Longtime Cannon Beacher recalls ‘the place where the artsy liberals came’

Betsy Ayres offers her thoughts on Cannon Beach at Sea Level Bakery in Tolovana.

CANNON BEACH —With Betsy Ayres, who needs a survey?

The city of Cannon Beach is measuring public opinion in eight key areas of community livability

“I can understand why Oregon’s gotten more and more popular,” Ayres said over coffee at Sea Level Bakery in Tolovana. “It’s a stunningly beautiful place. The lifestyle, the access to the ocean, the clean air, the safety, the amazing beauty ...”

An essential detail about Cannon Beach, Ayres said, is that most of the residents moved here because they wanted to be here, not like most places, where people live because that’s where they were born.

Ayres relocated from Portland in 1969, a time when, she said, Cannon Beach was making the transition from a quiet, out-of-the-way logging town to a getaway destination.

“A lot of people in the ’60s moved here because the rent was cheap and the environment was beautiful, and it sort of began its identity as an arts colony,” she said. “Cannon Beach was the place where the artsy liberals came.”

Between family, a long history of civic service and a glittering personality, Ayres soon “knew everybody, and everybody else knew everybody,” she said.

Her grandmother’s name — Lottie Anderson — is on a plaque by the checkout desk at the Cannon Beach Library.

Anderson, incidentally, survived San Francisco’s Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. She moved to Cannon Beach in 1945.

A real estate agent named Richard Atherton — “a real promoter,” says Ayres — first marketed Cannon Beach as “Carmel North.” “That was his idea as the way to draw people,” Ayres said. “It didn’t seem to stick, especially when people began buying and tearing down all the wonderful beach cabins and putting up McMansions. Carmel restricts that.”

In the ’80s and ’90s, people who came to Cannon Beach with money sought same comforts they had in “a big house in Portland,” or wherever they were coming from, Ayres said.

“Oregon’s gotten more and more popular, because this is such a stunningly beautiful place, so people wanted to come here,” she said. “I don’t begrudge their creature comforts. Not everyone wants to live with a woodstove and be like ‘Little House on the Prairie.’”

Serving as city councilor, member of the Planning Commission, Emergency Preparedness Committee and Budget Commission, Ayres soon realized some new residents held little regard for environmental regulations or the design review process, and they came up with some “pretty crazy ideas.”

A former Chamber of Commerce official wanted to put lighthouses the length of Cannon Beach.

“She thought that would bring people to Cannon Beach,” Ayres laughed. “The City Council wouldn’t go for it. She stormed out of the meeting: ‘You’re trying to ruin the businesses of Cannon Beach!’”

Ayres recalled plans to pave wetlands behind Spruce Street for more parking.

“Traffic is this long, knock-down, drag-out fight,” she said. “It never changes.”

In the summer, Ayres stays home, or if she does go into town, rides her bike or walks. “If I don’t try to drive through town, I’m good with that,” she said.

After years of service, Ayres shied away from public office after realizing it was not necessarily a good way to make friends.

“If you’re in public office, there are people’s wishes who are thwarted when you’re on the council, and ‘Hi, how are you’ relations became really hostile,” she said. “I don’t have the boundaries for that. If you want to keep your friends, you have to be able to just go home, shrug it off and think, ‘They’re still people. I still respect their views.’ Whether they respect mine, I don’t know.”

Over the years Ayres has worked for Head Start in Seaside, along with stints in land use planning, as a motel maid, librarian and an assistant to a clinical psychologist. She has a grown daughter, Meadow, who lives in Manzanita. Today Ayres watching city politics from a different role as a member of the North Coast Land Conservancy Board of Directors, a spot she has held since 2010.

“I do a lot of outreach, fundraising, which I enjoy, because I’m a true believer,” she said. “I want to make this place as wonderful as it was when I was a child.”

Ayres said she thinks the city is “pretty solid,” but wishes more people at City Hall had a greater personal history in Cannon Beach.

“I wish there were more institutional memory about what built this place into the fantastic place that it is, and that there were more focus on the services for the people who live here,” she said.

Ayres said she thinks there should be discussion of a senior center and affordable housing. She’s bitter that 70 percent of the room tax goes to tourism, and is frustrated by efforts by the “real estate lobby” to stymie land preservation.

She wants people to “squawk” when the city starts cutting down trees in the right-of-way, “and not pave every road and have glaring searchlights everywhere. I don’t want Cannon Beach to be like Beaverton, and it’s getting more that way every day.”

“I love living in a small town, I love living in a small area,” Ayres said. “I like the web of connections when you stay in a community your whole life. For some reason that gives me a lot of comfort. It just has a tremendous appeal to me.”

You don’t have to be a longtime resident to fill out the poll at http://bit.ly/1Km1nn2. You can live, work or just visit the city to have your thoughts heard. Feedback will help guide the city’s strategic plan, a two-year process. Surveys were mailed to residents in late January and are due back at the end of February.

R.J. Marx is The Daily Astorian’s South County reporter and editor of the Seaside Signal and Cannon Beach Gazette.

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