Dear Friends,

Spring has truly sprung here in Lake County (the NYTimes is reporting that spring is coming around three weeks early across the country as a result of overal warming trends).  After the generous rainy season, the landscape is blooming, and the greenery is beginning to overgrow the fire scarred landscapes. 

It has been three months since we last wrote to you about the project to build a new "Bright Village" on the site of a community destroyed by last year's catastrophic Valley Fire here in Lake County California.

The Valley Fire at the borders of the Mountain Of Attention
As we have written, a seemingly irresistible surge to literally rise from the ash heaps of the fire is manifesting in the cooperative efforts of a group of friends to create a truly "Bright Village" that exemplifies every best vision of cooperation - with each other, with our neighbors, with the earth and all the beings with whom we share this place, and ultimately with the living Spirit of All that Is the deep prior unity of All. 
The Valley Fire - We are located in the northern "spur" of the burn area
We are now deep into the thicket of the planning process, wrestling week by week with a hundred details of finance, construction methods, real estate transactions and county procedures, not to mention the actual design of a 40-person village, community center, meditation hall, gardens, and parkland. As you will see, we are being helped by a powerful cadre of angels who have also been inspired by the project. Here are some of the milestones we have passed since the fall:

1. Establishment of the legal cooperative structure - the Bright Village LLC.  With heavyweight assistance from our dauntless attorney Jill Jacobs (a fellow at the Sustainable Economies Law Center in Oakland)  we have carefully crafted a legal structure that looks, feels and acts like a cooperative, but is legally a limited liability company (avoiding some of the tax constraints of a legal coop).  We have completed an extensive (25-pages of fine print) Operating Agreement and are deeply engaged in drafting an accompanying Governance Document that outlines exactly HOW this LLC will function as a coop (see below).

As of this writing we have enrolled 22 members into the LLC, all with real cash skin in the game. This group has met as a Plenary gathering (gathering of all members) twice thus far. Once someone is accepted as a member of the company, and as the spaces are constructed and become available, the opportunity to own or rent will be determined on the basis of the date of the member’s initial contribution and the number of units constructed.  

The majority of company members are local Lake County folks, many of whom lost their homes in the fire. All of us have an active relationship with the Mountain Of Attention retreat center across the road from the Village site.  Like us, most of our members have landed in some semi-permanent interim housing until the village is built. In addition we have a contingent who currently live and serve at the Adidam hermitage sanctuary in Fiji and who are looking to provide for the time they can no longer live and work in that demanding environment.  We also have a few other members scattered around North America. Thanks to Skype, we have all been able to be "in the room" together for our Plenary gatherings.

We have formalized a contractual Management Services agreement between the Bright Village LLC and the Seigler Springs Community Redevelopment Association (SSCRA) to provide day to day management of the village development process. SSCRA is the nonprofit company that we established in the weeks following the fire to provide immediate and ongoing fire relief services to the community, and to help establish cooperative forms of redevelopment in the fire-affected area.  
contour map of the project site
2. Helping Fire Survivors who are still struggling. In a related development, we have just learned that SSCRA has been awarded a grant by the American Red Cross to provide dedicated "disaster case management" to survivors of the Valley Fire. Having pointed dozens of fellow survivors to resources for housing, clothing, furniture and other household goods, mental health counseling, financial assistance, we are very happy to be able to hire one additional staff person who will directly serve those fire survivors who are still struggling to get back on their feet 18 months later.  There are still so many folks in that situation. We particularly need resources for artists, musicians, and tradespeople who lost their tools and equipment as well as their homes.  

We have been advised that the severity of the Valley Fire was comparable in effect to Hurricane Katrina on a smaller scale and that it would be literally many years before the community truly regains its footing. With the support of the Red Cross we have hired Indigo Perry, herself a Valley Fire survivor, to work directly with individuals who are still not settling into a new stable post-fire circumstance. Indigo is an experienced social services professional, most recently working on homelessness in neighboring Sonoma County. She is also a member of the Bright Village LLC and a dear friend, so we are looking for multiple synergies to emerge as we work together.

