone. I asked for an additional 60 days. They countered with $5,000 for an extension. I barely had the money to have his body cremated, much less the luxury of using $5,000 to buy extra time.
I now live about 70 miles from Spokane. If I ever have to go there, I avoid looking at the mountain to the south of the freeway that shows the fire scars on what used to be my family land. It’s always there, looking out over the city, and I cannot meet its gaze.
There will be no solar panels or geothermal heating or community gardens. There will be no green building and trails and coffee shops where neighbors could meet. My family’s land, my vision for it, is just another subdivision.
I’ve had to let it go. I’ve had to let it be so I can move on. But what hurts the most is that I did the best I could, and it wasn’t enough. I’m embarrassed. And heartbroken. But there is also something that is harder to articulate. It lives in me like betrayal — from people who owed me nothing.