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An unregulated squatter settlement, Slab City is home to perhaps 150 year-round residents — refugees from mortgages and bill collectors, former hippies, rebels and self-identified misfits — who live in personal camps made from old trailers, truck campers and crude lean-tos, and call themselves Slabbers. From October to April, the population swells to perhaps 2,000 as snowbirds, attracted by the guaranteed sunshine and zero fees, arrive in sometimes majestic motor homes.
“This is the only place I have ever lived where I feel I belong,” said Christina Swistak, who goes by the nickname Dreamcatcher and moved to “The Slabs” three years ago after drifting from Arizona.
But now, the denizens of this bleak stretch of desert between the Salton Sea and a military bombing range are bitterly divided. After the notion spread that the California State Land Commission might sell the land, the Slabbers started debating what to do: Should they try to buy the place that they occupy illegally? Should they form a residents’ association to save the anarchistic soul of Slab City, or would that spawn the type of bureaucracy that people came here to escape?
“Some people come here just to disappear, and we don’t want leaders,” said Ms. Swistak, 41, part of the faction that says that residents must organize and seek title to the land before someone else does. “But sadly, yes, we have to appease The Beast,” she said, using the label here for the looming outside world.
The debate has tested friendships, with some accusing the leaders of the recently incorporated Slab City Community Group of seeking personal power. Opponents of the group say that the state is unlikely to sell the land and that its efforts will lead to the dreaded zoning and building codes, health and sanitation rules. ….