Wildfire in California and Economic Development

With a blanket of smoke in the air from multiple fires raging across California, policy-makers, investors and the business community gathered together to have a conversation. I was in Santa Rosa last week attending the California Economic Summit. I was inspired by the message of inclusivity and resiliency.

The location of the Summit this year was not an accident.  After devastating fires in the Sonoma region last year, Sonoma County wanted to highlight the region’s destruction and their subsequent fortitude.

As a rural Californian and as a progressive, I have high expectations for my peers. I attend these conferences in order to serve as a voice that demands inclusivity for under-served communities. Our issues need to be a distinct part of the conversation.

I came home inspired.

In spite of the rhetoric coming out of the national conversation, this year’s summit unabashedly focused on some of the most pressing issues facing California today: climate change, income inequality, workforce development, watershed restoration, affordable housing, and elevating rural California—including wildfire prevention, forest management, and rural broadband.

After attending the conference, I know that one thing is clear: key players understand that economic development in our Golden State will continue to rely on whole-systems thinking that must address all aspects of our economy. Where there were gaps, I raised my hand and stood as a voice for rural California.

Policy makers, investors, and businesses are weighing in on how to move forward with our advantages, while mitigating our risks in order to make our communities sustainable for everyone. This was an underlying current throughout the entire conference.

Given the recent events in our own community of the Sierra Foothills, I have found hope in the spirit of the people of Santa Rosa, who suffered last year from the Tubbs fire which burned more than 36,000 acres and destroyed over 3,600 structures, changing the landscape within the city limits of Santa Rosa and destroying landscapes inside Sonoma, Napa and Lake Counties.

Seeing the devastation of the Camp Fire has been terrifying and overwhelming.  This cannot be understated. Our friends in Butte County are on all of our minds. The relief effort is proof of that.

The heart-felt relief effort has been nothing short of an out-pouring. Our neighbors and all surrounding community members stand with Butte County in their time of need.

The people of Grass Valley and Nevada County know that what our communities to the North are facing today, is the terrifying possibility that we might face tomorrow.

What I didn’t realize until last week is that fire danger is on the forefront of the minds of everyone up and down California. We are not alone.

As wildfire is becoming more and more common, and as more communities are effected by crumbling infrastructure and increasing risk, the conversations about prevention and resiliency have shifted. This is no longer a rural conversation.  This is a California conversation.

In Santa Rosa, just a year later, neighborhoods are being put back together, houses are being rebuilt, burnt hillsides are cleared of dead trees and brush. The grass has come back green.

The natural world is resilient and so are the people who inhabit it.

The folks in Sonoma County have a saying: “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.”

As our neighbors continue to rebuild, and as we continue to help, let us hold that saying in our hearts. Let us bring that sentiment to community gatherings. Let us show up with our best selves.

To donate to the relief effort in Northern California click here.