Capitol Alert

‘It’s been a roller coaster’: Gavin Newsom visits students displaced by Camp Fire

Gov. Gavin Newsom visited students affected by November’s Camp Fire at Pine Ridge Elementary School on Thursday, a day after signing two bills that authorize additional financial support for devastated counties.

Joined by local officials and members of the Legislature, Newsom said the budget amendments he signed on Wednesday— Assembly Bills 72 and 73appropriate $131 million for emergency preparedness and disaster relief.

That package includes a $31.3 million three-year commitment to “offset and backfill 100 percent of the property tax losses” for seven counties, including Butte, ravaged by wildfires in 2017 and 2018. The money supports local services that could have face cuts if tax collections decline.

“We need to resource this rebuilding by stabilizing your property tax pace that has been devastated,” Newsom said.

The bills also free up money to upgrade the state’s 9-11 system and continue funding water emergency efforts.

Before traveling to the school, Newsom said he talked to Butte County leaders, emergency responders and officials at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to analyze gaps in the emergency response and recovery efforts, and to brainstorm prevention methods.

Sitting at a kids’ table in the campus library, Newsom asked the Pine Ridge students about their homes and families. He listened as, one after the other, they recounted stories of the race to rescue pets, of losing homes and having to now with relatives and family friends or moving in to cramped trailers.

“It’s tough,” one student said. “But there’s nothing you can do about it. You move on.”

The conversation, for some, represented a glimmer of hope after enduring three months of slow disaster recovery that’s left areas of the town in much of the same condition as the day following the fire. The fired leveled Paradise and killed 86 people, making it the deadliest fire in the state’s history.

“It’s a roller coaster,” Carrie Flaherty, an educational tech at Pine Ridge said. “When you get a glimpse of hope, you’ve got to go with it. So when you hear, ‘Hey, we’re going to help with your taxes,’ it’s like yay!”

Students and faculty members urged the governor and Legislature members to maintain focus on their classrooms, specifically calling for supplies and mental health services.

Pine Ridge Principal Talin Tamzarian said that the most challenging part for the school is dealing with emotional and social setbacks that come after dealing with a tragedy and not knowing what’s supposed to come next.

Tamzarian said the school only has one counselor, Elaine Collins, for students and faculty.

“It’s both a roller coaster and a marathon,” Collins said, echoing Flaherty. “And it doesn’t go away immediately.”

Collins, a retired marriage and family therapist who lives in Sacramento, said she stays in Magalia from Tuesday to Friday each week to work with students and faculty at Pine Ridge.

She steps in when teachers take calls from insurance companies, or if an extra hand is needed at recess. The kids are resilient, Collins said, but they need ongoing mental health support.

“Everyone’s lives will be marked by Nov. 8 and what happened before the fire, and what happened after the fire,” she said.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee