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.
Robin Huffman lived in Paradise, California from 1989 until she evacuated from the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.