I moved from Chico to Ashland, Ore., six months ago. Considering others’ misfortune, it appears that I left at the right time. The middle week of December was my first return since the Camp Fire, and I can’t presume to opine what Chico residents already know: The town is not what it used to be.
I felt as if I were maneuvering in a house built for five people, but 15 were inhabiting the same space. As I drove around stressed by traffic, I noted housing/apartment construction, units packed together, and houses for sale but no rentals. Every nook and cranny was filled. I know that the city has opened both heart and doors to evacuees, and that an ongoing commitment will be needed over an extended period of time.
Clearly, Chico has become a city with a much greater population than it is equipped to handle. It also became apparent (no disparagement meant toward city officials) that Chico needs leadership to deal with the pre-fire homelessness problem now compounded by those who have lost their residences.
No modern city has ever had to face the challenges of losing an entire neighboring town, let alone the additional concerns related to downhill toxicity and pollution. I hope that local leadership has the foresight to undertake necessary and serious rethinking with the help of crisis-recovery experts.
The on-the-ground, day-to-day changes in town are not sustainable. The current problem is like an octopus with so many appendages that focus and traction are problematic.
Perhaps Chico would be an ideal location to host a symposium of recovery experts, to help determine how to restructure post-fire without destroying the essence of Chico—a place so many have been proud to call home, a place so many want to continue to call home. Given the recent wildfires in California, “survivor” perspectives could weave a tapestry of thoughtful, creative ideas. The “new normal” will entail co-existing in a natural world increasingly encroached upon by human beings.