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Sonoma County Gazette
Savory Sonoma by Stephanie Hiller

The Sky is Falling



Aug 1, 2018
by Stephanie Hiller


“The recovery is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” said Teri Shore in her talk before the Alliance for a Just Recovery, a baker’s dozen of local groups brought together by Jobs for Justice, which held its first public meeting July 19. About 200 people attended, with several electeds represented including Mike Thompson’s office and Jared Huffman’s. Santa Rosa city councilmember, Julie Combs was present, as well as Una Glass from the Sebastopol City Council.

The goal is a recovery intended to address the needs of the oft-neglected working class. Housing is, as it must be, at the forefront, in a county that lost over 5300 homes. But the lack of affordable housing was a crisis before the fires. Now stirred to respond by the roaring blaze, the Board of Supervisors revealed in January that 30,000 houses needed to be built in the county in the next five years. But where are they going to go, and what will happen to our treasured landscape? According to Shore, who is the head of Greenbelt Alliance, “if all the new post fire housing development is contained within the voter approved Urban Growth Boundaries (in the cities) and within the existing footprints of unincorporated towns and cities (which don’t have voter approved UGBs but are bound by Urban Service Areas (USAs) delineated in the General Plan where sewer and water is generally in place) . . . then the development will generally be compatible.”

Meanwhile, the Sonoma Index-Tribune reported that in Sonoma Valley, the rebuild is off to a slow start.

Hence it may come as no surprise that the annual homeless count conducted by the Sonoma County Housing Authority released in July revealed that for the first time since the Recession slammed homeowners, the homeless rate has risen by six percent.

The fire has but exacerbated a situation that was called an “emergency” by the housing advocacy group that emerged from the Sonoma Methodist Church five years ago. Now rents are up 36 percent. But wages are stagnant. A fair minimum wage is also on the agenda of the Alliance, which meets every first Thursday of the month at the SEIU headquarters in Santa Rosa to “bring together labor, environmental, faith and community organizations that represent working people … for an equitable, just, and sustainable recovery.”

The stories told by people struggling to meet the rising costs of living in the county since the fires were heartbreaking.

Amanda Carliss, 72, a graduate of UC Davis who spent 15 years in the Peace Corps in Latin America and raised four children, now works for In Home Support Services. Her rent jumped 30 percent, from $1400 to $1950, more than half her income, when her landlady passed away and the family raised the rents.

Meanwhile, the wait for HUD assistance can be seven or eight years. Yet ironically, in this time of intensified need, the Community Development Commission reports that Section 8, now renamed Housing Choice Vouchers, is under-utilized. Even before the fires, of every 100 vouchers issued, 54 were not used because the prospective tenant could not find housing. Often that is because landlords won’t accept vouchers, even though HUD now pays market rate.

Thea Hartman, a tenant at Vintage Park in Santa Rosa, which provides low to moderate senior housing, spoke of rising rents at her residence, which is funded by Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. Unlike HUD, LIHTC is based on area median income, and since that keeps going up, the rents continue to rise. “We need rent control and the repeal of Costa Hawkins,” she said. Costa Hawkins, which prohibits rent control, will be repealed if Proposition 10 passes this November. “Please join us.”

Mario Castillo spoke of the challenges facing the immigrant community in the Springs. “People are getting rent increases. People are being evicted because the landlords want to sell their homes. Families are moving out.” People haven’t been included in the “conversations going on” about the recovery, he said.

Laura Neish of 350 Bay Area placed the crisis in the context of climate change. 2017 “made climate change visible” with floods and fires all over the country, demonstrating that we must “address root causes,” and that “the stakes are high and immediate.”

Yes, hotter and more frequent fires may be expected now as we bake in summer heat that has been suffocating most of the country.

Meanwhile, the social order has gone berserk. Blame it on Trump and his gang of thieves, but keep in mind that many people still support him. Fact is, we’re all scared. After decades of denial, we’re finally facing what scientists warned us was going to happen.  And what are we going to do now? asks Henny Penny.



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