You may have heard about the little two-bedroom suburban home in Sunnyvale that sold for $2 million last week, half a million dollars over the asking price. It was listed for two days. There’s a small supply and big demand for homes in the Bay Area. Rents are also crazy high there, and not everyone gets a big enough paycheck, or paychecks as many work more than one job to stay afloat.
Housing here is likewise in high demand and low supply, so the price is up, especially for rentals. Many of us know people living here who work in the Bay Area. Growth has returned to Butte County after a long recession. We see it in Chico and feel it in Paradise. Traffic is up, and the Skyway has become more like a highway.
Isn’t it great? We’ve always been told that growth leads to prosperity, so we welcome growth, if grudgingly. Many of us moved here to not be in the city, to not wake up to traffic reports.
As the story goes, we brought the city with us. Since I moved here in 1989 Chico has more than doubled in population. The graph of growth from 1880 to present is a typical exponential curve, where doubling times shorten. The graph was steepest from 1990 to 2000, but the growth continues. While the population in Paradise and Magalia is fairly flat since about 1990, in Butte Creek Canyon and Butte Valley – both sides of Paradise treasured for its natural beauty – pockets of subdivisions have been popping up, and individual homes along the rivers and ridges continue to be built. It’s lovely, having views of each other’s homes.
But the fish count is down despite the valiant effort of Friends of Butte Creek where the last best run of wild, naturally spawned Spring Run Chinook salmon remains in California. There are constant threats to the survival of salmon runs, despite also being protected by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies. All this development and population growth is not easy on the fish.
Without fish, it’s hard to fish successfully. Who wants to live in a world where fish must be stocked from some fish farm and fish are bought and trucked in, so families can pretend that the fake lake has fish – like the rivers used to – on kid’s fishing day? Sad ☹
But we can’t go back. We must keep growing because growth means prosperity, or so we’ve been told over and over again. “Grow or die” is a business mantra, albeit one in question. There’s no scientific basis for the maxim; one can run a business and stay the same size. Many businesses go broke trying to expand. It’s a good business plan to have “flat growth”.
Our language about growth shows our beliefs. In economics “negative growth” is the way to describe something that shrinks. “Flat growth” means staying the same size. Growth is the way forward we believe, and with seemingly unlimited land, water, fertile soil, and cheap energy, it was once true.
Now we have conservation policies and create zoning overlays, so we can preserve and stretch our dwindling and increasingly expensive resources – so we can fish, swim, or hike and drive around pretending that we’re a world away from the Bay Area pressures.
But water is an issue, and growth does not create water prosperity. Water is our economy in Butte County, being at least as foundational to agriculture as land. Water is life, and I must say I am thankful for last week’s cool storm.
Prosperity Versus Growth was published in the Paradise Post on March 7, 2018.
Because there’s little snow in the mountains, this snowboarder is angry about the weather
this season, and especially the nice weather in January and so far in February. The issue is larger than that problem of the privileged not being able to play in the snow as they’d like. I’m not alone in being concerned about water supply and the accompanying issue of food production in the North State. Probably into the future almonds will not grow in the valley; they need a certain number of cool days. In the near future apples may not grow well on the Ridge due to changing climate.
That the weather is warmer than average is in the news. There’s record heat being reported where we live, year after year. The heat is not more than expected by climate scientists following various climate models. If you’re so inclined try using the interactive tool to explore California’s Climate Change Research at http://cal-adapt.org/ and see what’s expected for your zip code. The data for predictions is amazingly refined. The models all predict the same trends for our part of the world: more heat, less snowpack, less precipitation, and more extremes in the weather patterns.
What’s less well understood is what effects the melting Arctic will have. Uncertainties remain in the models, but it’s fair to say that there’s nowhere that will be unaffected by melting polar ice caps. We can try to remain blissfully ignorant or highly informed. We can become, more or less, concerned or angry. We can resolve to remain positive, the American way; or like the British maintain a stiff upper lip and live the motto, “keep calm and carry on”. We can focus on surviving another day, another week, another year, another decade, as we do. What can we do anyway?
