Breathing the hazardous air from the Paradise fire has put a spotlight on the fact that climate change is impacting our daily lives and the effects must be proactively addressed now.
It has also brought back the trauma we experienced during the Coyote Creek flood in our neighborhoods (Rock Springs, Olinder and mobile home parks) in February 2017 when we had to evacuate our homes as water rushed down our streets.
Whether from toxic smoke or toxic flood waters, we are concerned that fires and flooding may be the new normal, and that our lives and the public health are under threat. It is also clear that the official response — at all levels of government — continues to be inadequate and reactive.
From the current regime in Washington, D.C. to the public officials in Santa Clara County and in Paradise who 1) failed to notify residents to evacuate in a timely manner and 2) failed to take prudent action to prevent the disasters, we feel we must raise our voices to insist that our elected officials be accountable and take immediate action to prevent disasters in the future.
Officials do not appear to be learning from past mistakes and inaction.
Having been forced out of our homes by the Coyote Creek flood last year, we are distraught to see not only the total destruction of a community, but to see the residents of Paradise being forced to live in tent cities after their homes were destroyed.
We are educators, nurses, neighborhood activists, students and parents, homeowners and renters who were shocked by the inaction of our local officials who failed to warn of the flooding in time for us to take basic precautions to save our most precious belongings.
Even worse, we were astonished to learn that officials in Paradise (like officials in Santa Clara County) failed to use the best technology available — Wireless Emergency Alert systems (Amber alerts) — to warn residents to evacuate. Officials also set up makeshift shelters that failed to adequately protect the health of those who were made homeless by the disasters. In both cases, lives were needlessly upended and in too many cases in Paradise, lost entirely.
We’ve learned that the state of California has repeatedly given local governments specific guidance and resources to make necessary physical and operational changes to mitigate the increased incidents and severity of flooding and fire caused by climate change. For example, California’s 2009 Climate Adaptation Strategy, advised “all at-risk communities should develop, adopt, practice and regularly evaluate formal emergency preparedness, response, evacuation and recovery plans.”
The state’s 2012 assessment of vulnerabilities and need for adaptation to the increasing risks from extreme events related to climate change noted “minority and low-income communities face the greatest risks from climate change.”
The state’s 2014 report Safeguarding California Plan explained how adapting to climate change requires agencies to implement “hazard mitigation” programs and measures such as “enhanced flood warning instrumentations.”
Now the state (and the feds) need to back this up with funds to implement the strategy.
Despite repeated climate change warnings, local agencies have done little to proactively address potential hazards and provide emergency response plans for when disasters do occur.
The time has passed for the Santa Clara Valley Water District to fix Anderson Dam and for PG&E to take basic precautions to prevent forest fires. We add our voices to the growing movement proclaiming “Time’s Up.”
We demand that government at all levels take immediate action to protect the residents of this great state and avoid further loss of life and livelihood.
The authors have all suffered damage to their homes and belongings from the 2017 Coyote Creek floods in San Jose and include Wilson Abrego, Cary Gould, Gary Johnson, Armando and Sandra Lopez, Mark and Suzanne McClure, Pedja Miskin, Hien Nguyen, Jolene Noel, Teresa Pedrizco, Patricia Reguerin, and Geordie Smith.