The Fire That Killed California’s Paradise Town

California spends billions rebuilding burned towns. The case for calling it quits

When the devastating fire tore through the Northern California town of Paradise in the spring of 2017, the worst it had been since the town was founded in 1850. The local Chamber of Commerce called it a miracle and an act of God.

It wasn’t. It was the result of a year of mismanagement and lax oversight from the governing board – local officials who were largely appointed by the California legislature. They were accused of hiring the town’s own public relations firm to cover up their shortcomings and of making their way around the law in an attempt to meet their own political desires.

The ensuing fire and police inquiry cost taxpayers $100 million and three people their lives. Yet the town is now considered a model for other burned towns. As officials continue to implement its plans, they have come to the realization that the town has no money left to rebuild – not from insurance companies, not from taxpayers and not from the state.

It’s an argument that is being made by cities across California, even the ones that were ravaged by their own blazes. They’re making their cases in hopes of gaining state funding and resources, and they’re arguing that it would be a bad idea to return to the practices that got the town into such a fix in the first place.

To be clear, there is plenty that needs to be done to rebuild a burned town – and it would cost plenty in the process. Fire officials say they’ve recovered $70 million of the $100 million in claims from victims. That’s still a third of the amount they would’ve recovered had they been allowed to rebuild, since many of the claims were made up of single-family house and business insurance.

But what’s not happening is addressing the root causes of the problem. That’s where Californians’ money and energy should be going. It’s been estimated that more than $50 billion in public resources are needed to rebuild cities that lost 100 percent of their land – not to mention the people who lost everything.

The fire’s cost to the state was $2.4 billion, with much of that cost due to rebuilding the infrastructure.

On the heels of a historic drought, Californians are in a tough spot. And they’ve yet to see any benefits

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