It’s risky buying a ski pass. I may not do that again, given the projections for shorter winters and less precipitation. I just hoped for one more fairly normal year, and I still am “thinking snow”. I want to support the ski industry and the people who depend on it. We could yet get a couple blizzards in the mountains and not need to declare another drought.
Hope is not enough. I’m in the market for a cistern to catch what rain that falls so I can use it when the rain stops to offset the probable increase in water prices. I want more certainty that I’ll have the water to continue my gardening efforts.
What can the community do to adapt? Our fire safe council needs support. They are doing good work. There is much being done and much more to do to become more fire resistant. The Town and County can facilitate more programs toward fire safety.
Asking ourselves what we can do as individuals and as a community is one to keep posing. It is now law that municipalities must respond to climate change - stay tuned for more information.
In addressing the question, “What can we do to adapt?” I’m hopeful that we can make ourselves more comfortable going into a too warm, too dry future.
Warmer than Expected was printed in the Paradise Post on Feb. 7, 2018.
How can we know the way if we don’t know where we are going? As I write on this first back-to-business day of 2018 I’m thinking about how what we do, our work, affects our lives.
Everyone has power over their own destiny, but no one can control reality. The most powerful work to corral us to a purpose, usually “growing the economy” and increasing our production for profit. We share in that success, to a point. We admire achievement.
We sense. We hear the anxious and the confident. We see economic distress and economic success. What is the world now truly like, and what will happen this year? We consume information through our many digital windows. Surely someone will show us the way, and yet there is a powerful force somewhere in each of us that knows the way to having a regular place at the table of happiness.
It's being suggested that if our glass is half full, we need only use a smaller one to be happy. As the economy grows by increasing productivity, using a smaller vessel each year leads to the glass becoming the size of a thimble. That’s not going to work.
For 2018 I predict that those who grow gardens, ground cover, and flowers will have fresh produce, covered soil, and flowers. Those who raise chickens, will likely have eggs. If we install more solar panels, we will harvest more energy from the sun. If we replace old wood stoves with cleaner burning stoves, clean our chimneys, and burn the fire hot, then we will have fewer particulates in the air we breathe. What work we do this year will determine our well-being in 2019, to a point. It’s cause and effect. Our future is not magic, it’s the application of the solid theory, the conclusion from human analysis using scientific method, formal and informal, that what we do each day sets our course for our future.
We experience a cyclone of information from the time we wake and start looking at our screens to the time we sleep. There we dream. One’s mind tries to make sense of it all by recombining the experiences and ideas of one’s life. Then we wake up to our screens and our conscious lives.
Watchful economic predictions conflict. Mainstream business news outlets are reporting that 2017 was more solid than expected. Their projection for 2018 is for 2-3% growth of the US economy. Digital currencies, notably Bitcoin are figuring into their estimations. Compared to what I see on the streets and in other reporting, their analyses and predictions sound glib. I like to hear good economic news, and I’m looking for verification.
During the holidays as I stood with a visiting friend of the family outside a restaurant after dinner, a healthy looking young man pushed his shopping cart along the sidewalk past us. He tried not to make eye contact; he was looking for valuable cans and bottles that others tossed away. My companion asked me if it’s okay if she gives him some money. I’d been reading about what to do for the homeless in a local paper. I follow the hypothesis that it is better to give to organizations than to individuals, but she can do what she likes. She called him over and gave him some cash. He looked scared and a bit cold. He needed a place to sleep for the night, and he was nowhere near a homeless shelter. Maybe there is no room for a healthy young man. What happened to him? Where are his parents? I wanted to find out, but we were on our way home.
I wonder if that young man also experiences the world through a smart phone. It’s possible with the pay-as-you-go cell phone services available and the free or nearly free phones offered with the service.
There are an increasing number of people on the streets and in the woods, living on the fringes, marginally wild, in need of being corralled into a space safer for everyone. We’re all corralled, domesticated, in large part.
