A Letter to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

September 1, 2020

Hon. Susan Gorin, Chair
Hon. David Rabbitt, Supervisor
Hon. Shirlee Zane, Supervisor
Hon. James Gore, Supervisor
Hon. Lynda Hopkins, Supervisor, Vice Chair

RE: Allocation of $149M PG&E 2017 Wildfire Settlement Funding

Dear Sonoma County Board of Supervisors:

We appreciate the competing requests for allocation of the $149M from the settlement with PG&E specifically related to their culpability in the wildfire disaster of October of 2017. We are writing to respectfully request the county invest these funds in long term fire prevention and resiliency projects to mitigate and even prevent future wide scale disasters. Specifically, we are requesting the county direct the funds towards practical long neglected projects that not only mitigate risk, but also prepare the community. We believe all sectors (public, private, nonprofit, health, and education) have a role and responsibility in preparing and responding to disasters, but lack of funding remains a severe constraint in our collective ability to rise to meet the moment.

We submit this is your moment to rise to meet the immediate need to build resilience into our county. This process must be well funded, and it will take years. The past few weeks have served as a stark reminder of our collective vulnerability, the scale of grief and destruction from wildfires, and the urgent opportunity to invest in the future. If not now, then when? There is no road to later. Never again will Sonoma County have an infusion of funding of this scale to make a difference that can and will make us safer a year from now, a decade from today, and 20 years into our future. Imagine if our supervisors 20 years ago could have foreseen the scale of destruction, trauma, and grief headed our way in 2017 through 2020? What would they have done differently if given the opportunity to invest significantly in fuel mitigation and disaster preparedness? We have a view into our future now. We know now what they did not know then. This is your legacy opportunity.

Rebuild NorthBay Foundation was founded in the midst of the fires on October 11, 2017 to assist in the long-term rebuilding of our region. In fact, our $2M in seed funding came from PG&E. We are acutely aware of how careful allocation of resources has enabled us to make a marked difference for the past nearly three years. We have remained in this space with dogged determination and, to our horror, watched as the list of fire survivors has grown with each disaster. We have not forgotten our fire survivors, the needs of our public sector, or our responsibility to assist other disaster areas across the state and the nation. We stand with the block captains. We stand with uninsured, the unemployed, the rebuilders, and those who resettled in other homes, or in other places. We stand with you, our public sector elected officials, and ask you to please allocate these funds to make us safer, stronger, greener, and better. We submit this was and is the intention of funds.

Specifically, we support these fire survivor requests:

  1. The fire-affected areas were severely damaged and have not been restored. Residents in these communities are still struggling and need support.
  2. Roads were badly damaged by the fires and the equipment that was needed to put out those fires. We know FEMA may provide funding, but that will take years and is not guaranteed.
  3. Prepare and empower our most vulnerable communities, especially senior populations and Latinx, with funding to create robust fire resilient councils and ensure they are culturally relevant. We should begin with a matrix of vulnerable communities and begin there with training, supplies, coordination, MOUs for food services, etc.
  4. The 2017 fire-damaged communities are still the source of fire hazards that affect all of us, and funding should be targeted for projects including the following:
    • Vegetation management is needed, especially along critical evacuation routes.
    • Road pull outs are needed along major evacuation routes to allow for the safe evacuation of residents simultaneously with emergency vehicles entering the area.
    • Fire breaks are needed in the historic path of wildfires, such as in the area east of Porter Creek and Calistoga Roads and west of the City of Calistoga, in order to protect the cities and communities below.
    • Similarly, the Springs area of Sonoma Valley has burned down three times in recorded memory. There is a ton of fuel in the eastern hills of this heavily populated area in statistically the most vulnerable community in unincorporated Sonoma County.
    • We can learn from the LNU Complex Fires how to ensure western and northern Sonoma County become more resilient. We have more information now than ever before.
    • Equipment and manpower for the county chipper program is needed to support the property-owners who are doing their own fuel-reduction efforts.

Disasters, as you know, do not care if a house is big or small, if the occupants are rich or poor. However, recovery is dramatically uneven and those most affected too often forgotten. We recognize the need to invest in social equity and housing, but we submit the primary focus of these funds should be mitigation, resiliency, and unfunded projects from 2017. Every year we experience a disaster, it sets our community into crisis mode and the numbers of displaced and affected victims swell. Our most vulnerable are asked yet again to absorb the impact disproportionately. Our business community has suffered repeatedly, never more so than now with our economic co-morbidity of COVID-19. Our mental health is stretched. We simply cannot continue to sustain disasters annually, especially when we have an opportunity now to make an actual difference.

We know each of you cares deeply for this vibrant, beautiful and verdant county. We respectfully submit that that our bucolic viewsheds extract an obligation to care for them responsibly. In doing so, you are protecting the 500,000 people who depend upon your judgement and compassion. We are asking you to invest in our safety, resiliency, and our tomorrow.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Gray Thompson                            Judy Coffey
Executive Director                                        President, Board of Directors

Rebuild NorthBay Foundation is a registered 501c3 committed to rebuilding the North Bay region of Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino Counties better, safer, greener, faster. For more information, please visit www.rebuildnorthbay.org