Golis: We celebrate Christmas and generosity that lasts

A Christmas tree, that was decorated by a group of volunteers led by Ronnie Duvall, sits in the bed of a pickup truck on Rita Place that was destroyed by the Tubbs Fire, in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, California on Monday, December 11, 2017. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)


There’s no use pretending. In many ways, this was a terrible year. Good riddance, 2017.

In Washington, D.C., week after week of deceit and rancor left us to wonder if our country was coming unstuck. The nation’s capital became the place where goodwill goes to die.

And then came the fires of October and what would become the most costly natural disaster in the history of California. We will be a long time understanding and managing all of the impacts.

But the decency and generosity of people in Sonoma County shined through.

Over the past 10 weeks, we saw how the worst of disasters can bring out the best in friends and neighbors. The offerings of time, labor and love (money, too) have been amazing. Magnificent, really.

After returning home from fighting fires in the North Bay, the chief of an Arizona fire department was moved to write a letter to the editor of this newspaper. He said his agency had never experienced anything like the outpouring of messages from Sonoma County. People were sending their appreciation and gratitude to the men and women who came to help.

A friend tells the story of the local volunteer who was distributing food to fire evacuees when her phone alerted her to a text message. The message brought news that her home was among the 5,300 destroyed during the week of Oct. 9.

The volunteer read the message, put away the phone, and went back to handing out food to people in need.

We try to imagine. How does one summon the courage and grace to do this after learning that everything she owns is gone?

At year’s end, the Board of Supervisors was agreeing to create a recovery agency with a five-year lifespan — a sure signal that it’s a long road that leads back to normalcy.

Meanwhile, the Santa Rosa City Council deadlocked over a development proposal in Fountaingrove, one of the neighborhoods devastated by fire.

Whatever your view of the issues related to property rights, fire risks and an acute shortage of housing — issues sure to be debated — the recovery program will be in trouble if those deliberations don’t lead to a broad consensus about how to go forward.

Somewhere, new housing will need to be built, or people will be forced to leave, and we will be left with a gaping hole in the local economy.

Now we come to the first Christmas. The holidays, it is said, can be painful for people who have lost a loved one in the past year — and the emotions in Sonoma County may be like that.

We have all lost some part of ourselves, and the losses leave us to worry about the future well-being of this place we call home.

Yet we survive and persevere.

This Christmas, we wish for the gifts of love, understanding and support for the people who lost their homes. We also wish we could do more for them, and we promise to try.

For community leaders, we wish for the gift of wisdom. Three month ago, they could not have imagined the challenges that now face them — long hours, complicated and unfamiliar issues, tough choices.

They’ve been handed the job of rebuilding — finding homes for thousands of displaced people, restoring confidence in the local economy and keeping Sonoma Strong in the face of stresses that will cause divisions if we let them.

As for the rest of us, we wish for the gift of generosity and patience. You know why. The work ahead won’t be completed in a few months, or even a few years. As we tally the costs of this disaster, there will be sacrifices ahead.

Next week we begin a new year and a new time in the history of our region.

Merry Christmas, Sonoma County. You deserve nothing less.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at