Stepping into his new role Tuesday as chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, James Gore sought to emphasize how the October wildfires should fundamentally reshape the way local government officials conduct their regular business this year.
Gore, elected in 2014 to represent the northern county’s 4th District, was named by his colleagues to the standard one-year term helming the five-member elected body that oversees the county government, with a $1.59 billion budget and more than 4,000 employees. He is also running for re-election this year.
“Welcome to the new normal,” Gore, a former Obama administration official, said in what was the board’s first meeting this year. “The key for us — the task in 2018, is to take a fire that burned our community and use it to forge progress. And that is not lofty thinking. That is the absolute mandate to do what we haven’t done before, which is to move from what I could call incremental progress to shock and awe progress.”
He takes over the post from Supervisor Shirlee Zane, with a countywide agenda that will inevitably remain focused on recovery from the firestorm that erupted three months ago, marking the worst natural disaster in county history. It consumed more than 5,100 homes and killed 24 people in the county.
Gore said the county’s resiliency against extreme natural disasters — including fires, droughts and floods — must be a top priority for policymakers moving forward.
Supervisors will have a chance to flesh out the specifics of the board’s 2018 agenda when they meet for a strategic planning session next week.
Gore said local officials should be most mindful of the tens of thousands of residents who were displaced and the need to speed rebuilding of their homes. The county was already suffering a severe housing shortage before the disaster struck.
“This last year has been momentous in many ways,” Zane said before passing her gavel as chairwoman to Gore. “We launched it, 2017, with a motto I had: Build, baby, build.
It was an inspiring goal in 2017, but post fire, it’s become a community mandate for people to live here and work here.”
The county signed on to a letter that presses 40 different budget and policy requests of the state, underscoring the steep toll on public resources from the fires and looming challenges ahead in the recovery.
The letter, addressed to Gov. Jerry Brown and Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, was crafted as a joint message from Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties.
It asks the state to reimburse property taxes, tourist taxes and sales taxes lost due to the fires; waive local governments’ share of the bill for debris cleanup; steer certain state funds toward affordable housing investments in fire affected-areas; alter state rules about power brown outs during intense winds and require insurers to cover housing assistance for at least three years, among other requests.
Supervisors in the other three counties have agreed to back the letter as well, officials said.
You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.