"We cannot and should not let our community down and go through another wildfire and lose them their life. That should be our mission, that should be our goal." -Brad Sherwood
What mission do you have as a wildfire survivor? Today, Jennifer sits with Brad Sherwood, the Co-Founder and VP of Larkfield Resilience Fund, to discuss how we can be advocates, both as a local citizen and at the state level. Hear how the community and the government can work together to meet emerging needs, manage funding, invest in long-term projects, develop a systematic plan, and implement that plan efficiently. Tune in and find out how to make your community better and stronger, not only for the present but also for future generations.
- 03:38: How One Night Can Change Everything
- 12:19: Who Are The Cavalry?
- 17:58: What Constituents Can Do
- 27:24: How to Advocate For Your Community
- 34:15: How to Advocate in the State Level
- 39:24: A Time for Long-Term Investments to Stop Wildfire
- 44:15: 2 Ways to Manage Funding
- 49:04: How to Survive and Build After a Disaster
07:30: "You can rebuild a house, but you can't bring back lives." -Brad Sherwood
08:31: "Let's take what we've learned and pay it forward. Let's take what we've gone through and share our experience to prevent history from repeating itself." -Brad Sherwood
18:35: " A lot of our elected officials do not hear from their constituents every day. Be that constituent that reaches out and develops a relationship before there's a problem so that when you do need their help, they trust you, they know you, and they're ready to help you right away." -Brad Sherwood
20:51: "Government is all human beings trying to make a system work for the public good and elected officials are representatives. You have a responsibility as the public to guide them to what is best for their constituency." -Jennifer Gray Thompson
21:19: "Everybody wants to win. Everyone wants to be able to go home at the end of the day and feel they've made a difference." -Brad Sherwood
22:50: "Numbers speak volumes. The more voices you have together, the more powerful your message becomes." -Brad Sherwood
32:06: "Providing hope is what makes the difference." -Jennifer Gray Thompson
40:54: "Now is the time to invest long term in stopping the spread of wildfires and saving lives!" -Brad Sherwood
47:08: "At the end of the day, we all live this tragedy together and we all want the same outcome. It takes leadership and someone has to step up." -Brad Sherwood
47:46: "We cannot and should not let our community down and go through another wildfire and lose them their life. That should be our mission, that should be our goal." -Brad Sherwood
49:48: "You are a wildfire survivor that owes it to the next generation to ensure they never have to go through what we've just experienced." -Brad Sherwood
Brad and his family have resided in Larkfield Estates since 2013. Professionally, Brad manages the community and government affairs division at Sonoma Water, formerly known as the Sonoma County Water Agency. As a community advocate, Brad serves as a trustee on the Mark West Union School District Board of Trustees and is a member of the Mark West Citizen Advisory Council. Brad brings his public policy, communications, and government relations experience to the Board of Directors of the Larkfield Resilience Fund.
Connect with Larkfield Resilience Fund:
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Welcome to How To Disaster, the podcast that helps communities recover, rebuild and reimagine their lives post disaster. I'm so pleased today to be sitting here with my friend and colleague, Brad Sherwood. Brad Sherwood not only works for the county of Sonoma as a communications and Government Affairs Director at Sonoma Water, he is also a fire survivor who recently rebuilt his home. Now, Brad has been a leader in the community since day one when this fire occurred, and that's not an easy thing to pull off when you've also just lost everything in a massive wildfire. But he took the initiative and led his neighborhood and the community through the Larkfield Resilience Fund. He took the initiative and led his community out of these incredibly challenging times through the creation of the Larkfield Resilience Fund. Now, I like to say that Brad has the secret sauce, the secret ingredient in any asset that comes to ReBuild. He came to us about two and a half years ago because we were doing other projects and asked if we could possibly help rebuild a mile of common fencing around his neighborhood in Mark West Estate, which is their neighborhood that was also devastated. I initially was like, no, I don't want to do that because I'm not a fence fairy. But because it was Brad that asked, and he's so very compelling and smart, such a great leader, I had to actually consider it. And thereafter, it took about a year and a half from beginning to end with all of the fundraising which took 10 months, and then the build of the actual fence. But we did get it done. And if you haven't seen it, we do have a short film on that on our YouTube channel, so please do take a look. Brad has continued to stay in his ad roles and advocates, and a wonderful representative of what it means to be a fire survivor. And to this day, when something comes up, he is on the front lines of showing people not only how to recover, but really how to advocate as well. So today, I asked Brad to come on and talk to you all about how to organize your community after a disaster, how to stay in the fight even after your home is rebuilt, and how to successfully advocate at the local and state levels in particular. So welcome, Brad.
