Wednesday, November 22, 2017
 
After the Fires, An Amazingly Positive Outlook by Citizens in Sonoma & Napa Counties

SAN FRANCISCO, CA Oct. 19 (DPI) – The wildfires that have devastated Sonoma and Napa counties are finally contained, but the people of that iconic wine-growing region must now face a second, much longer – and tougher – phase, of cleaning up, re-building and getting on with their lives.

Major media away from the fires focus on broader issues of the next chapter – California is famous for its strict regulation of real estate and development, as well as its environmental regulation, all of which will complicate and slow re-building.  And the region, which carefully protects its rural character a short distance from San Francisco, faces new pressures over the “economics of getting back to normal,” as one observer put it.

The most-popular reader comments in NYTimes.com confirmed that there’s a big tension between regulation and affordability in the North Bay region, where residents are justifiably proud of their quality of life:

(We had to move away because) life is difficult and very, very expensive in California. Too expensive for us to retire and stay there. To stay we would have had to continue working.
The expensive part came from the sheer volume of people and demand for goods, services and housing. The difficult part came from the same overwhelming population, but was exacerbated by planning choices made over the years. Yes, the bucolic rural feel of Wine Country is incomparable, especially on a spring day during bud break, or during the fall harvest. But when these fires broke out the thing I knew was that there would be no good escape routes. Two lane roads, clogged for miles with traffic on a normal day would be impassable. Homes tucked away in forested neighborhoods, reachable only by narrow winding roads would burn. You cannot pack 500,000 people into an area with infrastructure that was built in the 50’s and 60’s and barely updated since, without putting lives at risk during a natural disaster.
My heart breaks for friends we left behind. Our daughter found safe escape, but we worried for days. The beauty of California beckons, but unless there are serious changes to the planning process in place, this kind of tragedy will become part of the California life-style.

The survivors may have to start over again in other states just as the survivors of Katrina and other disasters did. California has a tough housing market – homes easily cost $1 million and up and the rental market seems only to cater to Section 8 and the wealthy leaving the middle class at a loss. I wish every survivor the best in pulling their lives together.

Just because many want to move here, live here, doesn’t necessarily mean we have to change the nature of California towards high density, NY style high-rise apartments.  We don’t have to placate the get-rich-quick developers who are more than willing to chop up and sell the pieces of the very thing that makes people want to live here in California in the first place.  If you can’t find a place to live in California, go somewhere else to live. If you find a suitable place, Welcome to California.

But the big story in the aftermath of the Sonoma and Napa wildfires in the incredible degree of outward determination and resilience among the people who, in many cases, lost everything.  Even during the fires, reports in the Santa Rosa-based Press Democrat highlighted quotes like “we will overcome this” and “we are all working together, as a community.”  Reader comments picked up on this as well:

This is an absolutely gut wrenching account of unimaginable loss and unbelievable perseverance. I spent 6 years of my life, throughout college and beyond, living and learning in Sonoma County. My heart is broken for this amazing community, and yet I know the people there. This will take years to recover from, but the recovery will happen and the people will rise up to support and love one another on this long road ahead.

The Press Democrat, the primary traditional news source in the region, stayed atop the huge story. Its columnists became reporters, and told remarkable tales such as this.  The many fires totaled more than 150,000 acres burned and 6,000 structures damages or destroyed. Forty-one are confirmed dead. Whole blocks of communities immediately north of Santa Rosa were incinerated.  But, with the state’s fire operation, Cal Fire, marshaling aerial and ground resources, including about 4,000 firefighters, certain areas, such as the town of Napa, were largely spared.  The thousands of acres of vineyards, most of them harvested of their grapes in mid-October, still had their moist and irrigated leaves – a key factor in reducing the spread of the fires in some areas. Nearby Sonoma, just west of Napa, sustained far greater damage, particularly north and northeast of the town of 11,000.

No where is the region’s resilience more apparent that on the sites of the many wineries in the region, about 20 of which were destroyed. The Paradise Ridge winery, virtually destroyed, placed a haunting image of destruction on its index page – yet with an admirable message of resolve and determination.   Other wineries affected by the fires wrote similar messages of gratitude and resolve.

 

 

 

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