In my little residential space, I look in what’s left of my garden, my economic safety net in need of development. In the darkest part of the year the tomato vines not only have green and slowly ripening fruit, but they are also flowering. Everyone with a garden around here in my real and virtual world tell me that this is weird. Growing tomatoes outside in winter is nice, but it’s strange. A warming planet apparently means we can glean more tomatoes this year.
It’s still cold. Some homeless are better and more careful than others in generating their own heat. There are several well documented incidents in California in 2017 of catastrophic failure to contain a campfire, such as what caused the Ponderosa Fire in August. Last week the young man accused pleaded no contest to causing the fire as he let his campfire smolder during his month-long stay in the woods. In this relatively-so-far dry year, the clear and present danger of a campfire getting out of control is reason enough to moderate the homeless camps in and around Paradise and Magalia.
In short follow various news sources. Some produce reports to inspire confidence, and others produce reports for their own reasons. Like a puzzle we can find the accurate pieces of information and put together a true picture. Scroll right, left, up and down on your screens, and look around often. Direct your life, and if you’re a leader, one of the powerful, remember that the work that you do, or fail to do in 2018 matters to our well-being in 2019.
Life with many windows was published in the Paradise Post on January 3, 2018.
Certain words began popping up in my work as an environmental advocate with increasing frequency from about 2008. As the national economy nearly crashed and national debt continues to rise, many people are realizing how fragile our economy is. Our outlook has shifted. We opened ourselves up to the notion that America was not as great as we expect. Since then America vested hope in another President who, by his repurposed slogan (Trump like Reagan), would make the nation great again.
In working my several part-time jobs I heard about the “transition movement” whereby communities were trying to beef up their local economies and become more independent from industrial civilization and global capitalism. Environmentalists insisted on remaining positive, believing that change could only happen if we properly envisioned sustainability. To protect ecosystems on which we depend requires becoming “sustainable”; yet, I became increasingly aware of the reality that our way of life is rigidly unsustainable. I learned of one self-reinforcing feedback loop after another impacting the climate. “Global warming” became “climate change” then “climate chaos” as hurricanes became more frequent and intense and hit major U.S. cities. If Mother Nature isn’t happy, no one is.
Collapse remains increasingly immanent as we collectively began adopting recycling, reusing, repurposing, over the last decade of our “long emergency” but not fundamentally changing the system. Growth, extraction, planned obsolescence, and consumerism all appear to be deeply imbedded in idea and practice.
Rather than becoming more self-sufficient, our communities have gone the other way. The trend is for less on the shelves of local stores. With the rise of Amazon, online shopping has expanded to the point that even the big-box stores aren’t stocking the quantity or variety that they have in the past. Online companies with “brick-and-mortar” stores are more like show rooms. Your size and color may not be in the store, but the clerk can order it for you and get it quickly, either in the store or delivered to your door.
The ”slow food” movement has had limited success. Instead, online food delivery businesses like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are booming. Grocery stores have developed online ordering systems, and in cities nationwide one can get an order ready for pick-up to save the bother of hiking the aisles.
We live closer to the edge than ever before. This direction of change is wonderful for those who have adopted Internet “just in time” delivery, if the system continues to work in the finely tuned manner that we expect and need.
A few days ago, I met a man at a dinner party who said he is not a “survivalist”; instead, he is into “disaster preparedness”. What the difference is I don’t know, but whatever words one wants to use, seize the day.
This column is to appear in the Paradise Post on December 6, 2017.
I’ve been away from Paradise for the last few months, living with my mother in Colorado, helping her as she recovers from back-to-back hospital stays and adjusts to being the head of house.
Here in Colorado Springs there’s an election on November 7. Politics are the same everywhere; it’s about controlling money. If an initiative to fund critical stormwater projects passes, the mayor says he will propose that more police and firefighters be hired.
Nothing gets past my mom. She remembers the last time, not so long ago, the city council asked the voters for money for stormwater drainage projects. From bait and switch to math tricks, the city staff and council managed to divert much of the new taxes to administration. It’s all legal, probably. Now they want more money for the same issue. The voters tire of the game, and the initiative may not pass this time.
