It’s been a traumatic few weeks for Sonoma Valley; many now homeless, woodlands and grasslands denuded of ground-cover, unhealthy air, and an economy hit hard. The ripple effects of the Sonoma Valley Firestorm will continue for months, and so will the personal and social trauma.
At the same time, this tragedy has brought the community together in remarkable ways. Social media is one example; Sonoma Valley Fire Updates group on Facebook numbers over 9,000 members, and established itself as an unparalleled communication system with first-hand reports, personal reflections and links to important resources. Begun and moderated by Kate Molesworth and Erin Hill Freschi, the group has deservedly won widespread praise for its tone and spirit.
“The love in the air is thicker than the smoke” became a rallying cry to our better selves, and we hope the spirit it embodies continues to grow. Recovery is going to require something of everyone, and the real power of community, at all times, is caring about each other.
Recovery will be easier for some than for others. Many who lost their homes were lower-income renters who lack insurance for lost possessions and property and the financial resources to pay deposits and sign leases on what is now an even more severe housing shortage. These folks are the engine that keeps our local economy running, as we’ve noted many times in these pages, and providing safe and affordable housing for them is now an emergency requiring extraordinary planning.
The large, corporate businesses in the City and Valley have ample resources to call upon, but many locally-owned, smaller businesses do not. For these smaller businesses, a month or two of few customers spells bankruptcy. Unfortunately, both the city and county budgets have little in the way of available financial support, and an unprecedented event like this fire storm tends to reveal just how slim the economic reserves of local government are. If we are going to recover, it will require something from all of us.
For those who have financial resources to share, an accountable and efficient community support vehicle is necessary. A number of our non-profits can come together and pool their efforts to direct funds and help to those who need it most. Such cooperation was, notably, highlighted in the recent “Hidden in Plain Sight” report of the Sonoma Valley Fund. Now is the time for factionalism, turf-protection and competition to be set aside in favor of sitting down together at a table and hammering out some plans. Government, both city and county, need to be at the table, too; recovery will require everyone’s participation.
While we can’t afford vacation rentals that consume local housing stock, for example, we need to be flexible about people with extra rooms in their homes temporarily renting them to locals who need a place to live for a while; government needs to provide the legal framework for that. The Tourism Improvement District should redirect resources to help local working people, with a program to subsidize housing in some percent of local hotel rooms this winter. And, ground needs to be broken ASAP on the Altimira Family Apartment project on Broadway.
We’ll need all the creativity and generosity this community can muster. And love.
–Sun Editorial Board