Letters, Sept. 1
Ashland is Paradise
When we arrived here five years ago we, like many of you, believed we had landed in a virtual paradise community. Now, unfortunately, due to the dereliction of city staff and departments, particularly the city’s Wildfire Safety Commission, we are pre-fire Paradise, California.
In the fall of 2018, following the tragic experience of Paradise, where residents were trapped in their cars, unable to evacuate their fire-ravaged town, Ashland announced that it would be developing an evacuation plan to avoid such a tragedy here. Tonya Graham has been the council liaison on the commission since Feb. 5, 2019.
It remains unexplained why our already-compensated police, fire, public works and other city departments could not have promptly collaborated to develop the plan. They did not, and at some point Ashland obtained a $40,000 grant to develop the evacuation plan and contracted with KLD Engineering to do so. In any event, KLD took no action until a month or so ago when, on July 19, 2020, a “road survey” was purportedly performed. At the commission’s July 15 meeting, in response to my request, Fire Chief David Shepherd advised that the plan “should be done by the end of September.” (Meeting minutes are accessible on the commission’s website.) Chief Shepherd has made unspecified assertions that COVID-related issues delayed the start of the study until its “kick-off meeting” on July 20, also over a month ago. Why the work required by this contract would have been impacted by COVID also requires explanation.
Now, at the commission’s Aug. 19 meeting, we are advised that the plan will be completed on Dec. 30, 2020 — an additional three months, and more than two years and two wildfire seasons, after the intention to develop the plan was announced. We are Paradise experiencing extreme fire alerts daily.
I have, along with many of you, taken the various wildfire prevention and preparation steps the city has advised ad nauseum: three CERT meetings, Firewise compliance, NIXLE sign-up, go bag preparation, etc. It is time for the commission and City Council to explain the egregiously irresponsible and dangerous delay in the development of a plan. There are thousands of residents of the heavily wooded Ashland hills who may have minutes to join, and contend with, their neighbors in a fearsome drive downhill to essentially two arterials leading out of town. Regarding this existential threat, the buck stops with the commission and the council.
We are scared
We are a group of seniors and people with disabilities trying our best to survive COVID-19 in Southern Oregon. We are your parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. We are your neighbors. And we are scared.
Although we taught you to wash your hands, to respect your elders, to care for those less fortunate and to live by the golden rule, many of you seem to have either forgotten those lessons or are deliberately disobeying them. When we must venture out into a world filled with contagious disease, we see so many of you who seem to think so little about our health. It saddens us to assume you are being uncaring, careless, reckless or indifferent. When we go out and come in contact with you, we are careful to protect you and those you love most from getting sick.
We know you desperately need to get back to work and to school and to go on with your lives. We know that it feels like you are being forced to hide from living. We know that for many of you life is crumbling. All of us are tired of this horrible chapter in our history. But all of us must be patient and cautious and make sacrifices and work together if we are to get through this nasty thing they call pandemic.
Just think about it, your not caring is a risk of serious illness and death to the people you love in your community.
Erika Bekermeier, Ashland; John D. Curtis, Eagle Point; Paul Golding, Medford; Richard Hoskins, Medford; Liz James, Jacksonville; Rhonda Lawrence, Grants Pass; Connie Saldana, Ashland; and Linda Serra, Grants Pass