In burnt-over Wine Country, now comes the hard part

Fires destroyed thousands of buildings and homes in Sonoma County’s largest city, Santa Rosa. Burned to the ground was the greater part of a large working-class neighborhood, a mobile-home park, and three expensive hillside developments.
PHOTO/LIVIA FERGUSON, GREENPEACE

 

SANTA ROSA, CA—The fires in Northern California’s wine country were terrible, but the aftermath may get pretty ugly, too, as vulture capitalists wheel above the devastation.

And it’s not the first time. After the fire, retired county planner Ray Krauss recalled that he and others prepared a comprehensive “fire history” in the 1970s. They proposed limiting development where fires had burned catastrophically in the past.

There had been just such a fire in 1964 that cascaded down the mountains on the same path as last October’s. The area was sparsely settled then. The burned-out trailer parks and subdivisions of this year’s fire came later—as did the 44 people who died.

The area was developed against the planners’ advice because money talks. “The real-estate industry did everything they could to stop such proposals and vilified and attacked us planners and our work. And won,” Krauss wrote recently.

It gets worse. On the night of the recent fire, Pacific Gas & Electric had at least 10 incidents of arcing power lines and exploding transformers in the mountains, caused by high wind and falling trees—one of which may have started the blaze.

For nearly a decade after causing another major fire in San Diego, PG&E has been blocking a state-mandated study of where its power lines present the highest risk for wildfires.

Will We the People get to make the decisions about what and where to build this time around? Not without organizing and standing up against the deep pockets in months to come.

Already, some of the region’s wealthiest and most influential speculators are revving up to control the aftermath.

One of them, developer/lobbyist Darius Anderson—a major money raiser for the Democratic Party—has set up a by-invitation-only non-profit, “Rebuild North Bay,” and hired an ex-FEMA director to run it.

Anderson’s strong suit is that politicians in Sacramento and Washington will answer the phone when he calls. His weak suit is operating with the best interests of We the People in mind.

Before the fire, he was fighting a zoning ordinance that required him to build worker housing along with his new, Wine Country hotel.

Locals fear that he will push the power elite’s game plan of converting the county into a far suburb and weekend retreat for the expansion of Silicon Valley and its wealthy employees.

Also backing Rebuild North Bay is local powerbroker Doug Bosco, a lawyer/lobbyist—another major fundraiser for the Democrats and close Anderson associate. Bosco spent a good part of his career representing the big lumber interests that deforested much of the North Coast.

One of Bosco’s business partners, William Gallaher, is already trying to buy up properties in the devastated Coffey Park neighborhood, where insurance companies are offering onetime homeowners much less than it will cost to rebuild.

With friends like these you can to find your wallet empty, the locks to your house changed, and your car repossessed. Avoiding the fire next time will take organization, courage, and perseverance among We the People.

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