Brad Sherwood: Thank you, Jennifer, and thank you to the ReBuild North Bay Foundation, and for inviting me on this amazing podcast. This is incredible.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Thank you. What I would love is if you would start by telling us your personal story about your home, when did you buy your home, your family, and then what happened the night that you lost your home?
Brad Sherwood: My wife and I have two kids. They are currently eight and 10 years old. We bought our home and Larkfield just north of Santa Rosa and unincorporated Sonoma County on July 1 of 2013. This home was our dream home. It was everything we ever wanted in a home. It was a small ranch style house built in 1972 in a beautiful neighborhood with mature trees, walking distance to the local elementary school, great public schools. Just really our dream home, dream neighborhood where we wanted to raise our family. We're both originally from Sacramento, the Sacramento area. We moved to Sonoma County in 2005. I moved to Sonoma County for my job at Sonoma Water, a great organization, great public service to our community. And to this day, I've grown and prospered there and just absolutely love what I do for a living. My wife works for Medtronic, a large biotech company worldwide, and absolutely loves her job and the people she works with.
In 2017, the night of the fire, we were lucky just to survive. We had no warning, no evacuation notice, and only had minutes to escape our home before the fire destroyed it along with thousands of others that night. Specifically that night, we pretty much ran out of the house with no shoes on. We were lucky to grab our pets on the way out, but we lost everything. We were able to get our lives out, and that's all the matter. We were fortunate that in our neighborhood, we did somewhat know each other. I mean, obviously, we're not as close, we weren't as close to them as we are now. But in between the minutes that we had to evacuate from our home, I was able to go and run up and down the street and knock on the doors of lots of our neighbors who are asleep in bed. So it was really at that point of knocking on doors, trying to get people out of their homes that I guess you can say, my involvement in being a fire survivor started. Because I immediately realized that we're going to rebuild and we're going to make this community better and stronger, not just for ourselves, but for our future generations.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Which is a huge part of advocacy. But how do you do that when you just run for your life, though? I think that's one of the questions that, if we assume that the audience is often people who either want to build resiliency, or they've just undergone this very significant life changing experience, but then to pick yourself up, and along the way to pick your community up, it's a whole different thing. So you became part of the block captain system. But take us in that span of a couple of weeks time though, how do you do that?
"Let's take what we've learned and pay it forward. Let's take what we've gone through and share our experience to prevent history from repeating itself." -Brad Sherwood
Brad Sherwood: Yeah. I think, immediately after the fire, we were in a complete daze. I mean, as a county employee, as an emergency service worker, I tried to go back into work, working at the Emergency Operations Center. I did for a few days, but then I had to take some time off because my family needed me, my kids needed to see me. You've just gone through the most traumatic experience of a lifetime. And learning that people died around you was even more sobering. You can rebuild a house, but you can't bring back those lives. I think that's when caring about the lives lost because of the wildfire, definitely lit a fire within myself. I was really upset, I was angry, I was mad. How can we have let these lives be lost? How can this be in this modern day that we live in? How do we lose life in a wildfire, especially in an urban suburban setting? Something's wrong. Doesn't make sense. I think that is where my drive and my family's drive to become more involved both in the block captain program, in developing a nonprofit for our community and helping others rebuild drives from. We have gone through this pain and the suffering. And I hope we've gone through it, so no one else has to. Let's take what we've learned and pay it forward. Let's take what we've gone through, and share our experience, share our knowledge, that is probably one of the most important traits, we, as human beings have, technology aside. We must share experiences to prevent history from repeating itself, and that's my main goal.
