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.


"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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