<![CDATA[Building Resilient Communities from the Ground Up - Blog]]>Thu, 20 Jul 2017 21:46:09 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Spring Sprang Sprung!]]>Wed, 15 Mar 2017 17:59:33 GMThttp://livingincommon.org/1/post/2017/03/spring-sprang-sprung.htmlDear 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.

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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. 
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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.  
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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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<![CDATA[Taking it to the Bank - should we borrow money to build the Bright Village?]]>Fri, 16 Sep 2016 05:52:01 GMThttp://livingincommon.org/1/post/2016/09/taking-it-to-the-bank-should-we-borrow-money-to-build-the-bright-village.html
Now that our Bright Village project is getting close to incorporating (see last week's post "Grooving on the Fine Print"), and we are building a good core group of potential resident-developers,  we really need to start getting very serious about the big question of Where Do We Get the Money to Build the Project? While most of our community falls pretty squarely into a middle-to-lower-middle class strata, such that making monthly housing payments is not a matter of serious concern (although we DO have a few folks who are truly very-low-income, due to advanced age and/or a lifetime of low-paying community service work), we are faced with the classic challenge that anyone has who wants to become a home owner - where do we get the down payment and how much is it going to cost us in interest payments and how confident are we that we can commit to the long term financial stability of the project - because for this project default is not an option! 

To begin to understand what we are up against here we have begun to make the rounds of local banks to get a sense of what the rules of the road might be for funding a project like the Bright Village. After making calls to over a dozen banks, we have so far had appointments with three locals - Tri-Counties Bank, Savings Bank of Mendocino, and Umpqua Bank. The first two of these are fairly small, which we like - it will give us a chance to pitch the virtues of our project directly to senior bank officials whom we know will be sympathetic to our fire-recovery and local service objectives. These conversations have been VERY educational. The commercial loan officers we have met have been wonderful in walking us through the complexities of a commercial construction loan package - once again, we are learning a new language and we will probably talk with several other banks before we're done shopping.

For starters, we have learned that as a "multifamily"  development, and an unorthodox one at that, we are looking, right off the bat, at higher rates (5%+ vs. 3.2% for straight home mortgages) and higher down payments (25-30% vs. 20%, 10% or even less for home mortgages). This is on top of increased construction standards and regulations for multifamily buildings. In addition, because we are building from the ground up, and any initial loans will be to bankroll the construction process, the banks will want to have extremely tight oversight (which means additional expense) of the construction process. Lucky we are not looking to make a profit on this!  This really does push us to ask, can we possibly pull this off without bank financing?

Of course, looking at it from a Bank's perspective, it is reasonable that they will want to have strong assurances that we will in fact pay back their $2.8 million (that's 70% of our estimated $4M construction price tag). And we will benefit from the rigorous process of qualifying for any potential bank loan we assume. 

Three key strategies are emerging for us:

1. Build our occupancy waiting list through pre-sales. Obviously, the more we can demonstrate that all of the units in the project will be occupied on day one, and that there is a further demand waiting in the wings, this will be attractive to our lenders, and help us negotiate better terms.

2. Getting a clear sense of how much down-payment power we have in our group. Some of us are sitting on fire insurance settlements, some of us have modest nest eggs, some of us may still have some sympathetic family. To begin to get better clarity about this, we have begun to hold a series of "prequalifying" interviews with prospective Project participants. One of our friends, a well seasoned mortgage broker has agreed to walk our partners through this first round.

3. Cultivating some Angels.  Our major potential alternative to bank financing will be to structure a viable private investment package that we can pitch to a group of "high-net-worth" individuals who may be attracted to the innovative elements of the Bright Village project. And even if such folks are not willing to commit direct private investment to the project, they may be willing to act as guarantors for bank loans, which again may allow us to negotiate better terms.

Now all of this talk about banks, and interest and debt and lien-holding and securitization is making some of our Project partners very nervous. As stated above - default on this project is NOT an option for us - it's just too close to the deep marrow of our community. The idea that stewardship of the Bright Village could be jeopardized by a few quarters of miserable financial performance (occupancy rate falls, unexpected repairs accumulate, insurance rates spike, one bad liability lawsuit, etc. etc.) is anathema to some of our brothers-and-sisters-in-community. So while we continue to explore all the nooks and crannies of possible bank help we will also be working on alternative strategies.

The easiest of these to think about it simple: just build what we can afford right now,  even if it's just a modest community center (that we all chip in for).  Maybe one or two groups of people could bankroll a couple of large single family houses (maybe even manufactured homes) using cash on hand and insurance settlements. No overall permacultural design, no site-level architectural design. This would not be our Bright Village.

A second option will be to work more intensively on raising all the construction funds directly from our extended networks. This quickly becomes more complicated as we will need to be very mindful and careful about a complex maze of investment regulations that make strong distinctions about who can ask for money from whom, and how much, and where they can live (inside California easier, outside the U.S. much more complicated).

A third option has also begun to emerge, even in the past few days, although it has roots deep in our extended network of fellow communitarian pioneers and alternative economics experimenters. In this scenario, we bypass at least to some degree the money economy and activate a "service exchange" network.  In this model, which has already been successful in related enterprises, and which is already functioning here in Lake County, we mobilize the active participation of our community members through a managed exchange  of services (sometimes called "time banking"), via which we can exchange our skills (from acupuncture to zoo management) for help in building the village. This topic will warrant a much more description and we'll tell you more about it as it develops!

For now, our plan is to focus on continuing our research with local banks, sharpening our inventory of existing assets, nurturing our local service exchange network  and cultivating the angels in our midst.

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<![CDATA[Grooving On the Fine Print - Finding creative legal and financial guidance]]>Thu, 08 Sep 2016 04:01:40 GMThttp://livingincommon.org/1/post/2016/09/grooving-on-the-fine-print-finding-creative-legal-and-financial-guidance.html
It was clear to us from the beginning - in order to realize the kind of out-of-the-box village development we are envisioning for our  "Bright Village" project, we would need to find some very creative legal and financial help. Here's some of the issues we are facing:

  • We want to establish our village as a cooperative, at least in function, if not in legal form (which carries other restrictions).
  • We want to incorporate cutting edge permacultural design features that may lay outside the usual building code boundaries.
  • We want to make use of investment funding from a variety of sources including "angel" investors who may live outside California, or even outside the United States.
  • We may have to rely on bank financing at least for construction loans.
  • We want to provide for some very low income units.
  • We want to take advantage of potential government funding available for disaster recovery projects.
  • We want to maintain a high level of control over who lives in the village. Providing relief to survivors of the 2015 Valley Fire and  the creation of a sacred cooperative culture associated with service to the Mountain Of Attention retreat sanctuary are key raisons d'être for the project.

In addition to the critical ongoing mentoring by our patron saint Clark Bladsell at NorthBay Family Homes, our search quickly brought us into contact with the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) in Oakland.  We had been aware for a few years of the work of one of SELC's key founders, Janelle Orsi. She is a truly pioneering attorney who has literally written the book on all of the legal ins and outs of cooperative ventures of all kinds.  SELC holds free monthly "Legal Cafes" where you can sit down with an attorney familiar with the emerging legal landscape around what is coming to be known as the "sharing economy."

We LOVE these folks. Bright, happy, eager to get creative with the law. They were key players in lobbying effort in Sacramento pass AB 816, the "California Worker Cooperative Act" , AB 2561, the "Neighborhood Food Act," and AB 129, the "California Alternative Currencies Act," and they continue to be active partners in several other innovations in State law that will enable greater freedom to work creatively in the world of cooperation + tolerance = peace.
From our first free consultation at the SELC Legal Cafe we got some excellent basic advice and introductions to several attorneys committed to working through the kinds of creative challenges outlined above. After a few interviews we settled on Jill Jacobs, whose website proclaims her interest in serving:

Social enterprises, green businesses, cooperatives, shared housing, cohousing, intentional communities, ecovillages, land trusts, collaborative consumption (shared facilities, utilities, ridesharing, community childcare, grocery cooperatives), community gardens, urban agriculture, home-prepared food enterprises, community owned enterprises, Entity choice, formation, and governance – including cooperatives, benefit and flexible purpose corporations, non-profits (for businesses, housing or land), nonprofit tax exemption, Contracts and documents, Operating agreements, bylaws, governance, purchases, leases, sales, production, marketing, options, deeds, easements, CC&Rs, liability waivers, offerings, Creative capital raising like crowdfunding and related securities law, Alternative currencies (time banks, barter exchanges, etc.), land use, zoning, Title, easements AND (taking a breath)  .  .  . navigating legal gray areas that come up for your creative idea!

So we are off to the races with Jill.

Since Jill works out of her office in Santa Cruz, and we did want to have at least an initial in-person face-to-face with her (it's mostly been by Skype) it was time for a much needed ROAD TRIP break from our little office in the still-burned-over area at Seigler Springs to breathe the sea air and visit friends along the way. Jill has also connected us with the Cutting Edge Capital for some additional help navigating the intricacies of securities law as we build our financial model for the project.

After some initial research, we are working with Jill to establish the Bright Village as a Limited Liability Company with some very explicit Operating Agreements (23 pages of lovely fine print thus far) that will allow us to build the kind of visionary project we are dreaming of. 