The council has a history of enticing developers by relieving them of paying for the needed infrastructure. More development means more stormwater runoff, which damages homes and streets when the streams overflow. Even with all the growth in this fair city, the costs to the city outpace the growth. Development needs to pay for itself, and the city has to calculate and charge the full costs. Otherwise the taxpayers suffer higher taxes or eroding infrastructure and unchecked crime.
Paradise has its own money and development issues. Keeping up with recent Post columns online, I’ve read about how “shabby” Paradise and Magalia are, and how the retirees are “bored and irascible”. If this is half true, there’s room for improvement, as individuals and as communities.
Do we have the right stuff? Can we recognize and elevate a few individuals who will lead us to improving Paradise and Magalia?
We have a vision of heaven on earth in our name. We know we’re above Chico. Let’s count our blessings. We value our retirees. We have roughly 40,000 wonderful people living up here. We have lots of space to work, empty commercial properties of all sizes and value. We have educated people and schools where everyone can learn a trade. We have banks that can give business loans, community service organizations, churches big and small. You name it, we have it, and we are thankful.
We just have to keep working on our slice of heaven. It’s hard to be humble; yet, as good as we may be, perfection never lasts. We recreate our lives on the ridge every day, building on what we’ve been given.
As we slide from Halloween to Thanksgiving and the dark of winter, let’s focus on the right stuff. There’ll be another election, another chance for leaders to emerge. We can craft initiatives for decisions that will make our communities happier places to live.
The Right Stuff was printed in the Paradise Post on November 1, 2017.
A few years back I presented a shortened version of Chris Martenson’s Crash Course to a group of faculty. During the discussion one professor said that he understood the concepts, and he wondered when he should start preparing. It would be inconvenient to prepare any sooner than necessary. He made a good point; however, if we knew that a crash was imminent, then more of us surely would do something to prepare.
On the other hand, even knowing a crash of some sort is about to happen, many of us would still do little to prepare because our world provides bailouts.
Whenever we are hurt due to a person who can be sued, an attorney can appeal to the judicial system for relief. If a force of nature hurts a community, an emergency is declared, and state and federal disaster funds are appropriated. FEMA steps in, the American Red Cross shows up. We expect assistance to arrive whenever we should need it, so why prepare?
Puerto Ricans are American citizens, but Puerto Rico is not a state. Their tragic plight after Hurricane Maria hit them full force on September 20 is a situation closer to home than we like to think. They need food, water, and fuel. They need electricity and cell phone reception. They need functional hospitals and more doctors. They need a lot of help to get the debris out of the way and to get roofs back over their heads.
Would our President tell Floridians what he’s telling Puerto Ricans, that he’s not sure how much rebuilding should be done? (“The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!” – President Trump tweeted on September 29, 2017)
Americans feel entitled to Federal assistance. We’d like FEMA and the Troops to show up to organize, put up temporary housing, and provide muscle and machines. We’d also like the Corporations to show up with supplies. Whomever has money and power should assist. This is right and true, except that there are limited resources. Only the entitled get assistance, when it is available.
So it’s good to prepare and to not procrastinate. Planning to be entitled to receiving help is no plan at all.
In his Crash Course (viewable at peakprosperity.com) Martenson points out that when the probability of a disaster is high and the impact on you or your community of such an event is also high, then it is especially worthwhile to prepare for that possibility. His focus is economic with attention to the affordability of petroleum. When gas is not adequately fueling our system, as we see in Puerto Rico today, our lives quickly come to a standstill. How to prepare for that situation, whether due to a hurricane or some other event, is worth contemplating. Action follows thought.
We’re accustomed to living in a society which provides whatever we want whenever we want it. We’re also encouraged to buy more than we need. Our homes are stuffed with stuff. But is it the stuff we will actually need when there’s a glitch like a disaster?
Preparedness Procrastination and Entitlement Planning was published in the Paradise Post on Oct. 3, 2017.
