From the Publisher: Lots and Lots of Tension in the Air

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Arnold G. York

It’s been a very difficult week for all of us, on top of a bunch of prior difficult weeks. The Woolsey Fire, which began more than a month ago at this point, has turned our lives upside down. We’ve been dealing with people who have been burned out, people who have been almost burned out, friends suddenly in major need and just about everyone else who evacuated and had a monumental scare. My general sense is the citizenry of Malibu is somewhere between seriously disturbed to “off-the-wall nuts.” I often find myself tiptoeing through conversations to avoid cracking any of those egg shells. 

Most of the citizens of Malibu are people who typically have good control of their lives—we are not the receivers; we are usually the givers. Then a fire comes. Lots of people can’t do it for themselves anymore, but have trouble letting other people do things for them. When you say to them, “What can we do to help?” They say, “Oh, we’re OK,” when they are clearly not OK. So you have to be very specific and ask: Can I go to the market for you? Do you need dishes, silverware, pots and pans? Can I take your dog to the vet? It’s very difficult to ask for help. Most of us are not used to it.

Those who are burned out are dealing with their insurance company, perhaps an adjuster or two and maybe a lawyer, and they’re getting a slew of contradictory advice from friends and advisors. They’re trying to listen to people talking in insurance language or rebuilding language and it might just as well be Hungarian because at first, it just makes no sense at all. As time goes on, as they attend Operation Recovery meetings, as they hear the terminology over and over again, they begin to learn the language, but it takes time and healing.

I’ve found people very tense, flying off the handle at trivia, angry and then self-pitying. I suspect it’s something they all have to go through to get to the other side. We have to try and be patient with them. I constantly have to remind myself to listen and not finish other people’s sentences.

One of the things I see is people are very angry at the City of Malibu, Los Angeles County, the LA County Fire Department, the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, Pepperdine University, their insurance companies, their insurance broker, their neighbors who wouldn’t cut their trees back and just about everyone else. How much of this anger is justified and how much is directed at the proper parties are things we simply don’t yet know, but we will find out in time.

There are, however, certain things that are apparent. Whatever the plans were to handle these kinds of events no longer work. There were major failures of preparation, command and execution; things have to change. We are facing changing climate, temperatures, winds, fuel loads, water shortages and only a finite amount of resources to take care of it all. We need leadership from the city. If the original goal was to keep Malibu rural… Well, in order to do that, we first have to be able to survive. There are going to be lots of trade offs, which will often make some people very unhappy. We need water and water storage. We need alternative power when the power goes out. We need trees and shrubs and grassland cut back, whether it’s on private land or public land. We need to take a hard look at the consequences to flora and fauna from this fire because in the future, when there are tradeoffs that have to be made, we have to know what price we are paying. If we don’t do some of these things, we may be looking at fires every year or every other year.

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To get back to the more mundane, there was a meeting at The White House with President Trump; Chuck Schumer, Democratic leader of the Senate; and Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader of the House. (She is probably soon to be the speaker of the House again when the Democratic winners are sworn in next month). 

But there is a budget deadline approaching in December and if there is no agreement, the government will partially shu down. I was amazed there were cameras and lights at the meeting, which means it wasn’t a serious meeting to try and work out a solution, just showbiz to place blame. The question that came to my mind was: Why didn’t Trump ask for the $5 billion for the wall now, when his party still controls both the House and the Senate? The answer is simple. He didn’t have the votes in his own party. He couldn’t get the Republican votes for the wall. A deal may still be possible. The Dems will never vote for a wall, so they may have to rename it, say calling it the “impervious fence.” The Republicans may have to go along with all the DACA kids, except they could call it “the innocent child rescue bill.” 

And then everyone can declare victory and go home for the holidays.