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<![CDATA[What about the People Part?]]>Thu, 01 Sep 2016 20:53:49 GMThttp://livingincommon.org/1/post/2016/09/what-about-the-people-part.html
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Cobb Area Council Committee meeting
Generally, the basic solutions to human needs do not (or should not) require resort to any of the resources of  an abstract State--but they should be managed locally, in one's own community, and in natural cooperation with other communities.  (In other words, first establish intimate, cooperative community and the planned solutions to fundamental needs--and, on that basis, see what kind of agreements are useful in cooperation with other communities and with large-scale cooperative agencies.) 
                                        -- the World-Friend Adi Da, Not-Two Is Peace 
The "People Part"  - Part 1
By New Year’s day 2016, the disaster-response "honeymoon period" was over. After the Valley Fire swept through our community earlier in September (the third most destructive wildfire in California to date), there had been a truly inspiring and impressive surge of immediate repair activity, particularly heartfelt in a county that has long ranked among the poorest in the state. Now we were settling into the long-game of recovery. County leadership was still holding regular task force meetings in public, and FEMA leadership was in the process of handing the long-term recovery effort over to a local "Long-Term Recovery Group" (LTRG).  Establishing the LRTG is part of FEMA's post-disaster process, but they are required to leave the group to organize itself as they wish.  

It was clear to us and others that the new LTRG was struggling to form and be effective. Long-standing turf issues among the various agencies and friction between strong individuals was creating a forceful counter-productive current. The situation combined with the equally long-standing absence of a county emergency plan or even the semblance of a disaster council at any local level, and made organizing the LRTG very challenging. The closest active VOAD ("Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster") affiliates were in Southern California, as those in Northern California were relatively inactive.  Consultation with the FEMA National and Regional Coordinators led nowhere as each worked as quickly as possible to get the situation off their hands and turn everything over to the FEMA Volunteer Agency Liaison (VAL) below them. No one was in charge, and no effective cooperative process was emerging. While individual nonprofit representatives spouted the ideals of democratic organization and transparency, they didn't seem to know how to talk to one another or hold one another accountable. The recovery chaos could not be blamed simply on lack of resources and, as disaster survivors ourselves relying on our savings, we couldn't afford the resources to sort things out at that level. 

Meanwhile .  .  . Eliot and I had established strong working relationships with leadership at Mountain Of Attention Retreat Sanctuary, located at the northern end of the fire area. They had served as an important staging area for CalFire and other first responders, and though 80% of that land had burned in the fire, the core temple complex was saved. This allowed us to bring together the local devotee population that lives near and serves the Mountain Of Attention (around 300 people), especially those most directly affected by the fire (140 people left homeless). By the end of 2015, we had held three town meetings, plus another dozen meetings with property owners and small groups addressing how we might rebuild as a community while also attending to group and individual emergency cases.

Having established our "intimate organization" (see quote above) and scoped out the larger county landscape (the LTRG and the Valley Fire Task Force meetings), and mindful of our training in Asset-Based Community Development,

"Building on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions, asset-based community development draws upon existing community strengths to build stronger, more sustainable communities”

we knew we needed to know more about the effective groups and individuals in the area and what their gifts and strengths were.

The village of Cobb was right at the fire's epicenter and is the nearest census designated place (CDP) or population center to the Mountain Of Attention. We began meeting with Friends of Cobb Mountain (FOCM) and its disaster-response offshoot, the Cobb Resilience Action Group (CRAG).  FOCM is  a local grass-roots organization active since the 1970's in preserving and protecting the natural environment of the area. PG&E had tangled with FOCM over illegal dumping of waste back then, and now, in a disaster of the Valley Fire's magnitude, hazard mitigation and the effects on the watershed of the fire of and associated recovery work were bound to be huge concerns--at least we certainly hoped so.  

Immediately following the fire, CRAG began hosting an impressive array of visiting and local experts to advise and guide local recovery efforts.

Turns out that these guys weren't fooling around over concerns about jurisdiction and territory.  Jessica Pyska, an FOCM board member presiding over the CRAG meetings, introduced speaker after speaker to the group. Each had been actively monitoring and otherwise also actively participating in the recovery efforts and were pleased to answer questions about hazardous waste and other abatement problems at the nearby Hoberg's Resort, water testing of streams in the area, the health of the trees and extent of damage in the surrounding Boggs Mountain State Demonstration Forest, and so on.  Mike Dunlap, a long-time activist and a Clearlake resident, served as Secretary for the Cobb Mountain Lions Club, which acted as the local community center and was providing a home for the distribution of relief goods, including food and water.  More often than not, another local activist and community organizer, Jessyca Lytle, was also present, skillfully taking minutes while also giving detailed and extensive updates on the same topics as well as on the water districts and the recovery work and assistance being undertaken by CalPine, a local power generation company which is the largest generator of electricity from geothermal resources in the United States. We began developing our friendship with Mike and the "two Jessicas" and they have become key allies and friends (the two women became original board members of the new Cobb Area Council).