Last column I opined, “It would be a good idea if Paradise at large would take heed and become proactive.” Last week [August 26] as the hurricane inundated Houston the FEMA director told ABC news, “We have not built a culture of preparedness in this country.”
At the same time CalFire published an insert in our local newspapers about being prepared for fires. Butte County Fire Safe Council annually mails out a brochure on fire preparedness. This is good. Many have prepared a “go bag”, know their community assembly points, and have a plan for their pets and communicating with family in the event of a fire emergency. Fire has the highest probability of devastating our community, more than any other “natural” disaster. On a ridge with few evacuation routes, we know we are densely populated beneath a canopy of dry oaks and pines for months every year, and the summer heat seems to be intensifying. CalTrans recently straightened a few curves on Clark Road downhill from Paradise, and that will greatly speed up an evacuation in that direction. We have over time, especially since the 2008 fires at our borders, built up some culture of fire preparedness. After a major fire disaster, we would depend on FEMA, donations, and insurance for those who have it. Just as a hurricane and flooding is foreseeable in Houston, a catastrophic fire is foreseeable in Paradise. Sometimes, though, we ignore the danger.
Was the FEMA director’s statement that we have not built a culture of preparedness in this country correct? He essentially said that FEMA is not fully prepared to fill in the gaps for people and communities which are not sufficiently prepared for probable devastation.
Daily we watch the latest disaster unfold on television, which of course cannot or does not convey the full extent of the suffering.
Local government, under the direction of elected officials, should lead the effort to build up our culture of preparedness, not only for fire, but also for other probable scenarios.
I spent a few years working at the Headquarters of the United States Army in Europe where teams of people worked every day to plan to deal with a variety of possible geopolitical scenarios having to do with war. This is what it takes to be ready. Plans are insurance, enabling us to deal with whatever may come our way. We hope we will never need to use the insurance; however, having it in place provides peace of mind as well as a set of operational plans.
Preparedness, planning and implementation has a cost, whether we use professional staff, volunteers, or a combination of both. We have a base level of planning for fires. Let’s expand and broaden our own preparedness. FEMA may have too many emergencies and too shallow of pockets to take care of us when the time comes.
Constructing a Culture of Preparedness was published in the Paradise Post on September 6.
Observers notice that Paradise is good at organizing a resistance. We are proud of our ability to mobilize to confront an issue that enrages us. If you’ve lived here long enough you may remember the hullabaloo over the town council’s decision to create a sewer district that resulted in a successful recall of the entire town council in 1991 - and no sewer system for the town. Was there too little participation by the public during the decision-making process, or did the elected officials not listen to the public? I wasn’t paying much attention; I was working full-time and establishing home and family, having a baby. A few years later I swung into action and joined the Save Our Gateway committee in opposition to a large development at the Skyway entrance to town. The lack of a sewer system certainly didn’t help that development progress, regardless of the resistance in the community. My point is that both efforts were in protest to a plan well supported by the elected officials and town staff.
Paradise citizens, then and now, have not organized in mass to tell the town council, “Hey, we really need a sewer system,” or “Let’s find a way to build a shopping center at the edge of town.” Likewise, there was no group of people going to Paradise Irrigation District meetings a few years ago saying, “Gee we’re polluting Magalia reservoir and Butte Creek so much that we should do an engineering study and build a project that will clean and reuse processed water from the treatment plant instead of emitting contaminated water into the environment.” It was the State telling Paradise Irrigation District to fix the problem, one way or another.
Proactive innovation usually initiates from the profit motive. There are residents who’ve created businesses and jobs, and Heaven knows we need more of that. Otherwise, Paradise to Stirling City, residents on this ridge are pretty much asleep, but many of us do have skills useful in an emergency. The question is, do you trust that our governments (or a local militia) have sufficient plans in place to keep us going?
The sewer could result in more business and therefore more money (and more expenses) for the Town of Paradise, but it will cost residents much more than their septic systems. With septic there’s no monthly fee. There’s a large initial cost for the system and periodic cost for inspections and pumping, but the systems last a long time, and it’s working out for homeowners. Lots are designed to be large enough for the leach lines. And the water stays on the ridge in the soils, watering the trees.
