County solicits recovery plan comments
Neighborhood leaders want more precise directions
Before the fires were even put out last year, Sonoma County started working on getting better prepared for future disasters, forming an Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR) to oversee and coordinate multiple agencies in the ongoing job of improving public safety in the face of climate change, drought, earthquakes, floods and other potential disasters. Among the many local, state and federally funded studies and programs now underway, the ORR set up a program of having people from each fire impacted neighborhood organize themselves by setting up phone trees and talking about whatever problems they may be having rebuilding and recovering from the enormous impacts of the 2017 conflagration.
Block captains from all over Supervisor Susan Gorin’s First District have gathered in Kenwood every other Wednesday since last May, at the Kenwood Depot, to exchange the current state of affairs, hearing from experts in building, insurance, permit process and other challenging areas for people facing the daunting task of getting back on their feet. There are a total of 30 block captains in the First District, according to Gorin’s field representative Arielle Kubu-Jones, who moderates those meetings. “Although, usually, only about half attend any given meeting,” she said after the group’s most recent gathering on Nov. 28.
A main objective of the ORR has been developing an overall vision of what needs to be done. An 88-page blueprint for the future, titled Draft Recovery and Resiliency Framework, was presented to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 26. That report included a 23-page Potential Action List, suggesting possible things to do to address issues in five major categories: Community Preparedness and Infrastructure, Housing, Economy, Safety Net Services, and Natural Resources.
Two weeks ago, on Nov. 13, the ORR convened a special group consisting of two block captains from each district to seek input on the Potential Action List from their compadres, which is what Susan Miron and Will Abrams did at the recent block captain’s Kenwood Depot meeting. Miron lost her home on Treehaven Court in Kenwood, and Abrams lost his Hidden Hills home in Rincon Valley.
Miron and Abrams were to return that input to an ORR meeting on Nov. 30, after this paper’s deadline. The aggregated recommendations will be presented for Supervisors approval or comments at their regular meeting on Dec. 11. Keep in mind that the Framework is entirely advisory in nature, and will not require any actions from anyone; rather, it is a roadmap for future considerations, a checklist of things that should be considered in forming new policies and definite actions.
The top action of the list is “Establish a first class comprehensive warning program with innovative technology and state of the art situational awareness.” A subsection of that reads, “Meet future challenges by redesigning the County Emergency Management Program, providing additional resources, and recommitting to the County’s public safety missions.”
Several captains at Wednesday’s meeting found the list fell short of pointing to the action they would like to see from the county.
“I thought this process would be much further along by now,” Abrams said, commenting that many of the listed actions were too indefinite. “I’d like to see more activity with objective things to do with existing systems. It’s been wait, wait, wait, while one idea stalls for want of another action by another agency or department or group. This (plan) is all over the place. We need a baseline for emergency alerts, like fire size, air quality indicators, objective measures. It’s hard to prioritize a robust system without a trigger set.”
Pete Parkinson, former head of the Sonoma County Permit Resource and Management Department (PRMD), is the block captain for Bennett Ridge, and was happy he got a roof on his new home before the rains started. He shared concerns about the lack of specificity in the action list.
“We need to have desired outcomes,” Parkinson said. “The Framework is too vague. It’s meaningless if it doesn’t tell me anything. It needs to tie goals and actions to some sort of outcomes. What I want to see is what the real world will look like when it’s done.”
O’Donnell Lane resident Mike Witkowski suggested that, “We need some measure to evaluate the system, to assess what has happened and to account for what happens in the future, to follow the plans.” He shared experiences of working with other committees that produced plans where there was no follow up to see what happened.
Finding money to pay for the suggested programs is a major theme throughout the Proposed Action List.
“This is an enormously expensive undertaking,” Parkinson said, including all of the suggested actions. “We need to get money to get the staff to plan it. These are big things that take time and resources to cross the finish line.
Witkowski echoed that sentiment: “We need to get the money up front. (This plan) is too broad, it lacks specificity.” He said it is hard to develop a specific plan without knowing how much you can spend on it.
Abrams suggested that the county could put out a Request for Proposal for an emergency warning system. “Let the private sector figure it out and provide us with the ideas,” he said. “We need tech expertise on tap to use for resource. Have experts contribute. This is tough stuff, all-hands-on-deck stuff.”
Both the Framework and Potential Action List can be viewed or downloaded at the ORR website, sonomacounty.ca.gov/Office-of-Recovery-and-Resiliency/. If you would like to know more about the block captain meetings and program, contact Arielle Kubu-Jones at Arielle.Kubu-Jones@sonoma.county.orgor call her at 565-2241.