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California's massive fires reveal our illusion of control over disasters 

Faith Kearns, BAY NATURE
I drove away from the Pepperwood Preserve in the Sonoma County hills on a hot and windy Sunday evening in October feeling hopeful. I’d spent part of the day talking with members of the California Naturalist Program about wildfire-induced emotional trauma in the region. As I arrived home in Berkeley later that evening, however, that peculiar fire weather feeling Joan Didion described as when the “winds show us how close to the edge we are” kicked into overdrive.
Several hours later, I awoke to the overwhelming smell of smoke and the news that people all over the Bay Area were hearing: a number of large fires were running wild through the beautiful place I’d left just the night before.
As the days went on, a horrifying picture emerged. Story after story of sudden and terrifying evacuations appeared. Whole neighborhoods had been awoken in the middle of the night by people—some police and firefighters, but many simply neighbors—banging on doors or honking horns as emergency alert systems lagged.
These reports from citizens are harrowing enough on their own but, as a scientist working on disasters like drought and wildfire in California for over a decade, I’m especially struck by the changing commentary from the emergency response community itself. As an example, Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott told the Sacramento Bee that “it’s becoming more the norm now to have multiple damaging fires” at the same time. In the Ventura County Star, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jonathon Cox said the fire was “unstoppable.” Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner noted the pace of alerts and evacuations simply couldn’t keep up with the pace of the fire. These are remarkable statements from top-down, command-and-control institutions.
Read more at: California’s Massive Fires Reveal Our Illusion of Control Over Disasters – Bay Nature

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EPA has cleared 5,567 Sonoma, Napa properties of hazardous waste

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it has removed household hazardous waste from three-quarters of Sonoma and Napa county properties destroyed or damaged during last month’s North Bay wildfires.The EPA said that since its hazardous waste removal operations began Oct. 27, it had cleaned 5,567 properties in both counties. The federal agency has collected items such as small paint cannisters, large chemical drums, corrosive or toxic cleaners, solvents, oils, batteries, herbicides and pesticides.
The items removed have been transported to EPA staging areas in Windsor and Yountville before they are sent to permanent disposal locations. EPA officials said the cleanup of hazardous waste is necessary before state and federal agencies can remove ash and other debris.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.
Source: EPA has cleared 5,567 Sonoma, Napa properties of hazardous waste

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

After fires, Sonoma County speeds sale of Santa Rosa property eyed for new apartments

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County has for several years wanted to sell a vacant building complex it owns in west Santa Rosa, but with the devastating October wildfires having intensified the region’s housing crisis, local officials now hope to get the property in the hands of a private developer faster than originally planned.
The county’s Community Development Commission this week released a request for developers to show their qualifications and interest in building new housing at 2150 W. College Ave. Prospective applicants have until 3 p.m. Monday to respond, and county supervisors could decide to move forward in some fashion the next day.
“We already had a housing shortage, and so every development that can be expedited and we can get out of the way in government to make stuff happen — I think that’s the order of the day,” said Margaret Van Vliet, the commission’s executive director.
County officials previously estimated the 7.5-acre site could support 170 apartments. Van Vliet thinks the property could ultimately house closer to 200 units.
The commission bought the property, which was formerly the headquarters of the county Water Agency, for $4.2 million this summer and then kicked off a process to select an apartment developer. But after the fires last month wiped out 5 percent of Santa Rosa’s housing stock, along with thousands of other homes outside city limits, the county decided it needed to speed up the process as much as possible.
Read more at: After fires, Sonoma County speeds sale of Santa Rosa property eyed for new apartments

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable Living, UncategorizedTags , , ,

Blazing speed: UGB's come up for a vote and post-fire rebuild plans come into focus

Tom Gogola, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
It would be inaccurate to say that the fire-limiting qualities of so-called urban growth boundaries and community separators were vindicated in the North Bay fires.
After all, as Teri Shore notes, the catastrophic Tubbs fire swept through the Fountaingrove neighborhood, crossed the community separator there, jumped into Santa Rosa’s urban growth boundary (UGB) and then burned it up.
Shore, regional director at the Greenbelt Alliance, has embraced UGBs and community separators. Urban growth boundaries took root decades ago in places like San Jose, Boulder, Colo., and Sonoma County as part of a new urbanism vernacular of “livable cities,” “walkable cities,” “resilient cities” and other sobriquets to indicate a civic emphasis on high-density development in order to keep the surrounding lands pristine in their agricultural and biodiverse glory—as they set out to reduce sprawl, not for fire protection per se, but to save farms and communities and local cultures. The community separators indicate the area between developed areas which comprise the urban growth boundary.
It would be a “huge leap to say that the community separator or urban growth boundary could have prevented [the fires],” Shore says. “On the other hand, it could have been worse if we had built more outside of the city boundaries.”
In other words, the regional UGBs may have played a role in the fires akin to the “chicken soup rule” when you’re sick: in the event of a catastrophic fire, UGBs can’t hurt, and they might even help limit the damage to property.
“We’re thinking through it,” says Shore of the relationship between preventing fires and the rebuilding path forward, and the role of greenbelts in the rebuild.
“I don’t know if there’s a correlation,” she says, “but clearly keeping our growth within the town and cities, instead of sprawling out, potentially reduces the impact from wildfires.”
Read more at: Blazing Speed | News | North Bay Bohemian

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags ,

Fire-scorched Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa focal point of debate over rebuilding

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
As Santa Rosa sets its sights on rebuilding following the deadly wildfires this month, the city has sent homeowners a clear message that it will not stand in their way.

Anyone who owned a home in the city has a right to rebuild it in the same place, as long as modern building codes are followed, officials have said.But some are asking whether it’s wise to let one neighborhood in particular — the hillside enclave of Fountaingrove — be rebuilt as it was, given that it has now burned to the ground twice in 53 years and wasn’t built according to city rules to begin with.
The Tubbs fire, which roared over the hills from Calistoga on Oct. 8, claimed hundreds of homes in the upscale neighborhood.

“I hesitate to even suggest this,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, a former Fountaingrove resident who lost her Oakmont home in the Nuns fire to the south. “But many people are starting to say, why are we — and this is in the city’s realm — why are we thinking about permitting the rebuilding of Fountaingrove?”
The question is not an idle one. The cleanup of debris left by the destruction of 2,900 homes citywide in the Tubbs and Nuns fires is already underway. If it goes according to plan, homesites could be ready to rebuild in a matter of a few months.

Read more at: Fire-scorched Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa focal point of debate over rebuilding | The Press Democrat –