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Opinion

Brad Bollinger is publisher of North Bay Business Journal.


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.

One year on and we are still collectively staggering a bit from the horrific sucker punch that will forever be remembered as the October 2017 wildfires.

Today should be one of solemn remembrance. But it should not pass without also remembering how one year ago our community responded with overwhelming and inspiring support and kindness. It is said you find out what kind of person you are in a crisis. Our community was extraordinary.

We should never forget that the local North Bay Fire Relief Fund raised $32 million for people most in need immediately after the fires. The San Francisco-based Tipping Point raised another $33 million that will have profound and positive impact on our communities for years to come. City and county governments responded with promises to stand with fire victims.

Long-term efforts such as Rebuild Northbay, the Community Foundation Sonoma County Resilience Fund and the Wildfire Mental Health Collaborative are in place to support people and communities well into the future. There is no room to let up.

And how did businesses respond last October when the workplace became the default home and support system for thousands? They put people first in a way many will never forget.

Here is a sampling of quotes from thousands of employees who participated in the Journal’s 2018 Best Places to Work survey and responded to the question “Regarding the October wildfires, is there anything you would like to say about your organization’s post fire response?”

From a Kaiser Permanente employee: “No one can ever repay what Kaiser did. Everyone helped out everyone.”

From a Keysight Technologies employee: “Keysight was the model for how to act in a crisis. Inspiring. … Unimaginably great. … The CEO’s response was incredible and harkened back to the days of the HP Way.”

From an Exchange Bank employee: “Absolutely amazing and the continued efforts to put the community first and help rebuild is another reason this company is great.”

From a Francis Ford Coppola Winery employee: “The feeling of ‘We are family’ was extremely evident! … SO PROUD. “

From a Redwood Credit Union employee: “RCU’s relief efforts were unimaginable -- amazing, selfless and very passionate. It makes me proud to be part of the organization.”

And there were thousands more like these.

So this community should be proud of how it rallied, how people touched one another.

Now, one year on, the question is how do we sustain this level of energy, resilience and hope that our communities will come back stronger and safer?

How do we sustain that bold thinking about increasing the housing supply that we heard about right after the fires — the kind of housing needed for our economy’s next generation of talent?

We must remember every day that our companies are working desperately to attract and retain employees with housing availability and cost being serious and sometimes insurmountable barriers.

We are making progress. Recently compiled Press Democrat research on the fire recovery found there are 1,041 homes under construction with another 343 permits issued. Another 410 permits are pending. From Nov. 1 to Aug. 31, 616 lots were listed for sale with 351 sold. This all means we are on the road to replacing the more than 5,300 homes lost last October.

Opinion

Brad Bollinger is publisher of North Bay Business Journal.


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.

But we are still far behind the need and pace to replace homes lost in the fires and catch up from an historic slowdown in new construction. The data shows that from 2000 to 2008, there were 18,000 residential units constructed in Sonoma County. For the seven years for which data is available, from 2009 to 2016, only 6,300 were built, a significantly slower pace of building.

There are initiatives under way to help fill the gaps. The city of Santa Rosa has approved reducing fees for multistory projects in the urban core. Santa Rosa voters in November are being asked to approve a $124 million bond that could help finance 4,000 affordable homes.

Meanwhile, there are builders and developers in our communities ready to take on projects right now. Not in five or 10 years. Right now. But they need our help and support for multi-story projects downtown and other city-centered development. There are numerous sites within urban boundaries in approved general plans for this to take place.

A Press Democrat analysis of the general plan build-outs for the county’s nine cities and unincorporated area found a gap of more than 30,000 units as of 2015 between what was allowed in the documents and what was built or in the pipeline.

Someone put it this way recently: How can we say we love to drink our wonderful local wines and not do our best to supply enough affordable shelter for the workers and their families that make them. Or how can we demand quality public education for children and not try harder to provide housing for teachers. The same goes for firefighters, police and health care providers. It is hypocritical to demand one and not make a concerted attempt at the other.

We are entering a time, a Bay Area economist said recently, of the mega-commuter – someone who drives two hours each way to work to be able to afford shelter. How can one argue that this is environmentally sound and one can only imagine the impact on families and sense of community?

We are doing more to increase housing options for our communities. But still more is needed and we are running out of time. In one more year, experts say most fire victims will lose their housing insurance coverage. They will need a place to go. Will we have one for them?