The past few weeks have been devastating.
Like many of you, I was woken up in the early hours of the night to the sight of burning hills and told to evacuate immediately. And, like many of you, I’m still trying to wrap my head around what exactly just happened and where the road to recovery begins, but I do have a few thoughts I’d like to contribute.
First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give another thank you to Chief Tony Gosner and the Santa Rosa Fire Department and other state and local firefighting agencies that stepped in to help, Chief Hank Schreeder and the Santa Rosa Police Department, Brian Bottari and all of the PG&E employees who worked tirelessly to restore power, our City Staff who posted updates on our emergency site and pulled 16 hour days for weeks on end, the Press Democrat and KSRO for helping disseminate vital information, and all the volunteers and organizations that have donated food, clothing, and shelter. Combined, these people and institutions made the difference for the thousands of Santa Rosans who were affected by this fire, and I am confident I speak for everyone when I say how grateful we all are.
But as those who have lost their homes can attest, this is far from over. Recovery from this disaster will not be easy. It will take hard work from all of us, especially those of us who have the privilege of serving on city council. I’m glad that the Council approved the much-needed emergency steps, like the creation of a “Resilience District” last night, which will make it easier to rebuild affected areas. Over the coming weeks, I will be pushing for more solutions to keep our city together, streamline the process for rebuilding and recovery, and help folks get back to their daily routine faster.
First and foremost, it’s important that we focus on the immediate crisis. With so many displaced households and our communities completely disrupted, we must work to keep Santa Rosa in one piece and give every single resident, regardless of income or class, every opportunity to remain in the City. That means doing what we can to house people, especially our “critical recovery personnel,” like doctors, teachers, and public safety officials, so that our city can get back to a more regular routine, beginning with the institutions they trust and rely on.
Keeping our community together also means supporting local businesses. Ali and I have committed to giving up Amazon and other large retailers temporarily to ensure our spending supports the local economy. I hope all of you will join us in this effort. Remember, a dollar given to a local business eventually circulates right back to you.
In the near future, we must do even more to make it as easy as possible for people to rebuild their homes. Even before the fire, our city planning department was taking important and impressive steps to improve the permitting process. Now that we face an even more immediate housing crisis than we did before, we must streamline the process for people who are reconstructing their own home with no changes, prioritize approvals for units with a clear path to development, and use funds to eliminate permitting fees in the RC District and for accessory dwelling units that meet the public good. If you’re looking to rebuild your house or add an ADU, you should be able to walk in the planning department with your footprint design and leave with a building permit in-hand. Plain and simple.
Finally, we must continue to pursue a housing bond that provides the City with resources to incentivize affordable and inclusive infill development. This was important before the fire, and is even more important now. I look forward to working this out with my colleagues in the coming months.
These are just a few ideas that will be rolled out in the coming weeks and months to help Santa Rosa get back on track. I hope to hear your thoughts as well.
As often happens after disaster strikes, I’ve found myself looking for a silver lining in all of this. I’m sure many of you have, too. Something to keep me going though things seem bleak. I’ve thought a lot about the old metaphor, “rising from the ashes.” Though it seems trite when so much has been lost, there is something in it. I hope that as we come out from under this cloud, we can find the opportunities to build Santa Rosa up stronger than it was before, to tackle tough problems that our city faced before the fires. As a councilmember, I promise to do everything I can to embrace those opportunities, and I know my colleagues feel the same way.
As usual, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, comments, or ideas that you would like to share personally. I have no doubt that if we hold each other up and work together, we will reach recovery sooner than we think.