As New Year's passed, the very worst signs of the fire's brutality were soothed as the first green shoots of spring began to restore our moods. One of the most interesting speakers featured by CRAG was James Ehrlich, a technology entrepreneur and President of ReGen Villages, a business offshoot of Stanford University.  On the subject of how to rebuild after the fire, he got everyone's attention (especially given Eliot's 25 years experience as a sustainable development policy wonk) when he announced that "sustainable development" was no longer possible nor desirable. 

 Pointing to alarming, if familiar, examples, such as the decimation of 90% of large ocean fish due to industrial fishing practices, Ehrlich went on to declare that human disregard for its own environment has surpassed the point of sustainability in too many regions of the world and that humans must now actively work on regenerating the environment. Hence the concept of "Regenerative Villages" is to engineer and facilitate the development of off-grid, integrated and resilient neighborhoods by integrating already existing technologies into community design and providing clean energy, water, and food[i] to the inhabitants. This was clearly a state of the art vision for a high-tech village system. As Ehrlich described the details of his model, (self-contained, digital-sensor-integrated, resource cycles such as household waste==>compost ==>soldier flies==>fish food==>fish waste/plant fertilizer==>human food==>household waste) my attention shifted simultaneously on several fronts and in instant everything came together in one question that I blurted aloud, "What about the people part?"

Especially here in tech-utopian California, cybernetic solutions that integrate power-positive homes, food production, renewable energy, water management and waste-to-resource systems are extremely attractive. Add a sophisticated marketing strategy, and it was not too surprising that Ehrlich had already attracted attention outside the United States and from the United Nations--and he was looking for projects.

So yes, technology in the service of humanity was a principle with which I agreed. I realized, especially given our hard earned experience on the ground with the cranky, labor intensive work required to keep our fellow humans in synch with each other, that I was also listening for anything in his presentation about people's interaction with the environment that might point to a similar revolutionary approach in how people would live and interact with one another. Developing a greater sense of neighborliness and community would be equally critical to re-orienting our relationship with the natural world. Upon hearing that Ehrlich's "ReGen Villages" corporation would retain management of the neighborhood facilities in order to keep them running, it seemed to me they were further bypassing any need for residents to reach out beyond their own houses.

Would this vision and its implementation affect the social order and help foster positive self-governance and a sense of community that comes from people's direct relationships with their immediate neighbors and their neighboring communities? What responsibilities and concerns would the residents have for each other in positive interdependence? In other words, had any thought been given to the role of humans and their relationships in this highly engineered ecosystem?   

Magdalena Valderrama

(End Part 1)

In Part 2 we will explore integrating sophisticated "Social Capital Development Systems" (aka folks learning to get along with each other and our environment) with the high-tech materials management systems approach of ReGen Village.



 


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<![CDATA[Cobb Area Council]]>Wed, 24 Aug 2016 20:19:35 GMThttp://livingincommon.org/1/post/2016/08/cobb-area-council.html
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The Little Red Schoolhouse - Cobb CA
The Cobb Area Council - What a great idea!

[Quick update - Dandelion Farm has escaped harm from last week's Clayton Fire, although nearly 200 homes were destroyed. Yesterday we had another flare up, just around the bend from where we are staying and we were thrown into full evacuation prep for a short time, which we turned into a full scale household fire drill, testing our preparations to pack up and leave with a 30-minute notice. The fire brigades jumped on it quickly, so only minimal damage done, for now.]

One of the more interesting developments to come out of last year's wildfires here in Lake County has been a surge in local cooperation.  Of course there was the initial burst of heroic energy and enthusiastic neighborliness. This has now begun to mature into a deeper, more long range process as we put our shoulders to the deep rebuilding process and as we recognize that the new global climate realities mean that we have to build a community culture that respects the constant threat of local wildfires.  

The flip side of this new reality is that  we have to take direct local responsibility for our response - it has become crystal  clear in this situation that the "government," federal, state or even local, is not going to "take care of" this situation and also that we each simply can not just take care of our individual needs.  There is too much for any person, or family or group of neighbors, to deal with. This has manifested particularly in the establishment of the Cobb Area Council (CAC).

The CAC is an example of a formal  "Municipal Advisory Council," which we set up last month via a  quirky provision of the California State Code, section 31010.  This law allows any County Board of Supervisors to establish by simple Resolution a formal advisory body for any unincorporated area (i.e. not already a legal city or town). We just had to draw a line on a map outlining the area we wanted to include - how cool is that!