"You can rebuild a house, but you can't bring back lives." -Brad Sherwood
First step in achieving that goal is sitting down with your significant other and agreeing that we're in this together, that we're not only going to rebuild our lives in our home, but we're going to help our community. And by doing that, that requires a lot of additional time, energy, sweat and tears. Because all of a sudden, you're opening yourself up not just to your own family grieving process, but a community grieving process. We agreed to both my wife and I, and our family, invest in our community and help our neighborhood rebuild. We were so under insured that we knew that it would take every penny of our insurance dollars to rebuild our house. And what the local costs were at the time and continued to be, we couldn't afford to rebuild our home as it was. So we worked with our neighborhood and developed a regroup rebuilding project where we brought in one developer who developed a series of floor plans for over 17 homes in our neighborhood. And over 85 homes in the Marquesas State, we as a large group are able to benefit from fixed priced housing developments. And it's because of that group's ReBuild efforts that many of us were able to rebuild our homes and actually not come out of this financially in the red, but work within our means.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I would just like to know, and I hope it's okay for me to say because you shared it the other day. Even with that, you still had to use your contents.
Brad Sherwood: Oh, yeah.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Contents between 40 and 60% of your coverage. and like a lot of rebuilders, you still had to go that route?
Brad Sherwood: Absolutely. We used every penny of our insurance from the dwelling, to the non dwelling, to the content bucket, all those funds, those different buckets all went into rebuilding our house. Yeah. Majority of the things we have in our home today are from donations we've received after the fire.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Yeah. But just to be clear, unless people ask for them, don't give them. Like, if someone's like, I need a couch, and a table, and six chairs, then that's good, that's a wonderful thing to accept.
Brad Sherwood: Absolutely. It was kind of overwhelming right after the fire. You had a couple amazing friends and family members who help coordinate donation drives. And the next thing you knew, we had a storage unit full of donated items. We were able to organize those items and help distribute them to other families who needed them. But yeah, donating items is got to be very strategic and definitely coordinate with any kind of local nonprofit or provider in an area that's been devastated by wildfire on those donation services.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I think it's kind of interesting that in a little bit, oddly fortuitous that our community was really the first one to be this devastated by these mega wildfires. Because I think we share the experience of being really surprised by how little was out there to help us along the way. I remember very clearly on day, one of the fires being at my community in Sonoma Valley, and looking around being like, okay, I'm going to do absolutely everything I can in the leadership role, but I'm sure that the calvary is going to show up, and then they're going to tell me where to be. And then about day three, I was like, oh, there is no cavalry, we are the Calvary for the community. And that has continued to be a lesson I think for all of us moving forward. So many of the systems that we have used to recover and rebuild, we have had to maybe take a kernel of something that was over here, over there to basically create from scratch, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to do this podcast, hope is to mitigate or shorten the pain period for recovery and share those lessons. Can you talk to us about how your experience working in county government helped you be a very good advocate for some of the policies that needed to change, or be adapted in order to help people rebuild?
Brad Sherwood: Absolutely. I think we had the same kind of realization, probably a couple months after the fire that Calvary wasn't coming and that we are going to have to rebuild on our own. And it's because of partners like ReBuild North Bay Foundation that we were able to rebuild our community so quickly, and in an efficient manner. So we had to within our own community and neighborhood organize, and we developed a neighborhood website, we developed neighborhood email lists. We started sending out weekly ReBuild updates, we immediately developed a needs list, an assessment needs list. We developed a list to ensure that we can help the county of Sonoma and other government entities know where and how they can help us. I know so many people want to help after a wildfire. Everyone's heart is in the right place. Everyone wants to reach out, they want to help. How though? How do you help the community? How do you know what they need? That's really the hole that we filled. As a government employee, I know that you have to have a project, you have to have a need, you have to have a list. So let's do that, let's develop that for the government entities and make it easier on them to come help us. So that's essentially what we did. We knew in our neighborhood that we didn't have a sewer. We had over almost 200 homes that were all on individual septic tanks pre fire.
Now, you had an excellent opportunity to come in and develop a sewer system for these newly rebuilt homes, and provide financial assistance to those property owners so they could rebuild within their insurance means, but also take advantage of the modern technology of sewer. So that's one example where the government was able to meet with the community, assess their needs, develop a plan and then implement.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And part of that was helping them figure out a creative finance model.