3. Cobb Area Council (CAC) and new Cobb Area Plan -  speaking of synergies, this month we will hold the tenth meeting of the CAC. The Council was established in July by the Lake County Board of Supervisors to be the local community advisory body. Magdalena did much of the behind the scenes organizing of CAC and Eliot was appointed Chair of the five-member Board. Via the CAC we have been deeply involved in the progress of the larger Cobb community in post-fire redevelopment, including a community "rebuild workshop", advocating for renovation of the Cobb "Little Red Schoolhouse" as a community center, bringing county officials to the community to discuss recovery efforts, and cooperating to prepare for the coming fire season. Perhaps most significantly, the CAC will be central in the revision of the "Cobb Mountain Area Plan" last revised in 1989, that will lay out the fundamental ground rules for redevelopment in the area. Recovery from the fire will be one of the major themes of the plan and this will be a way for us to stay very close to the thinking of the county officials whose approval will be critical for the success of the Bright Village project.  The CAC has also, even principally, been a means for us to grow and nurture the web of connections between our Adidam community and the larger Cobb Mountain, and broader Lake County community. We average anywhere from 50-70 attendees at every meeting. We have been making LOTS of new friends and are really enjoying discovering what a wonderful group of neighbors we have. 

Cobb Area Council Website
4. Refining the Bright Village  mix of "market rate" and "affordable" housing, housing and seniors. Our target for Bright Village residents is 40 people. We expect that this will be split half and half between folks who will own their units and those who will rent. We also expect that half of the village will technically qualify for "low income" housing- meaning residents earning less than 80% of the Lake County median income. This may help us qualify for some advantageous financing for the Village.  We are extremely fortunate to have two veteran affordable housing developers on our advisory team. Clark Blasdell, Chairman of Northbay Family Homes, with 40 years in the home development world and dozens of successful projects, has been holding our hand from the first days after the fire and guiding us as we learn the ropes.  As part of the great serendipity surrounding the Bright Village project, we met Cobb neighbor John Carlisi a few months ago through the new Cobb Area Council. John has a deep background with the Fannie Mae Foundation and is currently the CEO of the Neighborhood Development Collaborative, an affordable home builder active in several states across the country with over 4,000 homes to their credit. John has energetically jumped into helping us craft our financial plan and is currently introducing us to the world of "Community Development Financial Institutions," which have been established to provide credit and financial services to underserved markets (like Lake County).

5. Are we going to be an old folks home?????  At this point LLC members are mostly in our 60's (and up!) though we are also in conversation with some of our younger (i.e under 50!) friends about how the village might work for them as well.  We do expect that for the first decade or so the Bright Village will have a majority of older folks and so we are thinking carefully about how to build a gracious environment for "aging in place", especially as we also are focused around an intensive life of meditation, spiritual practice and service to the Mountain Of Attention retreat sanctuary across the road from the Village.  We are planning on ways to make sure we take best advantage of every cooperative means to keep each other healthy and fit. We are lucky to have a group of very skilled healers in our extended Lake County community (body-workers, herbalists, nutritionists, acupuncturists, etc.) and we plan to have the Bright Village be a place where these arts are highly developed. Nonetheless we expect that the Bright Village will see a good share of death transitions over the coming decades and we are incredibly fortunate to have a sophisticated guild, called Mate Moce (Fijiian for "Easy Death") that was established by Adi Da Samraj to serve the most auspicious death transition process.

6. Honing core values and learning the arts of consensus decision making.   We have so far held two full length training sessions in consensus decision making and are editing the text of our new "Bright Village Consensus Handbook."  This guide to "Formal Consensus" process is based on a prototype by C.T. Butler, with additional material from our two consensus trainers Penny Sirota and Brent Levin. We were introduced to Penny and Brent by Laird Schaub, the recently retired director of the Fellowship for Intentional Communities. We first met Laird in the 90's when we lived in Washington DC and he was one of the very first people we called to help us with our post-fire community organizing efforts. Laird travels and teaches nationally and we were very lucky to snag some open slots in his schedule after the fire to help us out. Brent and Penny are his "star students" and experienced communitarians in their own rights.

