Sonoma County supervisors consider framework for recovery, resiliency

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Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday will weigh in on a wide-ranging blueprint outlining ways the region can recover from the October 2017 wildfires and bolster preparedness for future disasters.

The recovery plan, described as the most comprehensive county effort to date, offers more than 200 proposed actions covering community preparedness, infrastructure, housing, economy, safety net services and natural resources. Developed by the county’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency after public outreach and input from the Board of Supervisors, it creates a framework for collaboration between public, private, and non-governmental sectors.

It also compiles steps taken toward preparedness and recovery, and sets goals for the next five to 10 years, said Michael Gossman, the Office of Recovery and Resiliency director.

Supervisors will consider approving the plan, identifying key projects and creating an ad hoc committee of two supervisors to guide staff in implementing the actions. In April, the board will hear an update on that progress, including funding sources, time frames and metrics for success. Supervisors will receive quarterly progress updates, Gossman said.

“What I am pushing for is that we identify the top 10 items we want to have completed by the first quarter of 2019 … it depends on us not to rest on our laurels,” said Supervisor James Gore, the board’s chairman. “The framework is going to continue to drive change, and that urgency is what our fire survivors and block captains are asking for, and it’s what we supervisors have been pushing for.”

County staff presented a draft plan to supervisors in September and worked with department leaders and block captains to parse out 10 priority projects, which include a more comprehensive alert system and working with the community to identify hazards and evacuation routes. County officials were criticized over a failure to adequately alert the public in the 2017 wildfires that burned about 5,300 homes and killed 24 people in Sonoma County.

Gore said his top priority is bolstering warnings and creating “common operating principles.”

Supervisor Susan Gorin said the creation of a wide-reaching alert system also is at the top of her list.

Other measures include seeking outside funding to help rebuild and retrofit more resilient homes near wildlands and advocating for a more transparent and cohesive insurance system. Better brush management also is a key priority, as is working with private utilities to safeguard equipment from disasters.

“I have confidence that this framework will allow us to move and grow,” Gorin said.

Funding hasn’t been identified for all the measures, but Gore pointed to federal, state and local sources. Some actions, such as installing fire detection cameras, creating a new emergency management division and testing sirens, already have been funded and started.

Gossman said the plan will help advocate for statewide changes to alert systems and insurance reform, as well as serve as a mechanism for seeking outside dollars.

Gwen Bargetzi, a block captain in Fountaingrove whose Repton Way home was destroyed in the fire, helped choose key priorities. She pushed for the development of an early warning system and creating evacuation plans, she said.

As she hopes to rebuild her own home, Bargetzi said the county’s steps to rebuild the larger community are encouraging.

“This (effort) is good,” she said. “You get the most bang for the buck — it hits on the most important aspects learned from the fire.”

You can reach Staff Writer Hannah Beausang at 707-521-5214.or hannah.beausang@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @hannahbeausang.

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