Brad Sherwood: Absolutely. A lot of it was really, and this was a time you got to remember when you had a whole community dispersed. I mean, no one obviously lived in our neighborhood, we had neighbors who moved to Colorado, they moved to Texas, they were everywhere. So we implemented a lot of social media, Facebook, calls and meetings. And we met with, for example, Sonoma Water, and talked to them about our need for sewer. But also, we had a huge financial issue, no one can afford it. Who can afford to pay $55,000 out of pocket for sewer when you can't even afford to rebuild your home? Your priority is to rebuild your home. The priority of Sonoma Water was to ensure that we were all able to hook up the sewer if we wanted to. So the board of directors and the Board of Supervisors approved a remarkable financing program that allowed everyone to connect the sewer if they wanted to, and then it would get a loan from Sonoma Water. And they would have to repay that loan for 20 years. It was a two and a half percent interest rate at that. So the financing creativity from Sonoma Water in the county of Sonoma was phenomenal in helping rebuild our communities. I think it's because we educated and made sure that government agencies are aware of our situation, each homeowner situation, and they tailored that program to our needs.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Now, some people are gonna look at this, or listen to this podcast, or watch it on YouTube and they're gonna say, oh, you know what? They were able to do that because Brad was on the inside. What can an ordinary person like me do who doesn't work for the county government? What role can an emergent leader play and doing all, in replicating what you were able to accomplish? What would you say to those people?
" A lot of our elected officials do not hear from their constituents every day. Be that constituent that reaches out and develops a relationship before there's a problem so that when you do need their help, they trust you, they know you, and they're ready to help you right away." -Brad Sherwood
Brad Sherwood: Well, I would say, definitely, it takes developing relationships with key government officials and your local elected officials. Don't be afraid to invite your local county supervisor, your local assembly member, your local state senator into your neighborhood and hold a community meeting for them, with them. Develop a partnership. This is all about partnerships. This is all about relationship building. Doesn't matter where you were, your resident, your taxpayer, your constituents. And believe it or not, a lot of our elected officials do not hear from their constituents every day. Believe it or not, they only hear from constituents when there's an issue or a problem. Be that constituent that reaches out and develops a relationship before there's a problem, before there's an issue. Develop that relationship and that trust so that when you do need their help, they trust you, they know you and they're ready to help you right away. So that's my biggest advice.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I think the one thing if people don't work in the public sector, or they have never worked for an elected, or worked around elected, I think that they have this idea that they are not that accessible. What I would also like to note is because elected officials and public officials so often only hear when something is wrong, and they get screamed a lot. But it becomes very hard to hear through all the noise. What do you actually need, like, I understand that you're upset, but I need to figure out as your representative what you need and how I can help. And when you have worked in the public sector like I have, and like you do, you understand that if you can present them with a clear path, it makes all the difference in the world. You cannot assume that they are magical thinkers. And in the case of a huge disaster, they've often undergone the trauma themselves. What I saw, and we can see repeatedly is you have these areas where you've had these massive disasters. And then everyone looks to the public sector to be the recipient of their grief, and their fear, and they're upset, but also to continue to fix whatever happened, and then to continue to actually provide the same services they did before. It's just a recipe for collapse in a way because public officials intend to contract them themselves and even get defensive.
"Government is all human beings trying to make a system work for the public good and elected officials are representatives. You have a responsibility as the public to guide them to what is best for their constituency." -Jennifer Gray Thompson
But if you go to them saying, look, we're going to do our part, we are going to do the heavy lifting with you, we're going to show you what it is that we need, we're going to provide the data, the evidence and the community support that's why you're going to come to our meeting. I do think the outcome is dramatically different. Because at the end of the day, the government is made up of people. There is no mythical government. Government is all human beings trying to make a system work for the public good. And elected officials are really just people who decided to run for office, and we chose between maybe two or three of them, they're not magical, they are actually your representatives. You do have a responsibility as the public to actually guide them to where what is best for their constituency, or to be a sane and measured voice in that process.
