The environmental expert currently occupying the White House was quick to assign responsibility for wildfires burning in California. Using the venerable Republican strategy of blaming the victim, he tweeted:
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor.”
In fact, these fires are fueled mostly by grass and chaparral; forest land, not so much.
“Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost…. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
In fact, California each year sends more dollars to D.C. through federal tax payments than comes back into the state via Federal spending. (As is the case with most “blue” states.)
Sonoma County artist Tom Swearingen knows what he’ll be doing for the next year: painting roses. Since retiring from the Santa Rosa police department several years ago, Tom has become known for his “Playful Realism” paintings. His “Photorealism” work includes a series of police badges, trains, and also many visual puns. In the aftermath of the devastating fires that left many homeless, he has committed to painting a “Rose of Resilience” each day for a year. For $95, a patron of the arts could commission a rose and specify the flower and background colors. All $95 goes to the North Bay Fire Relief Fund. Village Art Supply has donated canvases for the project. He quickly received orders for all 365 paintings, raising $34,540.
A few miles west, in the town of Sebastopol, Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent, have used their neighbors’ yards for installations of their self-described “Junk Art.” For years their whimsical sculptures have delighted passers-by on Florence Avenue. Amiot’s work can also be seen in public places around the area. One of their major works, a full-sized carousel, to honor immigrants, was unveiled last year on Canada Day in Markham, Ontario.
The husband-and-wife team decided to create a monument honoring first responders to the recent fires. Built with fire extinguishers, fuel canisters, woodstove parts and other detritus, the twelve-foot-high firefighter stands adjacent to the SMART commuter light rail in downtown Santa Rosa.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it had removed household hazardous waste from 5,500 properties in Napa and Sonoma counties, three-quarters of those destroyed or damaged by fire.
Sonoma County has begun process of adjusting tax assessments. The Assessor’s office was not damaged, but was closed for several days because of mandatory evacuation. Fortunately, aerial views simplify assessing properties that have been reduced to ash. Others, in rural areas or suffering partial losses, require on-site inspections and will take longer. The fires occurred the same time tax bills were being prepared. Tax revenue will obviously be lower; the real hit may come next year. The city of Santa Rosa estimates it has lost a third of its tax base.
The California Insurance Commissioner estimated insured losses will exceed $3 billion. Rebuilding costs will be high. Property owners will need to decide to rebuild exactly as what was lost, with required code upgrades, or to make changes. Shortages of contractors, construction labor and basic building materials will drive up costs. Renters, in what was already an extremely tight market, face uncertainty about what their landlords will do. Many will leave the area to find employment and housing, likely to not return.
Who is coming to Santa Rosa? Lawyers, swarms of lawyers, from all around the country. Although the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, law firms, eager to sue Pacific Gas & Electric, are invading Santa Rosa. As a former resident of Santa Rosa once said to journalists sleuthing the Watergate story, “Follow the money.” The giant utility PG&E has deep pockets and of course, is widely disliked. Sparks from power lines downed by high winds are one possible cause of the fires. The attorneys aren’t waiting; they’re advertising on billboards and TV, and setting up town-hall style meeting for prospective clients. And if PG&E lawsuits don’t work out, there’ll be plenty of other generally loathed, big-money targets to sue: insurance companies.
I recently repatriated from northern California back to Portland. I spent the past twenty-plus years in Santa Rosa, the heart of Sonoma Wine Country. Residing there one becomes accustomed to ever-moving ground and resultant cracked walls and stuck and then unstuck doors. Once a diverse agricultural area, while I was there, Gravenstein apples, hops, prunes and other crops were replaced with vineyards. Nearly every bare patch of ground was planted with wine grapes. Santa Rosa was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s murder-suspense “Shadow of a Doubt.” The artist Christo brought notoriety to Sonoma County in the sixties with his “Running Fence.” Every spring, the Rose Parade, smaller scale than Portland’s Rose Festival, brings out thousands of spectators.
When I became a full-time resident, the city’s population was about 125,000; it was about 175,000 when I left last year. What the population is today is a guess; three thousand homes have been destroyed by fire, including the affluent
Fountain Grove neighborhood and the working class Coffey Park area. The Fountain Grove homeowners have the means to be okay sooner than the residents of Coffey Park, many of them renters. Businesses, Trader Joe’s, the Hilton Hotel, K-Mart and dozens more have been destroyed. Chateau St. Jean and Paradise Ridge Wineries are no more; other wineries suffered significant damage. The home of “Peanuts” creator, Charles Schulz burned to the ground. (His widow Jean had been evacuated.) The Charles M. Schulz Museum and adjacent Snoopy’s Ice Rink areunscathed so far. Celebrity chef Guy Fieri, whose Santa Rosa home still stands, recruited volunteers and suppliers for outdoor grilling near the fairgrounds to feed first responders and those who suddenly became homeless.
This is Santa Rosa’s worst disaster since 1906. The epicenter of the San Francisco Earthquake was a couple miles west of Santa Rosa. With about 7,000 residents at the time, Santa Rosa suffered, per capita, greater damage and loss of life than the big city fifty miles south.
Santa Rosa, in transition from small agricultural town to Wine Country destination during my time there, will survive and rebuild, but the scars and pain will last a long time.
There has been some – not a lot, really – agitation for the city of Portland to erect some kind of monument to The Simpsons, the long-running television program and brainchild of Portland native Matt Groenig. After all, many Simpsons characters are named after Portland streets.
The local Willamette Week newspaper used Santa Rosa California as an example. Peanuts characters are inescapable in any part of the adopted home of Charles M. Schulz. The information booth at Santa Rosa’s airport, the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, is a reproduction of Lucy’s “Psychiatric Help 5¢” booth.
Portland has already honored another native literary icon with statues of fictional characters. You may be familiar with the Henry Huggins series of books. The Multnomah County Library’s central location houses its children’s book in the Beverly Cleary Room.
The adventures of Henry and his dog Ribsy found in their neighborhood have entertained several generations of young readers. Henry and Ribsy live on Klickitat Street in northeast Portland. (Present tense, because they are still alive for readers.) The sisters Beezus and Ramona Quimby reside down the street. The Library periodically sponsors walking tours of their neighborhood.
A couple years ago, the Laurelwood Brewery, based in northeast Portland, was selling their product from a booth at an outdoor concert. They were promoting a seasonal brew, Klickitat Ale. I asked if that was what Henry Huggins drank. The server looked at me as if I was an alien being speaking an unknown language.
Santa Rosa California, where I spent the past two decades, is the largest city between San Francisco and Portland. Its population is 175,000, about 50,000 more than when I arrived. Notable citizens of the city, other than me, included Luther Burbank, Robert Ripley, Charles M. Schulz, and champion self-promoter Guy Fieri. His celebrity-driven success made it expedient to sell Johnny Garlic’s restaurant, his starting point before Food Network fame.