By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Nature murals on buildings along Highway 101; easy care flowering bushes and Japanese rock gardens - picture it, says David Whitis, it is his mission as a Gateway leader to make it a reality.

The ultimate goal is to raise the consciousness of the community ... This is a natural wonderland, Whitis said.

He is the new chairman of Gateways beautification committee and he said his goal is to accomplish something concrete.

Retired from a career in Army intelligence, Whitis is a straight talker accustomed to handing out jobs with a means to an end.

Half of the time my job was keeping my commanders out of trouble - making sure they knew and understood the mission, he said.

But, after Monday nights first meeting of the beautification task force, Whitis said mobilizing a group of volunteers is harder than organizing soldiers.

(Monday) night was somewhat of a wake-up call for me. In a volunteer organization you dont task out jobs. People want to come up with their own projects, he said.

Some good did come out of the meeting, however, he said. The group pinpointed areas of priority that need attention. Number one is the 101 corridor between Ninth and Front Streets, Whitis said. He listed the rest of 101 second, followed by Battery Point Lighthouse, the harbor and Pebble Beach Drive.

If you invite people to your home, you dont clean up the garage, you clean up the living room, he added.

The group as a whole is coming up with money-raising ideas to fund planting, landscaping and mural painting projects, according to Gateways co-coordinator, Shirley Cook.

All of Gateways subcommittees met last week to refocus their goals. Scott and Shirley Cook, along with City Council member Mickey Youngblood, are the new co-coordinators. Last year the Gateway Partnership fizzled out. The Cooks are a retired couple who said they wanted to make a difference in the community, so they pledged to revitalize the volunteer group.

The Cooks named Whitis head of the beautification task force last week. He has lived in Crescent City for only a year, but said after traveling over the entire country, its the most beautiful place hes seen.

Whitis is a Buddhist. His home is a surprising sanctuary located in a tightly-packed neighborhood by Pacific Market.

The wood floors and earthy rock and wood sculptures of his living room make for a calming environment. His backyard is like a Japanese garden with a pond, a low wooden patio and a unique eucalyptus tree all encased with a high wooden fence.

For the past five years, Whitis has moved from the military life to that of the Dharma bum. He said he traveled to several Buddhist retreats in California as well as France and Canada.

Thats how I found Crescent City. I was traveling up the coast to a temple in Canada. Its the most beautiful place that hasnt been over taken by people, he said.

Making the town itself as beautiful as its surroundings is Whitis dream.

Members of the beautification task force have been asked to spell out specific projects they would like to accomplish and come up with a plan to achieve them, Whitis said. The group will reconvene two weeks from this past Monday with their plan.

I plan to walk the talk, Whitis said.