Ed Adams has lived in Live Oak his entire life, nearly 80 years. He's seen it change from a small farming town to an incorporated city, to a city on the cusp of unprecedented growth.
His small house on Connecticut Avenue is right next to Luther Elementary School.
Standing in his front yard, he can see Live Oak's future.
His new next-door neighbor will be several hundred homes in the Garden Glen subdivision. What once was an orchard will soon sprout homes.
"It's a good town. I love it, or I wouldn't stay here this many years," he said.
Live Oak has "really changed a lot," he said, as he stopped raking the leaves on his lawn. "It's more people working and everything. All it used to be was about farm work."
With street names such as Plum, Peach and Apricot, the agricultural influence on Live Oak is obvious.
It's always been a folksy place, according to those who live there, a small town where for decades everybody knew everybody else.
But with a current population of about 6,400 and more people expected in the next few years - the total population is projected as high as 15,000 - Live Oak soon won't be that small town any more.
"I like a small town. I hope it doesn't get too big," said Diane Farmer, a third-grade teacher for 26 years at Luther. "My daughter grew up in this town. My daughter, who's now older, she had moved away. Her and her husband ended up buying a home here. They also like the small community. You just know people. It's a good atmosphere, a good town to raise your children in."
Sonia Palacio said she moved to Live Oak from Gilroy 18 years ago when she was 6 and has experienced the changes.
"Live Oak used to be small," she said. "It's been growing year-by-year when they make those new houses. There used to be less kids in school, and now it's so packed."
But the city still has its small-town charm.
Saeed Khan runs a specialty business, the Moon Market, on Highway 99, catering to the city's Pakistani and Indian communities.
"We all live very friendly here, very nice community," he said. "Live Oak is a nice town."
Khan, who lives in Gridley, said he used to work in Sacramento. When Live Oak's Indian-Pakistani grocery store closed in 1999, Khan said he saw an opportunity to cut his commute.
"I like this town," he said. "It's nice and quiet. That's it."
Live Oak incorporated as a city in 1947 when the population was just 1,200. Two decades earlier, an incorporation election ended - amazingly - in a tie vote.
But Live Oak the town has been around since 1870, an offshoot of farming. The Feather River is about a half mile to the east.
Keith Churchill's family came to Live Oak in 1935. Back then, he said, the population was 365. The family's phone number was 82, and the phones had hand cranks.
"The town flooded quite often," Churchill said as he ate breakfast in the Kalico Kitchen restaurant, where historic photos of Live Oak line the walls. "The water draining system through town was very poor and always got constricted when the heavy water came down from the north."
In the small town, "we knew everybody," he said. "I suppose that has good and bad sides of it. If someone did something wrong, everybody knew it."
The town was so small, Leroy Pennington recalled, that one of the streets across from a bar was closed off so they could show movies.
The bars were a focal point in the community, especially for the workers coming out of the orchards.
"In the bars, they come in off packing peaches, and it was real rough," Churchill said. "We're talking Dodge City, lots of fights."
Charlie Eggert, a city councilman, said he's the "new kid on the block" because he's only been in Live Oak for 30 years.
"I love small towns," he said. "You put me in Sacramento and San Francisco, I don't want anything to do with it. I don't like the crowds. I don't like the traffic. The further north I go, the better I like it."
Melinda Russell has been in Live Oak for even less time than Eggert, just four years.
She moved from San Jose and experienced "culture shock, in a good way," Russell said.
"I was familiar with the area," she said. "I had graduated from Chico State. My family lived in Oroville. I used to drive through this all the time and didn't realize it was a town."
Live Oak remained a pretty quiet town, but that all changed in the late 1980s when residents were presented with a plan for a private prison housing women.
"It was a struggle back then," said Ron Murray, now the facility director at the Leo Chesney Correctional Center, named for the former councilman, which houses about 200 women.
"There were a lot of unanswered questions," Murray said. "'What's this going to do to my property values? What's the effect this is going to do to my property values? What's the effect on the community going to be with felons at their backdoors?' It took time to answer those questions. We could be a good neighbor. We could be a contributing business, and there was no need to fear."
The prison opened in 1989, following a hotly contested election.
At Apricot and N streets, the facility covers about 10 acres and employs 46 people, which Murray says makes it the largest private employer in town.
The female inmates have become an integral part of the community, Murray said, and "the community plays just as big a part within these walls as we do outside."
About 200 volunteers aid the inmates "on everything from anger management to master gardening," he said.
Murray said he's noticed that Live Oak is changing and on the "cutting edge" of growth.
City fathers "want to keep the small-town flavor while expanding," he said.
Tom Pritchard, superintendent of Live Oak Unified School District, is trying to keep the "small-town feel" intact while planning for more students as the new homes spring up.
"From a school district perspective, we're still able to connect with the community and the parents and be involved in a lot of city activities," he said.
The district has nearly 1,900 students and earlier this year won voter approval for an $8.4 million bond that will pay for a new high school and other improvements.
"We're just now completing our elementary expansion project," he said. "We added 10 classrooms to Luther Elementary School."
The district is trying to be "a little more proactive than is normally the case with schools. It seems schools are a little behind the curve" when it comes to growth, he said.
Live Oak remains "a great town," Pritchard said. "From a school perspective, it's still small enough to connect. I'm going from site to site, and I can still talk to two or three parents."
For many people in town, Live Oak's big drawbacks are the lack of shopping options and jobs.
"We need some industry here for jobs. There ain't no jobs here," said Mike Dosser, a 40-year-old Live Oak native. "What is it, 23 percent unemployment? All the kids I went to school with in high school took off. I think there are a few of us left, but not many. They went to Modesto and Sacramento. They need to get some jobs here. There just isn't nothing here."
Live Oak's annual unemployment rate last year was 25.7 percent, according to the state. In 2002, it was 25.6 percent.
In the last decade, the jobless rate never was less than 23 percent. It went as high as 33 percent.
"We have to go to grocery stores, shopping to bigger stores where it's cheaper for us to get the food," said Palacio. "The small stores here, the little small markets, are more expensive."
Sutter County Fire Capt. Art Cheney, who has lived all but six months of his 50 years in Live Oak, also lamented the dearth of shopping options.
He said he remembered a time when "you could buy anything but a new car in Live Oak," and there were "at least a half a dozen bars" in town.
"The bars used to outnumber the churches," he said. "Now it's the other way around."
Maggie Nava, who runs a flower shop, agreed that "we don't have enough businesses now. We need more businesses to accommodate the people coming in. If it's a bedroom community, they're still shopping in Sacramento or Yuba City. That's what I'd like to see us get away from."
Live Oak is a "close community," she said. "There are not as many gang problems and drug problems as some of the other towns because parents stay on top of it. I'm not saying there aren't problems."
When it comes to the flower business, Nava doesn't lament the lack of competition.
"I'm the best florist in town," she said. "I'm the only one."
Appeal-Democrat reporter Harold Kruger can be reached at 749-4717. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.