northern california renaissance faire

Letter to the editor: For the love of Errol

When I think of all the fighting and efforts by Preserve Our Rural Communities (PORC) to halt development of our Betabel charity project, I wonder how we got to this place of lawsuits and initiatives and verbal attacks. 

PORC has been relentlessly trying to convince people to direct their anti-growth anger towards Betabel. They’ve used lies and scare tactics and seem to have no conscience, or respect for the community they’re lying to. They’ve said we’re building on sacred land, disrupting wildlife, building in a floodplain, building houses, have no water, are causing a fire hazard, upsetting our RV park neighbor, causing traffic—all lies. 

All we’re trying to do is build a beautiful vintage roadside stop on the site of a former junkyard. And this will raise tax revenue for the county, create 75 to 100 jobs, provide essential services, and all profits go to pediatric cancer research. That’s it. So why attack this? 

And as I consider the stream of toxic statements by PORC against my family, I have to ask myself why not just walk away. We’re not developers in the usual sense. We’re entrepreneurs who’ve been very lucky in life and work very hard and love what America has afforded us. There’s so much more we could be doing with our charity or with our lives. Then we think of our son Errol and his vision, and know we can’t walk away.

Errol Cross McDowell, our beautiful son, was a force of nature. He underwent dangerous clinical trial after clinical trial to try to cure his medulloblastoma (brain cancer), knowing that each trial could kill him instantly. But he was so brave and so selfless. “This could help others, Dad. So I have to do it,” was his mantra. And for six terrible years he fought, alongside the 15,000 other children who are diagnosed with cancer every single year. 

Errol wanted to help them all. He wanted to find a cure. He wanted his life to make a difference. He knew that only 4 cents of every dollar from the National Institute of Health goes to pediatric cancer research. So in the midst of this hell he formed Canceragogo with his brothers, a non-profit seeking $1 from every American to fund pediatric cancer research. His non-profit venture raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, directly and through donations from larger donors. 

We used to drive Errol up Highway 101 weekly to his chemotherapy and immunotherapy appointments at UCSF. And as we passed through San Benito County he would point out the junkyard at Betabel Road and tell me we should buy it and clear it and build something on it (“an old rest stop like in the movies”) that would help raise even more money for cancer research. It was his dream to create this roadside business, with a gas station and a market/produce store, all looking like it belonged in 1940 California. And I would tell him, “We’ll do it, Errol. You watch.”

Then one day we bought the property through our charity trust and Errol was elated. He could see his vision coming true. We even walked the property, Errol leaning on my arm, his gait unsteady by now, but he was smiling. “It’s coming true,” he said. And we cried. Shortly after this we lost him. But his legacy endures. 

And that’s why we’re fighting, because we have no choice. Too many suffering families are counting on us. And nothing a dishonest opposition can throw at us, for whatever secret twisted reasons, phases us after six years of fighting cancer battles and the real terror they engender.

TJ Rider McDowell