Developers originate building projects for their own profit. While people may desire more choice of businesses in Paradise, as gas is relatively cheap many people simply drive 10-15 miles to Chico businesses if what they need is not available in Paradise. Now we can get delivery, shopping online. While the Chamber of Commerce makes efforts, there’s not a huge drive among residents to make Paradise more business friendly.
Some communities are much more proactive than reactive, and they organize based on perceived need. Such perception comes from learning, for example, that there are real threats to health, safety, and general well-being. But Paradise is resistant to that it seems. How much education is required, for example, to realize that repurposed tires, despite government assurances, are not actually safe to use in a playground? Paradise received a grant to put this material, a rubber mulch which works like bark, in Paradise Community Park. After several years the coating is wearing off, and the rubber mulch emits rubber particles on children’s skin and clothing as they play. It also emits noxious gases when it gets hot, such as in the summertime. It's toxic to living things and washes into streams. Some communities have come together to remove the stuff, which takes a lot of work. Paradise, however, has not, to the detriment of our environment and children. But that’s a small example.
Butte County, the Town of Paradise, and Paradise Irrigation District can be proactive, but more often they are reacting to economic conditions or state mandates. Citizens can be personally more proactive, but often we are likewise too busy to look ahead and prepare for a future which might be very different. The climate is changing, and it’s leading to all kinds of serious challenges, even emergencies. The recent article The Uninhabitable Earth – Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak – sooner than you think by David Wallace-Wells managed to get more climate scientists to make public statements, and more people to look at the big picture. It would be a good idea if Paradise at large would take heed and become proactive.
This column Will Paradise Become More Proactive? was published in the Paradise Post on July 26, 2017.
Resilience runs as deep as culture. Nothing short of the death of every person, the erasure of every cultural record, and the destruction of every artifact and memory of that culture in the world can completely kill it. The impacts of industrial civilization may never be erased from the planet.
Some cultures are more resilient than others. Our transnational “culture” of consumption is not who we are. It has become part of a way of life on which most of us depend. At some level, most of us realize that over-consumption is unsustainable. We can, as a community become more resilient to our wants and our economy’s overarching need, perpetual growth. To become more resilient, we’ll need to hold intentional discussions.
Paradise Community Guild, formerly the Paradise Grange, has a discussion guild open to the public. I participated in a small group conversation on June 18 moderated by Susan Dobra. A seasoned university professor, she led us to thinking about how to better “frame” discussions, especially sensitive ones where there’s controversy and strong differences of opinion. One example kept emerging, health care. How can we frame a prompt that can steer us to a useful discussion about the best direction to take, whether we’re talking about health care or, for example, the larger topic of resilience? The conversation will continue at the next meeting of the Guild for Civil Dialogue at the Norton Buffalo Hall on Sunday, July 23 from 4:00-6:00 PM. This guild has a lot of potential, and although I’ll miss the July discussion, I look forward to the next opportunity to participate. Keep up-to-date at www.nortonbuffalohall.com and on their Facebook page of the same name.
Our culture does a lot of assessments. Budgets assess income, estimate costs, and try to balance the two so that at the end of the year the expenditures will be within the range of acceptability. Last week the Town of Paradise passed a balanced budget, thanks in part to Measure C. Paradise may consider extending this half-cent sales tax assessment which sunsets in 4 years. The town’s finance director opined at the June 27 budget meeting that Paradise’s budget “will never grow back” to its former size, making the point that while the budget is recovering slowly from the shock of the Great Recession a decade ago, there’s little expectation of a bigger town budget in the future. The Town deserves kudos for their debt management skills as they are paying down the deficit while adding to the cash flow reserve in anticipation of the end of Measure C funds in our town, which may not be willing to extend the sales tax increase.
A bit of good news is that there’s some money in the budget for fixing potholes, and there’s an app to report them called TOP Access. You can make service requests of many types, and you’ll get notification of the status and when it’s complete. This technology saves the public and staff a lot of time as it facilitates communication. Find TOP Access at www.townofparadise.com and in the App Store for mobile devices.
