Passenger traffic at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport (STS) has steadily increased since Alaska/Horizon Air began service in 2007 ending six years of no commercial flights to Santa Rosa. (Alaska retired the Horizon brand in 2011.) The airline offered five flights a day — Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles — on 76-passenger turbo-prop aircraft. TSA had plenty of time; there was a one-hundred percent chance your checked bag would be inspected. Alaska has since added flights and destinations; they now also serve San Diego and Orange County. It worked out well for me. It saved me the usually tedious drive to the Oakland or San Francisco airport. Last year about 200,000 passengers passed through STS. American, United and Sun Country now also serve Santa Rosa.
It’s still mostly uncrowded and slow-paced with usually only one plane at a time on the tarmac. Except for a couple weeks in July, during the annual boys-club campout at Bohemian Grove in Monte Rio, a few miles northwest from Santa Rosa. That’s when the airport is cluttered with private jets, as many as fifty at a time, bringing Bohemian Club members to the airport from whence limousines carry them to the annual male bonding among the redwoods. The private-jet congestion at STS is almost comical.
A wet spring has forecasters predicting a less-than-normal fire season in New England. Same in Colorado; they’re hoping the heavy winter snowpack will slow wildfires this summer. The outlook for the West Coast, which also had a wet spring and record snowpack, is not so optimistic. The National Interagency Fire Center issued its report which said precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and California resulted a heavy crop of grasses and other vegetation that will likely be dried out by summer, providing fuel for wildfires.
On cue, a week after the report was released, a wildfire in Central Oregon destroyed a home in La Pine and damaged another. Oh, and 145,000 acres are burning right now in eastern Russia.
Although the stable genius is on record that climate change is a hoax, state government authorities, including Colorado, are planning and budgeting for longer and more severe fire seasons as the new normal. Meanwhile, in Santa Rosa California, where more than 5,000 homes burned in 2017, rebuilding is underway. The certainty of another fire is not stopping property owners from rebuilding their McMansions on the hills of Fountaingrove overlooking the city. (A fire of almost the exact same dimensions burned the area in 1964, before any homes were there.)
Our esteemed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo won’t use the words “climate change,” but he recently did state that melting Arctic ice was a good thing: “Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new naval passageways and new opportunities for trade, potentially slashing the time it takes for ships to travel between Asia and the West by 20 days. Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century’s Suez and Panama Canals.” He also didn’t mention how the changing climate has made subsistence farming near-to-impossible in Guatemala, resulting in the caravans of people headed our way.
Perhaps less devastating, unless you’re a third-generation family farmer or not a fan of high-fructose corn syrup, is the declining maple syrup production, a result of shorter winters.
Santa Rosa, the largest city between San Francisco and Portland, has been home to celebrities Dan Hicks, Robert Ripley, Luther Burbank, Guy Fieri. (And me for 20+ years.) Sightings of Tom Waits are occasionally reported. Probably the most celebrated is Charles M. Schulz.
The Peanuts creator moved to Sebastopol in Sonoma County in 1958. A decade later he moved eight miles east to Santa Rosa where he worked and lived until his death in 2000.
Travelers today fly into the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport and visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum. (Highly recommended by me.) Across the street from the museum is the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, built and owned by Schulz. He regularly ate lunch at the Warm Puppy Cafe while watching the skaters. He met Jean, his second wife, when she brought her daughter there. (Jean Schulz’s home was one of more than 5,000 burned in the 2017 fires. Lost was Schulz and Peanuts memorabilia.)
The environmental expert currently occupying the White House was quick to assign responsibility for wildfires burning in California. Using the venerable Republican strategy of blaming the victim, he tweeted:
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor.”
In fact, these fires are fueled mostly by grass and chaparral; forest land, not so much.
“Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost…. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
In fact, California each year sends more dollars to D.C. through federal tax payments than comes back into the state via Federal spending. (As is the case with most “blue” states.)
Sonoma County artist Tom Swearingen knows what he’ll be doing for the next year: painting roses. Since retiring from the Santa Rosa police department several years ago, Tom has become known for his “Playful Realism” paintings. His “Photorealism” work includes a series of police badges, trains, and also many visual puns. In the aftermath of the devastating fires that left many homeless, he has committed to painting a “Rose of Resilience” each day for a year. For $95, a patron of the arts could commission a rose and specify the flower and background colors. All $95 goes to the North Bay Fire Relief Fund. Village Art Supply has donated canvases for the project. He quickly received orders for all 365 paintings, raising $34,540.
A few miles west, in the town of Sebastopol, Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent, have used their neighbors’ yards for installations of their self-described “Junk Art.” For years their whimsical sculptures have delighted passers-by on Florence Avenue. Amiot’s work can also be seen in public places around the area. One of their major works, a full-sized carousel, to honor immigrants, was unveiled last year on Canada Day in Markham, Ontario.
The husband-and-wife team decided to create a monument honoring first responders to the recent fires. Built with fire extinguishers, fuel canisters, woodstove parts and other detritus, the twelve-foot-high firefighter stands adjacent to the SMART commuter light rail in downtown Santa Rosa.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it had removed household hazardous waste from 5,500 properties in Napa and Sonoma counties, three-quarters of those destroyed or damaged by fire.
Sonoma County has begun process of adjusting tax assessments. The Assessor’s office was not damaged, but was closed for several days because of mandatory evacuation. Fortunately, aerial views simplify assessing properties that have been reduced to ash. Others, in rural areas or suffering partial losses, require on-site inspections and will take longer. The fires occurred the same time tax bills were being prepared. Tax revenue will obviously be lower; the real hit may come next year. The city of Santa Rosa estimates it has lost a third of its tax base.
The California Insurance Commissioner estimated insured losses will exceed $3 billion. Rebuilding costs will be high. Property owners will need to decide to rebuild exactly as what was lost, with required code upgrades, or to make changes. Shortages of contractors, construction labor and basic building materials will drive up costs. Renters, in what was already an extremely tight market, face uncertainty about what their landlords will do. Many will leave the area to find employment and housing, likely to not return.
Who is coming to Santa Rosa? Lawyers, swarms of lawyers, from all around the country. Although the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, law firms, eager to sue Pacific Gas & Electric, are invading Santa Rosa. As a former resident of Santa Rosa once said to journalists sleuthing the Watergate story, “Follow the money.” The giant utility PG&E has deep pockets and of course, is widely disliked. Sparks from power lines downed by high winds are one possible cause of the fires. The attorneys aren’t waiting; they’re advertising on billboards and TV, and setting up town-hall style meeting for prospective clients. And if PG&E lawsuits don’t work out, there’ll be plenty of other generally loathed, big-money targets to sue: insurance companies.