The title above is a quote from a response to a conversation from the online neighborhood bulletin board Next Door. The conversation was started by someone who was pretty excited about the opportunity to rebuild in a sustainable way, but some did not appreciate their neighbor’s good intentions.

A couple of  themes emerge from the ongoing conversation: Describing this enormous tragedy as any kind of opportunity offends many people and a few people feel that only those directly impacted should have a voice in thinking about the future.  Yet, the majority of the respondents seemed to support rebuilding in a sustainable and resilient way.

The impact of the wildfires is enormous in its reach and destruction, and our response starts with compassion. After almost a month of running on adrenaline-fueled fear and anxiety, the community at large is still reeling, and sadness hangs in the air like the smoke that was its own threat. Homeowners face a long, difficult, and often emotional recovery. Their needs are paramount and we see that the city and county entities working to solve immediate problems have those needs uppermost in their minds and in their processes.

350 Sonoma, working in collaboration with other regional climate and environmental groups, supports solutions that will NOT add to homeowners’ burdens. For example, envisioning building net zero energy homes and businesses will build in sustainability and reduce energy bills down the road.  We believe it is possible to offer solutions that reduces both up-front building costs and ongoing utility bills. Putting these kinds of solution together will involve a lot of different people, entities and innovative approaches – including finding multiple sources of funding. Any solutions we recommend must be at least cost neutral, voluntary – using incentives to encourage adoption, and not increase complexity or timelines. 

Therefore, we are obligated to be careful, and to avoid talking about the rebuilding as any kind of opportunity. This word created the context for the title quote, and seems to be a lightning rod for some people’s grieving process. Instead of talking about an “opportunity,” let’s talk about a “strong community response,” or “a constructive way forward that supports our community’s commitment to being ‘Sustainable Sonoma County,’” … you get the point.

We all deal with grief in different ways, and our entire community is grieving, whether for our own grave loss, or on behalf of those directly impacted, and for a myriad other smaller losses. We need all hands on deck, working diligently, with compassion. My house did not burn; like all of us, some of my friends’ houses did. We’re not going to shut up, but will proceed with caution and sensitivity.