CLEARLAKE – Lake Konocti is nestled in the center of the rolling, golden Konocti Hills north of Napa, renowned around the world for its fishing, wineries, entertainment and the cleanest air in the state.
Never heard of it?
That’s because it doesn’t exist — yet. But the Lake County Board of Supervisors is doing its own California dreamin’, hoping to turn a cloudy green lake and an area with a reputation for crime and grime into the next Napa Valley.
The countryside around Clear Lake really does have some of the cleanest air in California. The lake, however, is another matter — it’s plagued by algae blooms and an invasive water weed and, sometimes, an overpowering stench.
Some people avoid swimming in the green, brackish waters altogether. But the lake is not the only problem. Parts of surrounding Lake County are littered with old mobile homes, abandoned vehicles and trash.
To help emphasize the county’s good points with tourists, county supervisors hired a consultant to develop a marketing strategy. Chandler, Brooks & Donahoe, based in Olympia, Wash., came back with a makeover plan involving a countywide cleanup — and a new regional identity.
Instead of the bland and not entirely accurate Clear Lake, supervisors are considering Lake Konocti. They would refer to the region not as Lake County but as Konocti Hills or Konocti Hills Country.
“Most people don’t go to counties, they go to destinations,” Supervisor Anthony Farrington explained.
Lake County supervisors will discuss this plan on Tuesday, and give their staff guidance on what to do next. The name change could appear on the ballot next year.
Some residents see Clearlake, the city at the southeast end of the lake, as an adolescent with a bad attitude. The waterfront there is dotted with “resorts” of dilapidated trailers with peeling paint and spots of mold. It’s the biggest city in the county, with more than 13,100 residents, and has a reputation for crime.
Lakeport, with 4,800 people living on the northwestern edge, is the well-groomed big brother — it’s solidly middle class, with a waterfront park with large shade trees, a gazebo, and vast lawns that flow down to floating docks. Lakeport’s main thoroughfare is lined with shops in Old West style buildings.
More than 40,300 other Lake County residents live in unincorporated areas of the county, which has begun strictly enforcing codes, trying to remove substandard units, especially along scenic corridors.
John Mallard, a Clearlake resident since 1975, said he has already noticed, and while he appreciates the cleanup, he’s not sure another name change is a good solution.
“They changed the name of the town, and it went downhill from there,” he said. It used to be called Clearlake Highlands before it was incorporated as a city in 1980.
But the city administrator for Clearlake points out that while the city “went downhill” when tourists stopped coming — choosing instead to visit Lake Tahoe when a road to the famed lake was improved — the city tried to turn that around the last few years. But some may not have realized that yet.
“This place has really cleaned itself up,” city administrator David Lane said. “But the reputation is still there.”
The county has a natural beauty that should attract tourists, and is just a two-hour drive from San Francisco and Sacramento, along roads with stunning vistas of oak-studded hills and vineyards.
Free of the traffic, noise and high housing costs that burden the Bay Area, the county has recreational opportunities galore — hiking, mountain biking and a lake teeming with bass.
It’s largely agricultural, specializing in pears and now wine grapes, and is home to a geothermal power plant. In the past, many county residents worked in a nearby gold mining operation, and the county tried, unsuccessfully, to attract high-tech businesses.
Tourism is already a major business for the county, but Lake County officials are hoping to get people who are passing through to stay longer and spend money, and to turn it into a destination for those looking for a vacation spot.
“If we get more visitors and get them to stay longer, it will improve the economy of the county,” said Matt Perry, chief deputy administrative officer for Lake County. “By doing these things, we’re hoping people who have had negative experiences will come back to the revitalized areas.”