Gold Country Reflections

Another View: Harnessing the power of community

By: Kevin Hanley / Guest Columnist
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Who doesn’t love a great Western?  There’s the battle between courageous gunslingers and deceitful outlaws. The stunning landscapes and storylines captivate.  Left alone without allies, Marshall Will Kane of Hadleyville, as played by Gary Cooper, in a dramatic ending confronts and shoots dead the wicked bad guys at “High Noon.”  Good triumphs over evil.
But while rugged individualism is a key feature that makes America exceptional and is amply displayed in movies, it is not the only one.  The other key feature — neighbors coming together in voluntary and informal associations and community to fix problems — is just as important.  
Of course, a community of determined citizens working together is not sexy and much harder to capture on the big scene.  But it is just as real.  In this less dramatic story there are lots of heroes and heroines working together to make America strong, free and compassionate.
Alex de Tocqueville, the French nobleman who came to study our country in 1831, expressed in his classic two-volume book “Democracy in America,” his amazement at America’s grass roots, citizen-led “art of association”to aid problem-solving as compared to the stultified, top-down aristocratic societies of Europe.  
“I often admired the infinite art with which the inhabitants of the United States managed to fix a common goal to the efforts of many men to advance to it freely,” he said.  
He saw the go-getters, boosters and community come together to raise barns, build canals, colleges, libraries, hospitals and towns.  Out West, the power of the “art of association” continued as miners in Auburn worked together to build wooden flumes to transport water to the “dry diggings” to expose the gold flakes and nuggets.
The power of community in America shouldn’t be just a 19th Century thing.  It should be a now thing.  Let’s work together now to solve today’s problems.  We are Americans and I see our can-do spirit every day.  I was reminded of this when I saw in my capacity as chairman of the Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council (GAAFSC) that the National Fire Protection Association will be awarding $500 grants to neighborhoods that put together a brief plan and agree to conduct a work project on May 5, Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.  
The need is real.  The foothills in Placer County are threated by catastrophic fire.  The 2017 wildfire season in California was the most destructive one on record.  Of the 8,775 fires in the state, the fires in Sonoma-Napa, which destroyed over 8,900 structures and killed 44 people and the fires in Ventura-Los Angeles, which forced the evacuation of 212,000 people, were the most prominent.  This can happen here.
The lesson learned from wild land fires is not only the importance of everyone ensuring that they have adequate defensible space around their own home but that citizens work together to ensure adequate defensible space throughout their neighborhood.  
In the Navy we called this “defense in depth.”  The Placer County Community Wildfire Protection Plan says that “Connecting, or linking defensible space between homes creates a larger fuel break, providing greater protection from adjacent vegetation.”
Neighborhoods in Placer County have an opportunity to apply for a $500 grant and start protecting families and homes from catastrophic fire. 
I’ve grabbed my tree trimming clippers, gloves and volunteered on quite a few neighborhood projects around town over the years and they are fun. Neighbors get to know each other for the first time.  
Neighbors who can’t do physical labor fix lunch in potluck style.  It’s about teamwork. There is a grand sense of accomplishment when the workday is done. Last year, several neighborhoods in Auburn and Foresthill applied and were awarded $500 grants for their projects on Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.
Interested? Get together with some of your neighbors and sketch out a brief project plan for what you are going to do on May 5.  Google “Wildfire Community Preparedness Day” and fill out the short application by March 2.  Come to our GAAFSC meeting at 9 a.m. on Feb. 16, in Room 10 at Auburn City Hall or any third Friday of the month and we will help you with your project.  Let’s show that the power of community thrives in Placer County.  
Kevin Hanley is an economics instructor, former Auburn mayor, and chairman of the Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council and can be reached at