Camp Fire Town Hall draws several hundred Protesters line the entrance to the Chico Elks Lodge

by Leslie Layton

The appearance of Congressman Doug LaMalfa and state lawmakers at today’s Camp Fire recovery Town Hall meeting drew anxious survivors and evacuees, as well as protesters who lined the entrance to the Chico Elks Lodge.

photo by Karen Laslo
Steve Marquadt from Chico’s Sunrise Movement (left) and Mary Kay Benson from 350 Butte County, protesting Congressional inaction on climate change at today’s Town Hall, call for a Green New Deal.

Several hundred people filled the lodge auditorium, as well as officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Office of Emergency Services. After presentations by lawmakers and officials, audience members concerned about the need for tree clearing and road widening to provide safe evacuation routes from fire-prone communities, about water quality and services for survivors suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, lined up to ask questions. An Oroville resident asked about the toxicity of the heaps of concrete and metal being trucked out of Paradise and whether it’s being handled in the safest possible way.

LaMalfa (R-Richvale) noted that the federal government usually provides only 75 percent reimbursement for the cost of disaster recovery, but raised that to 90 percent in the case of the Camp Fire. State Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) said “pushback” had been necessary because some groups were lobbying against the rebuilding of Paradise and for the “de-populating of rural Northern California,” – although the post-Camp Fire debate has largely centered around how to provide new housing after a climate-fueled disaster.

photo by Karen Laslo
Sen. Jim Nielsen said Paradise will be rebuilt, though he didn’t address re-building strategies that might prevent another catastrophe. “We will come back,” Nielsen said to audience applause.

Sue Hilderbrand, a District 4 candidate for the Butte County Board of Supervisors, attended the town hall and said she was concerned that Nielsen and other lawmakers didn’t address the need to rebuild Paradise in the safest way possible. “There was no discussion about how we’re going to rebuild more safely, how we do this in a way that ensures that this doesn’t happen again,” Hilderbrand said.

Hilderbrand said she found it “ironic” that “conservative elected officials who are very critical of taxes and the federal government were celebrating” the recovery funding the region has received, even though that funding, she noted, is well-deserved and fits with the role the federal government should play in disasters.

photo by Karen Laslo
Protesters came out for today’s town hall to demonstrate against war, for gun control and for more humane immigration policies.

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