On April 18, 110 years after the 1906 earthquake devastated San Francisco, The City’s first Chief Resilience Officer, Patrick Otellini, will release a strategy that considers how we can survive disasters like the next big earthquake and climate change. I am always cautiously optimistic about these big government reports. Will it inspire any real changes in San Francisco or will it simply vanish in the well of good intentions?
Community leaders have already told me they plan to use the resilience strategy to help neighborhoods respond to climate change. Perhaps it will inspire more resolve to rage against the affordability crisis, so San Francisco can create strong, diverse communities.
The San Francisco Interfaith Council, an organization that brings people of diverse spiritual backgrounds together to serve communities, plans to use the resilience strategy to inform its climate change Disaster Preparedness Workshop on May 4. Congregation leaders around The City will meet neighborhood partners and develop responses to help communities deal with severe storms and record-breaking heat waves.
“There is a justifiable expectation that communities of faith have a moral obligation to respond in times of crises,” Michael Pappas, executive director of the SFIC, told me. “Disaster preparedness is one of our core missions.”
The SFIC has worked to help San Franciscans endure climate-related hazards with varying success. Since 1990, its Interfaith Winter Shelter has successfully augmented San Francisco’s homeless shelters during the cold, wet winter months. But I couldn’t find a house of worship that specifically responded to the SFIC and the Department of Health’s call to provide cooling centers and water during a record-breaking heat wave last August.
The Providence Baptist Church in the Bayview did provide shuttles for seniors to travel to a cooling center though. The church is involved with the SFIC and the “Resilient Bayview” community program, a city-sponsored Neighborhood Empowerment Network. G. L. Hodge, the church administrator, recognizes the Bayview’s vulnerability to climate change and has worked closely with Otellini as The City prepares the resilience strategy.
“We have to make sure we’re not in a desert of information because that’s part of what creates inequality,” Hodge told me. “A resilient Bayview is making sure we can take care of ourselves.”
I am excited by the way the SFIC and Providence Baptist Church plan to use the resilience strategy. It’s independent of the politics and bureaucracy often linked to government programs. It cares for all members of the community regardless of income, job or age. Although it’s not perfect, it can strengthen San Francisco’s resilience by simply providing community resources to diverse people, and diversity is essential to resilience.
“Diversity is actually a vitality factor,” the Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California, told me when asked about the challenges San Francisco faces as climate change worsens. Bishop Marc is an environmental activist and attended the historic climate change conference in Paris last December. “Our city is becoming far less diverse,” he said.
This isn’t surprising to hear. Otellini thinks about a crisis like the 1906 earthquake happening on top of the affordability crisis San Francisco already faces. The native San Franciscan heard stories his great-grandparents told about the earthquake. He knows The City will need everyone — faith groups, neighborhood networks, first-responders, nurses, teachers and techies — to recover. Everyone will need to help save San Francisco.
“Part of the strategy looks at how we can survive and keep 95 percent of our population here in San Francisco throughout the disaster,” Otellini said. “Because we know that’s how we can speed up our recovery — if we have our people.”
I hope community groups like the SFIC will use the resilience strategy to stress this point. A major earthquake can happen any time, and we’re already seeing the heat waves and storms associated with climate change. If we want our city to survive, we can’t afford to lose any more San Franciscans.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time.