With Brent and Penny's help we are hip-deep in the process of honing our core Mission and Values documents. These will stand as the essential guideposts for the consensus process we are undertaking. We have established a "governance committee" to process input from the whole group and expect to finish the Governance Document in the coming month as a formal appendix to our legal Operating Agreement.  We are particularly engaged in balancing our commitment to a common spiritual practice that values the potency of true spiritual authority and transmission with a commitment to the most cooperative approach to handling all of the intricacies of daily life business and financial solvency. We feel that we are doing pioneering work in this area.

7. Site Evaluation. One key change in the village site this winter has been the clearing of over 150 dead trees from the site. This was a significant logging operation that  took nearly a month and involved a chain saw wielding crew, bulldozers, excavators and large transport trucks! Thanks to the Cobb Area Council and a local contractor, we were able to get a fantastic deal on this - over $30K worth of work for around $3K minus a one-time $1K contribution from a neighbor. Now that the dead trees are gone we have a MUCH clearer sense of what the buildable footprint of the project site might be. In addition, we made some careful observation of the sunlight during the solstice period to get a sense of how the light will move over the site during the year. 

Village site from the air after tree removal (photo by Rob Wessell)

The heavy winter rains this year (over 115 inches vs average of 65) showed clearly how the water flows in and around the village site and also highlighted the potential we have for significant rainwater catchment, even during relatively mild winters. The natural "bowl" shape of the Village site will provide opportunities to capture and store many tens of thousands of gallons of rainwater. We have started working with permacultural design advisor Grover Stock , of the Living Guild to evaluate the different parts of the site.  We are actively considering working with Grover and his Guild partners to design a comprehensive water system that will maximize conservation for the Village. Such a system will involve an "engineered" septic system, rather than the more common, septic tank/leach field process, and also involve separate graywater recovery, rainwater catchment and extensive on-site water storage. This will certainly increase upfront costs but have significant long-term benefits (not the least of which will be freeing up critical acreage for building sites.  

8. Determining the legal structure for owning and protecting the land We are currently in the middle of an ongoing consideration of the best legal form to actually own the land on which the Bright Village will be built. In this we are working very closely with Gosia Zuk, the attorney for the Adidam Holy Institution and with Wally Muszinski, the CEO of the Adidam Holy Domains, which is the legal owner of the Mountain Of Attention retreat sanctuary. We have engaged Dev Goetschius, who is part of the Burlington Associates company (as in Burlington VT, as in Bernie Sanders!) as a consultant on this matter. Dev is probably the most knowledgeable person in the region on matters of land tenure and its relationship to "community housing land trusts" although as of this writing it is not clear that such a formal "land trust" will be the best vehicle for the land underlying the Bright Village, given our intention to both allow for "commercial" development on the land (rentable housing, community center, potential community businesses) as well as to have the land be protected in perpetuity as critical buffer properties adjacent to the Mountain Of Attention. It's complicated but we have identified several options and we are making headway.

9. Prayers and Blessings  Despite the sometimes bewildering  maze of details and forces that are moving in, through and around the Bright Village project, and in the midst of all the frustrating obstructions and blind alleys that we wander into, the Bright Village is, for us, fundamentally a Gift of Grace, for which we have been trained and prepared over decades and to which we are literally being "called" to respond. And in that process, we feel unfathomably fortunate to be immersed in an intimate sacred culture of spiritual practice that each day invokes and magnifies a profound Blessing Source in the living Divine Being. For us, this takes the form of our spiritual practice in relationship to Adi Da Samraj, the source of our guidance, inspiration and daily empowerment and blessing. Thus, each aspect of the process is felt as a "theatre", a sacred ritual of invocation and blessing. In this, we simply are acting as servants of a deep benign shift in global consciousness in the process of Emerging into this world.