For the man on the street trying to find easily accessible, public sources of information concerning the County’s post-fire rebuild effort, it’s not easy to get a sense of what is going on, or where the money is going.
It helps to break down aspects into categories, by lead municipality, by intended purpose of funds, by who administers the funds, whether funds are specifically for fire-related rebuilding, for future housing needs, or for immediate human needs.
Redwood Credit Union’s North Bay Fire Relief fund has a transparent website. Almost $14 million has been raised to date, and disbursements to a wide range of needs are shown to be overseen by RCU, Senator Mike McGuire and the Press Democrat. Issues addressed by the RCU fund include those of first responders, urgent food needs, immediate/short and midterm housing, K-12 Students, college Students, people who lost homes in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties, small businesses, people experiencing economic hardship, community well-being. Intended disbursements are shown by dollar amount.
Of these RCU fire relief funds, La Luz Center is administering $750,000. (See adjacent story).
Along with Redwood Credit Union, Rebuild North Bay (RNB) is a large fundraising actor in the rebuilding effort. RNB is focused on residential and business rebuilding. RNB has already raised $20 million dollars, and further intends to raise money from federal and state sources. These public funds will be subject to transparent tracking and fair wage laws.
On the RNB website, the last press reference was in late October. Rebuild North Bay could show its accounting and plans more transparently, with RCU as a template.
For many progressives, the central role of Darius Anderson in the rebuild effort continues to be unsettling. A huge land use coup appears to have taken place, by an actor at the center of many existing land use disputes, where 1 percent luxury interests have competed against the interests of Main Street. To have one 1 percent guy control so much power already, and now jump into the center of the post-disaster rebuild, a financial landscape context with many past examples (Katrina, etc.) of corruption and cronyism, and not have readily available public transparent oversight, does not inspire confidence.
It is possible that past baggage over elite-level projects do not represent current intent. How would the public know, absent detailed publicly posted plans and financial reporting? Why should large, momentous land use policies bottleneck down to having to take the word of one person that all is good?
Climate and social justice advocates have concerns that, in a rush for expedient solutions for fire-related rebuilding, that market-rate profit making of all types will become the covert goal. In this rush to build, there will be pressure to sidestep standards that shoot for the most current climate protection thresholds. A living wage (to afford living here) for construction workers may be minimized to reduce rebuilding costs. In this regard, the Sonoma Valley Climate Coalition, 350. org, and Jobs With Justice have prepared statements and position papers urging decision makers to uphold environmental, climate and social justice values, in rebuild and new build efforts.
Supporting this general thrust of inclusion of community ideals is SOCO Rises, a group of serious County actors, including Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who are urging all voices to be heard, as rebuild/ build plans and policies are made. Central question here: How can powerful, topdown, central actors that are primarily market rate and profit-focused, address needs that also need to be framed by bottom-up community activists and nonprofit developers?
Most of the rebuild and new build action will be in Santa Rosa. Thus, regional housing interested parties from Sonoma Valley are a long way away from the action, news, and decision making process. In Sonoma Valley, rebuilding is of a different scope and nature. Valley burned areas are in unincorporated county, the bulk of burned homes were not tract development, and most owners are in an insurance/ wealth position to be made close to whole. In Glen Ellen, however, Census tract information shows the presence of an economically disadvantaged community. Funds and aid could be targeted to homeowners there.
As the smoke clears, and market rate entities move in to enact rebuilding and building efforts, sanctioned by a redtape-cutting government, to address real human suffering and rebuilding needs, let the public keep an eye on how the needs of climate protection and inclusion of the lower-income workforce are being met, and not minimized by a rush to expediency.