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Sonoma County Gazette

North County Organizing
Around Communities to Rebuild

Feb 3, 2018


By James Gore, 4th District Supervisor

Our community has never been stronger than it is today. We were sorely tested by the fires in October. We’ve been tested ever since, as fire survivors clean up the ashes and rubble of our homes and attempt to keep our focus on the future. Neighbors who might never have spoken to one another are now bonded through adversity. In the days following the disaster, the office of the Fourth Supervisorial District decided that we needed to go back to:

Community Organizing 101:

Representing the hard-hit communities of the north county, we pivoted from Town Hall meetings to organizing meetings, to not just share the information but to create empowerment.

Now, men and women have stepped up to represent dozens, hundreds or even thousands of their neighbors, all of whom are facing the uphill slog of rebuilding. We’re working together on getting lots cleared of debris, looking into new ways of organizing on sewer and utilities trenching and meeting with builders who can put us back in our homes.

As we move towards the goal of bringing everyone home again, it’s vital to remember that, despite the urgency of the need to rebuild, we have to be methodical. As contractors waiver at the prospect of the challenge before us, it’s important to remember that there are still many unknowns, and we’re still feeling the shockwaves from Oct. 8.

Every week when we meet, it’s difficult not to marvel at the power of our community, by the audacity of our refusal to become browbeaten. These weekly meetings are for sharing. We hear about lessons learned, we discover new resources, lists of builders, meeting spaces, horror stories and anecdotes of hope.

Block Captains & Experts to Help

We bring in speakers who can address a variety of topics. The block captains have heard from Permit Sonoma and the City of Santa Rosa’s planners on the process of applying for permits to rebuild.

We’ve had PG&E come and address power issues and the felling of trees.

United Policyholders came and spoke about their advocacy for the insured and the process of going through disaster insurance claims.

Habitat for Humanity presented their plans to ramp up building homes for fire survivors who face gaps in financing due to being underinsured.

California American Water came to a meeting with their plans for testing the mains and pipes in Larkfield.

Sonoma Clean Power brought a draft of their plan to help finance building greener, net zero homes through a series of grants.

Legal Aid of Sonoma County now has a disaster relief attorney who talked to the block captains about navigating the FEMA claims process and provided community resources and workshops on how to handle insurance issues.

Members of our local California Office of Emergency Services and FEMA branches talked block captains through the debris removal process and took away a lot of feedback.

We’ll have more experts come and share their knowledge in the coming weeks, with the goal being to turn that information around and share it with the rest of our community.

As we continue to plot our course towards recovery, the block captains network will be an essential element of governance and outreach. Though we’re undoubtedly scarred by the fires, we have found new solidarity and sense of purpose. Our mission is to rebuild and come back more resilient. One of the ways we’ll accomplish that is by encouraging and enabling self-reliance.

During our most recent meeting, one salient point emerged: we have to do everything in our power to get ahead of the curve and not be reactive, not to act purely as individuals, because that’s the best way to assure that we will not become prey to predatory practices.

We need to be proactive but patient. We need to do it right, not just quickly. If we rush, we risk making mistakes that would be extremely difficult to repair. There’s no instruction book on how to come back from the October fires, but our goal is to create as clear a path as we can, and to empower our communities to return, improved.

These are inclusive weekly meetings of between 15 and 20 block captains. If you represent a group of concerned neighbors, contact Field Representative for the Fourth District Stuart Tiffen for more information on attending: Block captains from northwest Santa Rosa, Mark West, Larkfield, Wikiup, Mark West Springs Road, Michelle Estates, Knights Valley, Franz Valley and beyond.


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