Our new Council is a prime example of the cultivation of "social capital," a key idea described well by Harvard professor Robert Putnam in his groundbreaking book "Bowling Alone" based on research, based on nearly 500,000 interviews, that shows how in our modern society we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We’re even bowling alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues. Putnam shows how changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women’s roles and other factors have contributed to this decline. The book has received great notice and there are today many active initiatives (such as the movement to foster "collective impact" among community groups). Our Cobb Area Council is one small stream in this growing river of local activism to stimulate the regeneration of social capital.

The "Cobb Area" is a region of Southern Lake County, between Middletown and Kelseyville, centered on the little hamlet of Cobb Mountain and including several other small clusters including Whispering Pines, Pine Grove, Glenbrook, Hobergs, Loch Lomond, the Boggs Mountain State Forest and of particular interest to us, Seigler Springs. Many of these settlements began as hot spring resorts, popular in the late 19th through the mid 20th century, combining mineral hot springs with cool forested glens, meadows and hillsides perfect for a getaway from the Bay Area cities.  

Today a few thousand people live in small clusters and along the state and county roadways in this densely forested area covering around 45 square miles (a large portion of which is the State Forest).  The community is an interesting mix of long time established families (some going back five or six generations), pot growers,  retirees, and urban exiles (often overlapping groups!), as well as several spiritual retreat centers including the Northern California Vipassana Center, the Buddha Maitreya Shambala Meditation Center and the Mountain Of Attention retreat sanctuary.  The Cobb area has also become home to a lively group of local artists. The Cobb Mountain High Cafe serves a nice latte and Dino's Deli in Loch Lomond carries a full line of organic goodies and gourmet chocolate - a sure sign of local hipster life.  It's a nice mix. Add a catastrophic wildfire that burned a major portion of the community and you've got a setup for some serious confabulation in the community.

So starting a few months ago a few local agitators (that's us, and our friends), with the support of our County Supervisor Rob Brown (a very interesting character about whom I hope to write more later), got together and formed our own formal Advisory Council. The State Code provides that we can

"advise the Board (of Supervisors) on such matters which relate to that area as may be designated by the Board concerning services which are or may be provided o the area by the county or other local governmental agencies, including but not limited to advice on matters of public health, safety, welfare, public works, and planning.

and

"represent the community to any state, county, city, special district or school district, agency or commission, or any other organization on any matter concerning the community."

The Council has to be run according to the California "Open Meeting Law" aka the Brown Act that also governs other government bodies and stipulates such matters as public access, adequate notice of agendas and minutes and that all business be conducted in public (i.e., no back room dealing). 

The Lake County Board of Supervisors established the Council on July 19 and we held our first meeting the next week.  The first five members of the Council Board were nominated by the community and includes Eliot (as Chair). The other members include a key local business owner, a member of one of the areas foundational families (also an experienced fire fighter and timberland manager),  a local community activist and the garden teacher at the local elementary school. Magdalena provided intensive strategic background work and continues to be a critical administrative and networking engine of the Council.  Several other community members are actively involved via council committees and subcommittees.  

We meet every third Thursday at the Cobb "Little Red Schoolhouse," built in 1853 and rumored to have been the last one-room schoolhouse in California when it was closed in 1971. The building is now maintained by the local Lions Club (of which Eliot has become a member). 

At the first meeting, in addition to local announcements, and updates on the fire recovery, we set up four ad hoc committees focusing on the ongoing clean up, rebuilding, and preparing for the next fire - all in all adapting to the new normal here in the "wildland urban interface."

The new Cobb Area Council has also been an excellent way to build bridges and strengthen networks in the community.  We are just getting going and there is big work to be done but the spirit is high and we are looking forward to engaging large portions of the community in the process. 


"Fundamentally there is only bad "news" in the ordinary, ego-based, un-Enlightened, chaotic world. Instead of waiting for action from "sources" out in the world somewhere - government sources, media sources, interplanetary sources, conventional religious sources, mystical sources, or whatever it is that you wait for all the time -  you must, yourself become involved in intimate, cooperative community (or real cooperative social culture) with other human beings. In a responsible, mutually dependent, cooperative, tolerant, peaceful, and intimate relationship with other human beings, you must create and protect the basics of a truly human culture and of a truly intimate daily human society." - Adi Da Samraj "Reality Politics For Ordinary Men and Women" in Not Two Is Peace 
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<![CDATA[Fire Season Again - The Psychosis deepens]]>Wed, 17 Aug 2016 15:24:11 GMThttp://livingincommon.org/1/post/2016/08/fire-season-again-the-psychosis-deepens.html
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The Clayton Fire in Lower Lake - 6 miles from the Mountain Of Attention
It is now nearly a year since the Valley Fire and as I write today the fire season has begun in earnest here in Lake County. After anxiously watching several small fires around the county flare up and be stopped over the past few weeks, the new Clayton Fire has been burning for three days now, (4,000 acres as of this morning) destroying much of the little town of Lower Lake, about 20 minutes from us.  The sickening familiarity of the "emergency drill" is now in full swing - the news conferences, the official emergency declaration, the marshaling of local help (setting up shelters, rallying church and local nonprofit service groups, the donation process) the County Supervisors and State Senator addressing the community, the compulsive monitoring of Facebook and Calfire websites.  The Lower Lake Methodist Church, where we have held several Town Meetings in the wake of last years fires, is gone, as are the offices of Habitat for Humanity. We are nervously waiting to hear from our dear friends at Dandelion Farm, which just barely escaped last year's fires and is now directly in the path of this new one. 

