The crowd at the first meeting of the Alliance for a Just, Equitable, and Sustainable Recovery

Just, Equitable, and Sustainable Recovery for Sonoma

At a public event on July 19, community members joined with environmental, labor, and elected leaders to mobilize as the Alliance for a Just, Equitable, and Sustainable Recovery—also known as the Just Recovery Alliance—from the North Bay fires in Sonoma County, Santa Rosa and beyond.

The event was organized by North Bay Jobs with Justice. Greenbelt Alliance, Sierra Club, Sonoma County Conservation Action, 350.org, and many of our allies in the environmental community are key partners in the Just Recovery Alliance.

The recovery and rebuild is a marathon, not a sprint. That is why the Common Agenda put forth at this meeting, which offers a blueprint for how to proceed, is so essential. Its vision of a just, equitable and sustainable recovery is critical to the future of our region’s people and environment.

A Fire Adapted Landscape

We live in a place where the land is supposed to burn. We live in a fire-adapted landscape.

Decades of fire suppression, combined with unrelenting growth and development into the wildlands in California and across the West, has resulted in perfect conditions for regular firestorms. This combination of built-up fuel and vulnerable structures has led to what Professor Gregory Simon, author of Flame and Fortune in the American Westcalls the Incendiary.

In his book, Simon delves deep into wildfires and urban sprawl, examining the land-use policies, politics and drive for profits that got us into this predicament. In other words, Mother Nature is not responsible for disastrous wildfires. We are.

As climate change triggers droughts and warmer temperatures, still more fuel is being added to the fire. As we saw last year, the burn season is getting longer and the conflagrations more extreme. And this year’s season is off to an even worse start.

Being smart about how and where we grow is a key factor in mitigating fire risk and climate change while protecting our environment and health. Keeping those principles in mind as we rebuild will be essential for a just, equitable, and sustainable recovery.

Driving Up Temperatures

The fact that we need to drive so much is a huge problem. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of miles Sonoma County drivers spent on the road increased by 12%. That’s an increase of 260,000 miles every day.

Over that time we increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Sonoma County by 0.5%—not counting air travel or the shipment of goods into the region. There is good news—GHG emissions in buildings fell slightly thanks to Sonoma Clean Power—but from here on the power to fight climate change is truly in our hands.

If we keep driving this much, GHGs will continue to increase. This will prevent us from meeting our goal of reducing GHGs to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, further worsening the conditions that cause these climate-fueled fires.

Solving the Challenge

The solutions to addressing wildfire risk and climate change go beyond better emergency response, more fire engines, and the removal of dead trees and vegetation. We need to rethink how and where we both create and rebuild our communities. In fact, to truly achieve a just, equitable and sustainable recovery, we’ll need to rethink the entire status quo.

Right now, the most important part of that is avoiding short-sighted decisions that could negatively impact the people, lands, and economy of Sonoma County in the long run. That means we need to lobby our elected officials and generate community pressure to adopt and implement fire smart policies.

As we speak, the new Fire Recovery Plan, General Plan Updates, and new housing initiatives are all moving forward quickly.

We must speak up to ensure that no one ever again dies as a result of poor land use or other policy decisions in Sonoma County.

Contact Teri Shore at tshore@greenbelt.org for more information on how to get involved with the Just Recovery Alliance.

Photo: Timo Newton-Syms via Wikimedia Commons

3 Comments on “Just, Equitable, and Sustainable Recovery for Sonoma

  1. I am curious about what is being done to make the rebuild of Coffee Park and Fountain Grove in Santa Rosa sustainable. The PD has written about the gentrification of Coffee Park but what is being done in terms of making homes all electric or so that they can become all electric or use solar or wind or other renewable energy sources? Any new building codes will take years to implement, but the homes are going up now. While any changes might increase the initial costs, Sonoma County and Sonoma Clean Power have made it easier to borrow or pay for solar and energy costs are going to increase, no matter what, so solar, etc. would be a wise investment.

    • Hi Tony, thank you for asking that question! Sonoma Clean Power, in partnership with PG&E and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, has been offering $7,500-$17,500 in incentives to those who lost their homes in the October 2017 wildfires to help them rebuild highly energy-efficient and all-electric homes. We offer two incentive options based on whether the homeowner would like to keep a gas line connection inside their home or would like to go all-electric. On top of either package, a homeowner can receive an additional $5,000 if they choose to install a solar system with battery storage. You can learn more about the program here: https://sonomacleanpower.org/aer. Also, please feel free to email programs@sonomacleanpower.org or call us at 707-890-8500 if you have any questions.

      • Thank you very much for providing the options for those seeking to rebuild in a sustainable mode. However, I have not seen any information regarding the incentives you mentioned and I find it irresponsible that the PD has not mentioned this in their coverage and to my knowledge, has not announced or covered the meetings of the Climate Action Subcommittee of the Santa Rosa City Council and their discussions of amending the code to provide for all-electric ready construction.
        This process demands public input and while many concerned residents attended the first meeting, more need to become involved and put pressure on the city council to pass an all electric ready building code. We also need to support the city’s conversion to the Evergreen option that will provide 100% renewable power ASAP.

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