"Numbers speak volumes. The more voices you have together, the more powerful your message becomes." -Brad Sherwood
Brad Sherwood: And everybody wants to win. Everyone wants to be able to go home at the end of the day, and feel they've made a difference. Our goal, wildfire survivors is to help develop that strategy for our elected officials and our government agencies. For example, we were very concerned after our neighborhood was burned down that we would get investors coming into the neighborhood to buy lots, and then turn those over for Airbnb vacation homes. We really wanted to ensure that our community in our neighborhood was going to be allowed to have families again. Bring back to families, provide housing for our local workforce. So we work with our local policy makers to ensure, develop and amend county ordinances that prohibit any additional VRBO or vacation home permits in our fire zone. And that has been extremely successful. But once again, we had a concern, and we helped develop the solution and the board passed the policy. And that's what we've done with every issue. But it's important to develop the team of wildfire survivors to work together because numbers do speak volumes. And the more voices you have together, the more powerful your message becomes.
"Everybody wants to win. Everyone wants to be able to go home at the end of the day and feel they've made a difference." -Brad Sherwood
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And really one of the things that people, this is about how to essentially advocate for your community, if you're an advocate, you're also lobbying for a particular change in policy or something that you think is best for your community. It's not a client, you're not paid as a lobbyist, so to speak. But that is really what the function of advocacy and lobbying is. One of the other things that Sonoma County did, and the city of Santa Rosa was dramatically reduced the cost of rebuilding through waiving impact fees. Can you talk about that?
Brad Sherwood: Absolutely. So immediately after the fire, the county met with several wildfire survivor groups. They knew that we were under insured, they knew we needed help in rebuilding our homes financially, so they drastically reduced the permitting costs to build our home. What normally would cost probably upwards of 60 to $80,000 in building permits per home was reduced to about $5,500. So from my home, I paid about $5,500 in permit fees, and that's it. And that was tremendous. I mean, that's money that instantly came back in my pocket to build my house.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And it's interesting because a lot of people, equity is a word that is used often. And one of the things we like to say, ReBuild is, we're not a social equity organization, but we do believe in doing equity. And in part of that requires that you figure out, for fire survivors, how are you going to come home? And what can we do as a community to make sure that you're able to come home. And reducing those impact fees, working on sewer projects like that, those are examples of things that we know are going to save you a lot of money. It's why we liked the fence project because it saved just the perimeter people between 18 and $25,000 each.
Brad Sherwood: That did more than just financial health. That brought up the morale and the spirit of the community. I mean, that was one of the first rebuild projects in our neighborhood after the fire. And when our neighbors saw the businesses that you brought in, the stakeholders coming, the leaders coming into our neighborhood, that had never happened before. Our neighborhood was a sleepy community before the fire. You brought in the energy, hope and optimism that propelled a lot of people to take that step to rebuild their home because they knew that that fence meant we were coming together. I'm telling you what, it's more than a fence. The neighbors see that every day, and they know that, and that generated so much hope and optimism. That's priceless, priceless.
"Providing hope is what makes the difference." -Jennifer Gray Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: So I think that one of the reasons why the ReBuild and my board, and even the funders who came on, we really talked to them about how important it is in a post disaster community to show visual deliverables of progress and hope. And so that when people would drive past your neighborhood that they would feel like they were in a way a part of it, that it was a gift from the community. It was a gift from the businesses, it was a gift from Friedman's, I have to just really shout out to Barry Friedman. I mean, we were all subject to the cost of materials post disaster. I've seen this repeatedly in other communities, the rumors of what's going to cost to rebuild the fluctuations in the lumber market in particular. Barry Friedman actually pre purchased over $300,000 worth of materials and put it on his Windsor lot. And then obviously, we pay them back. Plus he gave a very, he negotiated directly with the mills. And then he gave like another $40,000 to this project, which was ultimately $490,000 at the end. But one of the things that I, two things I found very moving is I really, really wanted for all of you to come home and feel like the community had put its arms around you metaphorically and literally. Everyone's like, it's just the fence, and they didn't feel like just a fence when I showed that film across the country. And when I'm doing speaking engagements, I have seen FEMA seasoned, FEMA people, a roomful of 150, 200 of them get weepy over it because they have been on the frontlines for so long. They understand and appreciate the struggle, the pain and the trauma, and really, how providing hope is actually what makes the difference. And that was our goal. Obviously, you never know if something's gonna work. But I tell everybody that.