Even as the future is uncertain, we can do the best with what resources we can command. As we assess our finances, we should evaluate all our resources to see how resilient we are to potential disturbances and come up with an action plan. It may be a small group of citizens who come up with the ideas in a discussion group. “Never doubt,” said Margaret Mead, “that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
This column Dare We Discuss Unsustainability? was published in the Paradise Post newspaper on July 5, 2017.
Looking around here’s the new reality – we cannot depend on growth. If we could, the school district might welcome a charter high school as a collaborator in education, not a competitor for limited state funding. If we could, the Town could count on many new businesses and homeowners willing to help pay the costs of the proposed sewer system. If we could, pension systems wouldn’t be dissipating, and employers wouldn’t be hiring so many part time employees to avoid paying them benefits. The long-held expectation that growth will pay for debt is begrudgingly facing this new reality.
The U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis May 2017 report on GDP and the Economy shows a declining growth rate for GDP (real gross domestic product) and for DPI (real disposable personal income), noting “deceleration” in real GDP and consumer spending. According to the BEA growth is still hanging in there, but the rates are not impressive or steady. For most of my career I could count on an annual raise based on GDP. Not any longer, and not for a decade or more. When I was on the town council, I recall a councilman’s argument for granting raises to our police and fire fighters, sometime between 2005-2007, was that the economy always grows. Well, the council granted modest raises, but the growth rate of the economy did not. Somehow the Town of Paradise managed through the long effects of the 2008 economic crisis, but there were layoffs.
I’m not an economist, but I see the increasing number of unhoused people in and around our community. The 2017 Homeless Point in Time Census & Survey Report from the Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care concludes that “the number of people experiencing homelessness has increased, both those who have been homeless long-term… and those who are homeless for the first time. Further, we see this trend for all subpopulations: veterans, college students, youth, victims of domestic violence, single adults, and families…. We are neither ending nor preventing homelessness at a pace that is changing the face of who we see suffering in the streets.” That increase, they report, is considerable in Chico, Oroville, and Paradise.
There are too many unemployed and underemployed workers, people who want jobs. No matter how many official reports say that the economy is still growing, clearly news of economic recovery does not tell the whole story.
Our news media outlets tend to focus issues on categories of Republican and Democrat. Media opinions include partisan name calling that’s akin to bullying. Venting with anger or whining incites more of the same, but neither is fundamentally helpful.
Is it helpful to believe our economy is in recovery; otherwise, a lack of confidence would burst the bubble? It’s not helpful to ignore the unsustainable levels of debt around us and blindly keep spending. We can’t spend our way out of debt if we can’t depend on growth.
If the State or Federal government doesn’t have the capacity to pay for the proposed sewer system, the maintenance of our aging dams, roadways, and more – what then? Our way of life is not cheap; we have major infrastructure needs, public and private (energy systems), and the existing structure is aging and dated. It was designed for another time when we believed that we could count on the future to pay for the ongoing costs, that we could count on cheap energy, and that the global economy would continue to provide for our way of life. This is the story I know, the story of growth, globalization and new technologies. Our infrastructure connects us nationally and internationally. We in Paradise depend on a very broad, global, network.
Remember resilience from my first column? Resilience is the capacity to absorb shock and keep going. Building redundancy into our way of life is a way to be resilient. We can re-localize. Local gardens, for example, produce food, with some people selling their produce in farmer’s markets. This local food economy is a parallel practice we can support even while purchasing food at the big grocery stores. Making stronger local systems to hold us up in case of any number of shocks that could hit us is helpful. Given the new reality, building up our local systems will give us a cushion, and it’s what we should be doing. Plus, it could be fun.
This column We Cannot Depend on Growth was printed in the Paradise Post newspaper on June 7, 2017.
Robin Huffman worked as an elected official and as an advocate for the environment. Huffman serves on the Paradise Post editorial board and teaches cultural anthropology.