This new fire has already been attributed to arson (from the latin ardere to burn - as in ardor) with a suspect arrested yesterday. But across the state other, even larger fires are raging (the Soberanes Fire near Big Sur is now over 75,000 acres, with one fatality already and they say it may quadruple in size and burn for another month). Even if that turns out to have been caused by some accidental spark, or "natural" cause, it is still directly related to the massive earth system changes now underway caused by our continuing psychotic dissociation from the natural earth world that has left the ground here in California parched and primed to explode. Is that not arson also?
For the past several years now, my hikes through the local hills in Napa and here in Lake County, have been haunted by the inescapable evidence of the rising heat  that is engulfing our world. Even during the winter rains, the creeks that once gushed wildly down hillsides are now tamer. And in summer and fall the pervasive bone-dryness of the landscape has felt distinctly ominous, reflecting a kind of systemic inflammatory condition rampant world wide. The orange glow from my balcony is not just from the town burning. It is the hot rage spilling across the country this election season, the shock of the over 20,000 bombs dropped by the US in the middle east last year. 

In "Not Two Is Peace" Adi Da writes, "The signs of chaos and insanity that may be observed in the human realm of the present day are an extension of a more fundamental disturbance - which is the ego-based nature of global human culture." And the ego, if not yielded to the cool depths of prior unity-bliss-love, relieved of concern for personal survival, is only dry, brittle, and so easily inflamed

Last week CalFire officially reported that the cause of the Valley Fire, which destroyed so much our community last year, was a spark from someone's "out of code" electrical connection for a hot tub that overheated and ignited dry grass. I say let's stop building our "own" hot tubs and get quite naked together in a communal pool where we can melt away our rigidity and stiffness. 

More news soon to come about our progress on our "Bright Village" project to rebuild a cooperative village on the site of last years destruction.

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<![CDATA[Body Blow]]>Mon, 21 Mar 2016 13:25:14 GMThttp://livingincommon.org/1/post/2016/03/body-blow.html
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Cyclone Winston March 19 2016
Early on the morning of Saturday March 19 2016 a great tropical Cyclone slammed into the Fijiian Islands, with winds up to 180mph, tearing a path of destruction through the island nation. Directly hit was the beautiful Hermitage Island of Naitauba, also known as Adi Da Samrajashram, spiritual center of the global community of practitioners of the Way of the Heart, given by the spiritual master Adi Da Samraj. For over 30 years the island of Naitauba has been a site of retreat and pilgrimage for a generation of practitioners that has poured its heart into cultivating a unique place on earth, building beautiful temples, meditation halls, gardens and retreat facilities. I have had the profound good fortune to be able to visit there several time on extended 4-6 week retreats, in 1990, 1995, 2008 and 2013. Each of these trips was a major gift of spiritual deepening and transformation in my life. 

 In the days following the storm, we were able to receive some communications from our friends on the island. The destruction is breathtaking. The lush jungle that covered most of the island (which had been carefully regenerated after the non-native coconut plantations were removed according to Adi Da's instruction 25 years ago) has been decimated - virtually no leaves remain on any of the trees and the hillsides are a ruin of downed limbs, broken trunks and skeletal forms. The wildlife is in total shock. A core staff of 60 devotees live and serve there, along with a local Fijiian village of around 120. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries (some cuts and gashes). But the island is a total mess. Please take a look at www.naitauba.org to get some sense of the brutality of the destruction and the heroic efforts underway to mitigate the damage. It will be many years before the Hermitage begins to return to anything remotely resembling normal.  