Brad Sherwood: It's generational. And I'll tell you why. A new neighbor just bought a house that borders that fence. I was over there talking to them and they're like: "Wow, this fence is incredible." And I said: "Yeah, do you know the story behind this fence?" And I told it to them. They were like: "Wow, that is awesome. That's why we moved here, because of this community." So that fence is going to be where they say, if those walls could talk, if that fence could talk, and it will talk for generations, it's going to tell the story of our ReBuild success for years to come.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Yes, I appreciate that, makes me feel like, oh. That's how I genuinely feel that, and I think my favorite thing was, I think it was you, or habitat who passed along a letter to us from one of the neighbors who said, for the first time, they got their privacy back. And that was a big deal. Because a lot of people when this happens, they would maybe, people are well intentioned, but they were driving around and they wanted to see the fire damage. But that meant that they were also witnessing a lot of people standing in front of the wreckage of their lives and mourning quite publicly. I didn't expect that to be one of the bonuses of it. But it was, and that was really moving. So very happy about that. Well, let's talk about state advocacy. You talk to us about some of the ways that you've worked with our state representatives. We are very fortunate in this area. We have some fantastic state legislators and staff. How have you used the power of the state or gone along with maybe some of the county supervisors who are speaking at the state level in order to advocate what was best for this community, but also to create change, which I think is actually, probably, it's not even an also, it's one of the most significant accomplishments is to create change for future fire survivors, which came almost immediately.
Brad Sherwood: Absolutely. So from day one, after creating our Larkfield Resilience Funds nonprofit, we instantly develop relationships with our local state officials. We traveled to Sacramento with our block captain network to propose and support insurance regulatory updates. Once successful when there are fire survivors now have three years, not two years like we did, but they now have three years to rebuild their home with their insurance funds. That gives you a little more elbow room to rebuild after a massive wildfire. And we did, we absolutely went to the Capitol and lobby for insurance regulatory updates. We have done a great job in keeping our officials up to date on ReBuild efforts three years after the fire. We take our congressional representatives on tours of our ReBuild community, including our state and assembly members, and we keep their staff updated. Probably our elected officials are so darn busy, as are their staff that we've really reached out to their staff, their chief of staff, legislative directors and made sure that they have the latest figures and facts on our ReBuild status, so they can incorporate that into any legislative bills that they're working on. We want to make sure that they are keenly aware that we're still here, and that we're still rebuilding. There are still issues, there are still concerns, but that we are part of the solution, and that we want to be a voice of facts. It's one thing to be in Sacramento or Washington DC and draft the bill for wildfire survivors, but it's another to actually have the wildfire survivors testifying before committees supporting those bills, or reaching out to other legislators in support of those bills. And that's what we're doing right now with the PG&E Funds is trying to ensure that even at the local level, our county board of supervisors remains engaged and aware that our message is clear. We don't want anyone else having to go through what we just went through.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: So some people may not be even in this state or this part of the country, can you just elaborate a little bit on what the PG&E Funds are from? How much they are, and what the conflict is? And some of the competing interests because it is the age of COVID while we're recording?
Brad Sherwood: Sure. So PG&E was found liable for several of the fires in 2017. Based on that finding, they settled with the County of Sonoma for roughly $150 million dollars for damages occurred because of those fires in 2017. So the county of Sonoma now literally has $150 million cash sitting in their general fund, and it's one time money. It's one time money from the 2017 fires. It is our hope that funding gets reinvested in our community to make us more fire sick. And that's where the wildfire survivors, our network is advocating to ensure that that money does not get spent elsewhere. For example, because that money is unrestricted funds, it's in the general fund, it could easily be used to pay for other community services other than fire safety programs. So our goal in messaging is, this money came from the lives lost in 2017 because of wildfires. This money needs to go back into our community to ensure no more lives are lost because of wildfires.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And still mitigation is very, people don't understand that a lot of our, started back in Sonoma County, about 80% of our wild lands are privately owned. And the cost of mitigating your fuel load on private property is incredibly expensive.
