Electricity is mostly restored, debris removal is underway. Normality, though; that’s not even a distant glimmer. This morning locals gather for the first in a series of meetings meant to spark some light at the end of the tunnel.
Tomorrow, Paradise officials launch a three-month process to gather ideas for re-envisioning and rebuilding the town. How far reaching, creative or down-to-earth the proposals are depends on who gets involved.
Barry Long is President and CEO of Urban Design Associates, a Pittsburgh-based city planning and architectural design firm that will help facilitate meetings. He said he and his team are here to lend an ear.
“Our approach, first of all is going to be to listen to the residents. Led by the town and the residents, the town has to be re-planned and re-envisioned by the folks that lived here before. It’s their town.” Long said.
Long was reluctant to speculate about results of the process or even its breadth.
Typically, such scoping sessions are limited to a single project, a small district, a few blocks of a street. In Paradise, it’s the whole town.
Officially, everything is on the table. Building heights, sidewalks, sidewalk width, lighting, density and zoning. But, that’s not entirely true.
“From a planning standpoint we’re not starting from square one. An awful lot did survive and there’s confusion about that, but having been here, we know that we had, for example, 200 miles of infrastructure, public and private roads. They’re still here. We had approximately 9,000 homes in the town, just the town of Paradise that burned, but 1,600 homes survived. We have a water system. We have a tremendous number of commercial buildings that survived. Town Hall survived. Parks survived, performing arts center survived.” Long said.
While scoping sessions for new neighborhoods often touch focus on design tricks meant to boost human interaction, in Paradise, conversations will likely center on making individual structures, the town itself and its towering Ponderosa Pines more resistant to fire. Moving powerlines underground, road widening, additional escape routes and perhaps the potential danger posed by dead end streets are all options that may be raised.
Alex Rose, is a trustee at the Urban Land Institute, a research and educational organization aimed at providing leadership in land use and creating sustainable communities. He said there are some basics that can’t be overlooked.
“The likelihood of saying, ‘gee, there’s never going to be another fire here is pretty low I would think.” Rose said.
Rose was involved in similar visioning and reconstruction after the towns of Bound Brook, New Jersey and Grand Forks North Dakota were ravaged by flooding and Jackson, Tennessee was largely flattened by a tornado.
He said Paradise is a forested community, with roads undulating through the foothills and meandering around curves.
“There are characteristics to the community that are not going to change. Right? You’re not putting a light rail system into that community. So, I think the dialogue that the community would have really goes back to the question of ‘if we really want to preserve and rebuild our rural character, and nobody is going to tell us, either at the county level, the state level, the federal level you can’t do that—take that as an assumption, how do we do this as safely and smartly as possible?’ Rose explained.
Achieving each of those goals however, costs money. And that cuts into an important part of Paradise.
“Paradise was a very affordable place. California has a reputation of not being a very affordable place. An objective is to make Paradise affordable enough where the residents who have been displaced can choose to come back if they want to come back, that’s really important. How were going to create that affordability is going to be a critical early discussion.” Long said.
The first scoping session is scheduled to get underway this morning at 10 at the Paradise Alliance Church. The church is located at 6491 Clark Road in Paradise.