For the Adidam community, this disaster comes as a special blow, following the Valley Fire, which burned over 75,000 acres around the Adidam retreat center in Lake County California just six months ago. That fire (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valley_Fire) was the third worst wildfire in California history and burned over 1000 acres of the Mountain of Attention retreat sanctuary as well as destroying the homes of over 130 members of the community surrounding the sanctuary, including the house that we had just moved into in June. Altogether the fire destroyed over 1300 homes in the vicinity. Fortunately, the core retreat and temple center was saved, thanks to the heroic efforts of a group of local devotees, but the surrounding woodlands and communities were badly burned. For the past six months, my wife Magdalena and I have been working full time to help our community organize our efforts to rebuild and we have been participating in the county-wide relief and recovery efforts. We are learning on the ground every day how complex and long the process of recovery from a major disaster is. We know very well now the struggle that also awaits our friends in Fiji. 

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<![CDATA[Fire Journal #2]]>Thu, 10 Dec 2015 20:22:09 GMThttp://livingincommon.org/1/post/2015/12/fire-journal-2.html "Gold can be made elementally pure and brilliant to the eye only through submission tofire."  - From a "free rendering" of portions of Ch. 11 of the Bhagavata Purana by Adi Da Samraj[i]
 
Fasting and Fire:  Purification, Rebalancing, Regeneration
Over the past 12 weeks, passing through the catastrophic fire here in Lake County and facing the violent ripping away of so much of our lives, our spiritual community, as a collective, has been going through a tremendous process of purification, very close to a literal death process for many of us (in fact several animal companions did not survive and one of our friends is still missing and presumed dead). The landscape has stopped smouldering but is now simply ashen. And as Adi Da has instructed us "death is a radical fast" and fire is quite literally the principal, primal and potent elemental force of purification. 

The most difficult part of a fast, as many of us have learned by hard experience, is when the fast is over and we begin to actively re-integrate the food body with the whole realm of food. At that point, no matter how fantastic we may perhaps have felt during the fast, having purged the body of some measure of gross toxicity, lost some excess poundage, and found a new balance point, once we start to eat again, the whole deeper patterning of the "mind of desire" (based in vital shock and the urge to survive) comes rushing back to the fore and we may experience our vital desire for food with irresistible force. And if we are not very careful, and skilled, we may find ourselves quickly undoing much of the fast's benefits by simply re-establishing our same old patterns of food taking, and lose the opportunity to shift the body's pattern and regenerate the body in  a more benign  state and in accord with our best understanding and inspiration. I know that in my early attempt to fast I literally made myself sick with overindulgence after breaking the fast. But over the years, based in a study of my Guru Adi Da Samraj's instruction, including studying quite a bit of practical wisdom about the fasting process as well as by living in a culture he established of intelligence about fasting, I have learned to be more skillful with the process and can benefit from it.

The fast is one of the main examples of the process of purification, rebalancing and regeneration. This cyclic process is a main way to establish ongoing free growth, adaptation and change in the human body-mind complex and in the natural world altogether.

For most of us, the shock of the fire (and the destruction in its wake) is still very raw and our inability to simply reestablish our "normal" lives continues to generate daily anxiety, based in our persisting vital shock and urge to survive. This is made easier to the degree that we are seated in a recognition that Adi Da is literally and tangibly present here and now with us, as blessing presence, without any limitation and that, as he taught us "What Is Truly Wonderful is never threatened!"

Nevertheless, the body-mind has its own momentum and even given our recognition of and response to the living Spirit, the waves of the mind of desire persist, crashing against the brutal facts of our scorched circumstance.  The impulse is to scramble back to safety, to rebuild a familiar safe space. Yes, what we had  may not have been the kind of "architecture and design of sacred life," or a fully manifested "spiritual culture of cooperation" that we know would be optimal as serious spiritual practitioners, but at least it is familiar, and we can recreate what we had relatively quickly. And all of the mechanisms of insurance, mortgages, aid agencies, contractors etc. are lined up to simply sell us a re-creation of the world of single-family-homes-on-a-lot that existed before the fire.

In spite of this intense internal and external pressure many of our friends have said that they do intend to rebuild in a much simpler and cooperative fashion, to resist the urge to recreate the past, and to pause  .  .  .  while we take the breaths necessary to feel together what our possibilities are in this new post-fireworld. I am very grateful for those who can do this, because I feel that it will help Magdalena and me to feel more deeply how the fire has stripped us to core essentials, help us find a deeper balance point andthen to create a new, regenerated circumstance for our life - one that will be even more supportive of our impulse to live a concentrated spiritual life that can also be intensively of service to all. Some of our other friends are in a more urgent situation and desperately need to scramble back to "shore" as soon as possible so they can take care of basic issues of survival. I understand this also, and we are working hard to integrate all aspects of our rebuilt community in a new and cooperative and full and vibrant form, one that truly serves the ongoing, critical process of Transformation here on Earth. We have had three full community town meetings as well as many smaller gatherings. We have brought in some outside help to advise us on rebuilding in a more creative, cooperative fashion. We are intensively researching the various kinds of architecture and financing and legal associations that may be possible. Our new nonprofit, the "Seigler Springs Community Redevelopment Association" is now street-legal. And we are finding ways to enjoy our community fellowship in our present still-stripped-down and transitional form. We are extremely fortunate that our meditation and retreat sanctuary, the Mountain Of Attention, is still standing (though severely burned outside the core temple complex) and we have been able to enjoy some deep meditative retreat and celebration time there. We are, for the most part, set for winter and will be continuing to meet with our friends over the coming winter months to be ready for spring's new surge of life. 