Brad Sherwood: 2,500 bucks an acre.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Yes. So one of the things we've been trying to do ReBuild is fund pilot programs that use actual mapping to look underneath the canopy and what can be done, and to do very targeted fuel mitigation. There's still tremendous cost to that. And there are creative financing mechanisms that could be employed by the county that allowed these one time funds to actually dramatically have a much greater impact. One of the things that came up was, immediately like 25 million for fuel mitigation, and then what was it? 15 million for something else. But we asked them to flip that formula so that the bulk of the funds went into fuel mitigation because, tell us what's happened since 2017 here in Sonoma County.
"Now is the time to invest long term in stopping the spread of wildfires and saving lives!" -Brad Sherwood
Brad Sherwood: Yeah. Since 2017, we have had at least three major wildfires rip through our community, just sitting here in my rebuild. Two of those have come one mile from my rebuilt home. So yeah, we have experienced, I believe five wildfires and different magnitudes since 2017. So vegetation management is critical in terms of making generational change in making our community fire safe. And utilizing these funds for long term investments in vegetation management is huge. You can't just do vegetation management for one year, or three years, or five years. It's got to be long term. And if there's one thing Sonoma County is known for doing nationwide, it's being innovative, creative, and the world class thinkers. And so that's what we're pushing our county to do, once again, is take these one time funds and invest it wisely in a long term vegetation management plan. Because we do have these natural corridors where wildfires have erupted several times. The Tubbs fire, that wildfire zone, we've had three fires in that same area over the last 50 to 75 years. So there's a natural progression history of knowing where these fires are coming from. Now's the time to invest long term in slowing, stopping the spread of those wildfires and saving lives.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I heard this term when I was in Southern Oregon a couple months ago called mild fire. One of the things that we could cultivate in these fire affected communities is mild fires pose these mega wildfires. One of the things that, somebody listening to this might say, oh, well, why are you building in the woods, which is really what we call a Wui wildland urban interface. But what they don't necessarily understand is that these fires don't care about your Wui. They're gonna come where they want to come. I mean, in this case, the Tubbs fire, it was like, thank you for the watershed. I'm just gonna rush down this creek. Thank you for the highway. That's what it made its own highway through the creeks, rushes down into your area, which we thought you were in the flatlands, and then overpass to the other side of a six lane freeway snaked around to go to K-Mart, and then found an empty lot snaked around and went out, and took out 1,400 homes. So the theory that the issue is building up in the woods is not the main issue. The main issue is there's so much fuel, and these fires get so big and so hot because of climate change that they make their own weather. And they're going to go their own way. You can be miles away from any hill and you can still have your entire neighborhood decimated.
Brad Sherwood: The Wui zone is literally a quarter of a mile from my house right now. I mean, I could actually look out my window and see the boundary of the Louis area that didn't make a darn difference. The night the Tubbs fire came in. I couldn't agree with you more. But what can make a difference, though, is if you have a landscape that is properly managed, where canopies are driven up, you're reducing the fuel load, you're reducing the amount of debris that could be pushed through and wind driven. You're also going to have to do home hardening is critical. Keeping brush and landscape five feet from your house, ensuring you have the proper vents, ensuring you don't have any exposed wood. I mean, even here in the valley floor, we're in suburbia here in Northern Santa Rosa and we rebuild our home with hardie boards, so concrete siding for homes that have not burned that were built in the 1970's, it's crucial that you home harm. That means clearing landscape, ensuring that you have the proper devices on your homes and they can fire safe--
Jennifer Gray Thompson: There's a cost to that, that's not free. Like Vulcan Vents are not free, but they can save lives. Doing those innovative financing models so people can, seniors, vulnerable communities, people who just don't have a lot of extra money, which is a lot of people. Sonoma County's very expensive place to live, but it can actually make the difference between life and death. It is that serious, and this is a one time opportunity. So can you talk to us? I know you've done two things in particular in the past couple months to lobby advocate for a safer, more resilient community. What are those two things?
