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Use urgency from Northern California wildfire, housing crises to make things better

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Opinion

James Gore represents the 4th Supervisoral District on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.


This is part of a report Oct. 8 on the one-year anniversary of the October 2017 wildfires that forced tens of thousands to flee quickly and destroyed thousands of homes. Read more personal accounts from business and civic leaders as well as updates on the economic recovery.

Everything is different, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Since the first days following the fire up until now, I still believe that we have two primary goals.

The first is to help those people most affected by the wildfires, to wrap around those people who lost everything and support them in any way possible. That’s why we continue to meet with block captains, we continue to fund raise and change policy, we’re constantly mobilizing resources, hosting events — all of it in support of those impacted.

The second goal is to use this hit to our system to shake up the way we do business.

We need to hold onto the urgency injected into the community by the October firestorm and use it as an opportunity to improve the way we do business with a special emphasis on resilience. If we fail to do either of those then we fail the test that October brought us.

As we’ve worked through this past year, I’ve thought a lot about what we now call Saturday’s problems.

Those issues of Oct. 7, 2017, were all immediately realigned the next day. It’s not often in life that we’re granted, or forced into, such a sea change of our fundamental priorities. But that happened for us, and for the entire region, last fall.

We had to wake up and realize that our jurisdictions and perceived authorities were just lines on a map.

Our response required us to look beyond the city of Santa Rosa, beyond Sonoma County.

We had to go to the entire North Bay and to our North Coast partners. And I have realized that this is not a model that should be only reserved for disaster management. That would be a failure.

The most important issues that face us at the county are actually regional challenges: housing equity, workforce development and natural resource management.

For example, Sonoma County is seen as a leader in climate change adaptation with green energy, thanks to having the greenest fleet in North American and Sonoma Clean Power’s green energy.

As a leader, I ask you, is that enough? No. If our work does not connect with our partners throughout the region and among private and public networks, we fail this test now and we will fail in the future.

We need to ask ourselves if a countywide poll released by the Press Democrat showed that 75 percent of our residents care mostly about housing affordability, cost of living increases and homeless proliferation — are we doing enough on housing?

Again, the answer is no.

Is having an unemployment rate below 4 percent in Sonoma County the sign of a healthy economy with jobs for all and living wages, or is it a harbinger of something worse?

Is it, instead, a place where the working class cannot lead more than a subsistence lifestyle?

These obstacles resulted from decades of a culture of inaction, of casting aside “better” and continually fighting for “perfect.” They fit the ethos of perfect inaction rather than imperfect action, and as much as we’d like to think that we can put the paddles on our chest as a community and shock ourselves into success, the reality is that any success in these areas must be hard-fought in order to win.

Opinion

James Gore represents the 4th Supervisoral District on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.


This is part of a report Oct. 8 on the one-year anniversary of the October 2017 wildfires that forced tens of thousands to flee quickly and destroyed thousands of homes. Read more personal accounts from business and civic leaders as well as updates on the economic recovery.

We need to cast aside the doomsday scenarios, the fear of the future, the pessimism, the fears of another fire, the anxiety about blocks to housing, and instead embrace the only true progress, which is imperfect relentless progress forward.

This means getting uncomfortable. It means supporting housing in our urban centers, even if it could increase traffic or impact your view. It means developing a workforce that reflects the age, race and the richness of our community.

And that means not hiring people that only look like yourself. It means that we as employers might need to start providing housing.

With respect to natural resources, it means we need to cast aside the word mitigation that is so often spoken in government circles with respect to climate change. We can’t just make our impact on our natural resources less worse, we need to move into regenerative development.

But the crazy part of all this is that if you look at these three areas — hold onto the urgency to improve the way we do business, the need to work in collaboration with regional partners for collective impact and embracing the model of relentless imperfect progress — these are all commonsense principles.

We must avoid isolating ourselves in silos at the risk of negating our collective impacts and creating the tragedy of the commons. So check yourselves.

Check your mission and ensure that you join us in embracing a commonsense, incrementally better future.

And join us in embracing the triumph of the commons over the tragedy of the commons. If it could start anywhere it would start here, since after all, we are #SonomaStrong.

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