Many things have changed radically and it will not be the same again here in Lake County.  This fire is a once-in-a-lifetime event, one that has the possibility of shifting everything about how we live. I wake up every day with the hope that our purification will truly be followed by a deep rebalancing and regeneration and that we will manifest a new collective "embodiment" that will serve all beings by building our lives according to a more conscious, cooperative, creative Architecture. Isn't this the secret of the building of a real "temple" or sacred space - that such a structure is resonant with the deepest Reality such that It can Flow into and through that form, Manifesting Itself in this "world" for all to see and feel?
 
love,

Eliot

PS - THANK YOU to everyone who has contributed to our GoFundMe campaign - https://www.gofundme.com/4el-mag !!! It is amazing to feel you "out there" and your kind words of encouragement are real "food" for our hearts! We are still shopping for a Yurt (www.pacificyurts.com) as a temporary dwelling comespring, but we'll see how that may combine with the efforts of our friends. If you want to contact us, we are living at 8242 N. Heights Dr., Kelseyville, CA 95451 - at least until March. 


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<![CDATA[Fire Journal#1]]>Sat, 24 Oct 2015 19:10:42 GMThttp://livingincommon.org/1/post/2015/10/fire-journal1.htmlA Fire Journal

Dear Friends,
It is now over a month since the Valley Fire, and we are (perhaps) getting an idea  of what our medium term situation may be.  As you may imagine, the shock, both individual and collective has been enormous. We have also been actively networking in the rest of the county - all in all nearly 1300 homes were destroyed and the community is reeling. In fact, even after a full month there is little sense of return to anything remotely normal - the landscape is blasted, with charred, burned out building sites, any remaining trees being chainsawed along the roadways, the continuing stench of smoke hanging persistently in the air. And winter is coming - the first light rains began this weekend.  We are afraid that today's ash pits (toxic?) will become muddy ash pools and that the barren hillsides will not hold the rains - the danger of mudslides is now the common talk at the local coffee shop in Cobb and at town meetings.

Magdalena and I have, in particular been working (12-18 hours/day since the fire) focusing on helping our community overcome the frantic impulse of each individual to find a personal solution to the crisis and instead to quickly build the collective will and means to act more cooperatively, even communally. Given the long history (35+ years) and depth of our spiritual fellowship, this is not an entirely quixotic impulse!  But it is filled with challenges - practical, personal and interpersonal. 
For the past four weeks we have been staying at the home of our friends, Dieter and Gunde Deiss, who have been like saints for us - opening their home and their hearts, feeding us, making sure that, at the most basic human level, we are taken care of. Breakfast with them on most days (whenever we are not rushing off to work) has been deeply calming and humanizing. Their home has been an island of peace and comfort for us as we have thrown ourselves headlong into serving the recovery effort in Lake County, focusing especially on the 300+ members of our spiritual fellowship of Adidam Ruchiradam - all of whom were evacuated and nearly 200 of whom have lost their homes, all their possessions, and any sense of material stability. 

We have already organized two town meetings, established a new internal website for members (to help process the feelings around what is happening), incorporated a new non-profit (any day now! - big THANKS shout out to Betsy Strauss for her help!) to handle redevelopment business and are close to renting a new community meeting hall. Starting next week, we will move into a new house in Lake County, on a six-month lease, along with three other long-time friends (25+ year) who are also newly homeless.

Magdalena and I are so grateful for our friends who have sent us encouragement and help, including Philip Sales, who housed us for the first few critical days when we didn't know WHAT we were going to do, to my colleagues at NCTPA (now NVTA!) especially Diana Meehan who opened her home to us for a badly needed break day, Mollie Winship for a fantastic massage that put our bodies and spirits back together again, Dr. Olof Granath for his kindness and some needed dental work, Chef Scott Morrow for a supply of his superb Soma Granola, and our extended families. And of course the  deep Source and Inspiration for all of this for us is our guru Adi Da Samraj.

Our friend Joe Troncale has launched a "GoFundMe" campaign, here: https://www.gofundme.com/4el-mag that we hope will help us purchase a Yurt, "Tiny House" or other temporary home that we can live in for the next few years while we organize and plan the redevelopment of our community.

much love and gratitude

Eliot

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