Brad Sherwood: So we decided to use our media outlet and social media to deliver our message and advocate for vegetation management funding. We partnered up with ReBuild North Bay Foundation who helped us get an ad, a full page ad in our local newspaper, The Press Democrat, and it was an open letter. It was an open letter to our county leadership and to our community. It was signed by wildfire survivors and block captains from throughout the county. That open letter basically just helped deliver our message. We also then follow that up again with the ReBuild North Bay Foundation support in producing a short documentary. We wanted to take our stories, our real life stories and show people what vegetation management means. What does that look like? What can that actually do?
I mean, there's so much talk about it, but no one really truly knows, unless you're living in the hills, or you've been through this, what it means. So we took a film crew up, we interviewed four wildfire survivors who each have their own different story on how weed whacking, priming trees, home hardening, putting copper flashing on your eaves can save your house in a wildfire, and can provide the access needed for CallFire or your firefighters to come and save your home. The better yet, provide you the opportunity to save your own life and get out of a wildfire if you're ever trapped in one at your home. So it's worked out very well. I think it's going viral. I think on social media, the documentary, and I believe that our message has been heard. Because as Jennifer alluded to, the board has so far given $25 million for vegetation management. I believe they're going to give more in the next few weeks.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I think some people might be like, well, Brad works with the county, this is why they listened. But it's actually harder if you work in the county. It's a bigger risk to take because you are really lobbying your local board of supervisors. Now, rebuilding our pay normally doesn't do that because we are partners with them. But in this case, because it was requests from fire survivors, then we were happy to not only support you, but we this is a side note, if you're looking at how to advocate, we put all of that funding into our advocacy bucket so that we did our taxes at the end of the year, it will not go into a grant, it went into, instead, advocacy. You have to be very mindful of that as a nonprofit, but it can be way crunchy, or when you know the people, and you work with them, and they are in effect for your bosses, it takes a little bit of courage for you to do that.
"We cannot and should not let our community down and go through another wildfire and lose them their life. That should be our mission, that should be our goal." -Brad Sherwood
Brad Sherwood: Yeah, absolutely. But you know what? At the end of the day, we all live this tragedy together, and I know we all want the same outcome. It takes leadership, and someone has to step up and say, let's do this, this is what should be done. There's the old adage, you're not at the table, you're on it. I would much rather be at it, even if it's with my own employer. And I will leverage every relationship that I have to make this community more fire safe. It is every obligation I think of every Sonoma County resident, we cannot and should not let our community down and go through another wildfire and lose them their life. That should be our mission, that should be our goal. And I don't know who wouldn't agree with that.
"At the end of the day, we all live this tragedy together and we all want the same outcome. It takes leadership and someone has to step up." -Brad Sherwood
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And if not you, then who? In any disaster affected community, if you have undergone it, then you have the right, the obligation and the responsibility to step up and be part of the solution to be able to work with people but also to be a little bit brave, it takes a little bit of being brave. And sometimes, that's a hard thing to do. But it is always worth it. If you know that at the end of the day, you're going to have saved more lives, saved more homes, and led a better, stronger, safer community. So I am just a huge fan Brad. I just love working with you, and I like what I'm watching, what you're doing. And it's a pleasure. I'm going to probably end it there because I feel like I love what you just said. So Brad, can you actually end this podcast on your best advice for anybody who's all of a sudden woken up today, or two weeks ago, and they've picked this podcast to listen to this episode? Because they want to know how to advocate for their community and fire survivors. What's your best advice?
"You are a wildfire survivor that owes it to the next generation to ensure they never have to go through what we've just experienced." -Brad Sherwood
Brad Sherwood: My best advice to survive after a disaster and rebuild after a disaster is to follow your heart, your intuition, the relationships that you've built and protect your community and your family. And if that means advocating at the state level for regulations, that means picking up a video camera and creating a documentary on vegetation management. If that means feeling uncomfortable, but knowing that your message needs to be heard, do it. You are a wildfire survivor, you are part of an unfortunate club that owes it to the next generation to ensure that they don't go through, and they don't have to feel the stress and pain that you have felt. Work for them to ensure they never have to go through what we've just experienced.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Hey, that's a perfect place to end. Thank you so much again for being on How To Disaster, Brad Sherwood.
Brad Sherwood: Thank you, Jennifer. And again, thank you to the ReBuild North Bay Foundation.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Our pleasure.