The more unpredictable the future, the more difficult it is to cope with change. Failure to adapt is a leading cause of collapse and extinction. Resilience – the ability to adapt – can also lead to failure if it creates short-term stability but long-term vulnerability. If resilience gets us from one crisis to the next, but we don’t transform our community we could still fail.
The Town of Paradise, like all modern municipalities, was essentially designed to operate in an environment of growth. Our annual budgets grew, as did our debts, and to justify raises and pensions, we imagined growth would fill the gaps. This logic prevailed because economic growth has been reliable. Inflation is so dependable that employees expect and generally have received regular raises.
The change that may be permanent is the end of growth. If we don’t adapt, the town could fail to manage its resources, could go bankrupt and then continue to fail such that the town government would cease to exist.
On the next ballot, the Town will be asking for an extension of a modest sales tax increase already in effect, known as Measure C. The extension, if passed, would sunset after a decade. The Town might be, the logic goes, in a better position at that time to get by without the sales tax increase. Without the extension, the Town’s budget could be pinched so tightly that either another round of salary decreases would have to be negotiated, as was done in 2012, or there would be more layoffs and fewer Town services. The Town already downsized in recent years to a bare minimum of employees, including public safety personnel. The Town’s revenue streams have not kept up with expectations, necessities, and debts, namely the pension obligation bond. While the sales tax extension would be set to expire at the same time the pension obligation bond is scheduled to be paid off, there is no assurance that the Town would have sufficient funds then either.
Growth may not return, even while the cost of living may continue to increase. When employees’ cost of living goes up, and their incomes do not, it is frustrating and somehow un-American. The Town proposes Measure C be extended to “maintain Town services such as Police, Fire, Roads and Animal Control.” This means that if the extension of the one-half percent sales tax increase is not passed, such services cannot be maintained.
The key question here is this, “If voters pass the measure, will that make Paradise more, or less resilient?”
We would get short-term stability, but long-term vulnerability because while we hope that the economy will stabilize into its historical growth pattern, that’s just not likely. Obtaining gas will inevitably be costlier because producing petroleum is more expensive now that the high grades of crude in the world are depleting. Our economy, as it is, depends on cheap petroleum.
We’d be more resilient if we developed an economy that does not depend so much on cheap petroleum. That’s hard to imagine, but we don’t have to look that far back to see that our economy used to be local, not global. Of course, that was before refrigerators and cars, but even those products used to be American made, from American fuel, steel, parts, and labor. There was a time that bread in Butte County was local, from locally grown wheat; extraction, production, distribution, and consumption were local.
The Butte County Grand Jury recently reported that, “The town should be proactive in developing a long-term strategy to address future budget requirements.” We need to make fundamental changes to our budgets and to our economy. Passing the Measure C extension is not enough. Shopping locally is not the answer either, if we don’t use local resources to produce what we sell and consume. Relocalization is the way to be less vulnerable to crisis after crisis and to transform our community to cope with change. Let’s do whatever we can to encourage and support those among us who produce, or are thinking of locally manufacturing, products we can use.
I’ve drawn some ideas for this column from The Community Resilience Reader: Essential Resources for an Era of Upheaval, edited by Daniel Lerch. 2017. https://reader.resilience.org/
Too Much Resilience was published in the Paradise Post on June 6, 2018.
Robin Huffman lived in Paradise, California from 1989 until she evacuated from the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.