Paradise, California Aims To Rebuild, Solve Longstanding Infrastructure Problems With money from the state and the federal government, Paradise, Calif., may be able to rebuild and fix long-standing infrastructure problems.

Paradise, California Aims To Rebuild, Solve Longstanding Infrastructure Problems

Paradise, California Aims To Rebuild, Solve Longstanding Infrastructure Problems

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With money from the state and the federal government, Paradise, Calif., may be able to rebuild and fix long-standing infrastructure problems.


When the Camp Fire nearly leveled Paradise, Calif., last month, the scope of the devastation made it nearly impossible to imagine rebuilding. The fire destroyed about 90 percent of the town. But speak to officials today, and they are downright optimistic about the town's future. From member station KQED, Lily Jamali has more.

LILY JAMALI, BYLINE: Fifteen miles from its former home, Paradise has a new town hall occupying an old municipal building on Main Street in the nearby city of Chico.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All right. All right, I'll talk to you soon.

GINA WILL: All right. Thank you. I appreciate it.

JAMALI: In her temporary office, the town's finance director, Gina Will, is scrambling to cover the city's immediate needs.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: ...Form and change it.

WILL: OK. All right. So I just need to get this back to Eric.

JAMALI: But she's also helping oversee the long-term plan for Paradise. And rebuilding is almost a foregone conclusion.

WILL: The town will most certainly rebuild. What level of service we will need to provide to citizens, I think, will be a little bit determined as to who comes back.

JAMALI: It won't be cheap. And Paradise's finances were already on thin ice. Just two days before the Camp Fire, Paradise voted to extend a half-cent sales tax to pay for better roads, police and fire suppression. That won't help much now. But the fire has the potential to create a financial windfall for Paradise.

WILL: Overall, I anticipate that it will be a positive turn of events for Paradise eventually.


SCOTT WILSON: So have y'all, like, worked with FEMA in a disaster before?

JAMALI: These last few weeks, at briefings like this one, public agencies and nonprofits here have gotten a crash course in how to apply for federal and state disaster relief as they reimagine a new Paradise. A FEMA official showed a packed auditorium the process.


WILSON: You can upload your documentation into the system. We won't lose it. That's good.

JAMALI: The rally to rebuild after a disaster like the Camp Fire is nothing new.

ANDREW MORRIS: You know, it's the American spirit to rise up, you know, sort of phoenix-like from tragedy.

JAMALI: Professor Andrew Morris of Union College in New York studies federal disaster relief. More and more, he says, priority goes not just to replacing what was lost but to building better.

MORRIS: So rebuilding in such ways that make it less likely that they'll be vulnerable, you know, should something bad happen again down the line. And that's part of what you see going on, I think, in Paradise.

JAMALI: Paradise plans to ask for federal and state help to relocate a fire station that burned down and to fix roads so they won't cave in in the next fire, and then bigger dreams, like burying the vast web of overhead utility lines and finally replacing the town's antiquated septic tanks with a proper sewage system. The ask for that is up to 83 million in federal dollars.

Safety changes aside, not everyone likes the idea of a polished Paradise.



JAMALI: Back on the town's decimated main commercial strip, Doug Vandegrift is packing up his truck with stuff to haul down to Chico. He lost his house in the fire, but this is still home.

DOUG VANDEGRIFT: And I love Paradise. Regardless what happens here, if I can find a rental at a cheap enough price, I'll move back.

JAMALI: Vandegrift worries that as it rebuilds, Paradise is trying to mimic a city that's bigger than it is.

VANDEGRIFT: We're a little community. I just want it to be the same little community as I grew up in from the '60s on up.

JAMALI: It's that little community with its rugged charm and lack of polish that he hopes will come back. For NPR News, I'm Lily Jamali.


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