Community members look toward the future of Paradise

Paradise locals gather into groups and each member take turns placing dots on the Paradise map. The dots signify the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Paradise, CA. Photo credit: Melissa Herrera

Gordy Papalias

Cheers erupted from over 100 people in the Paradise Alliance Church on Friday, as community members received a promise that their town will be rebuilt after the Camp Fire disaster.

The Paradise Town Council members put the meeting together and Barry Long, the CEO of Urban Design Associates, was the principal speaker and leader of the event.

“Folks say: are we really going to rebuild Paradise? We say that’s not a question,” Long said. “Paradise was badly damaged by the fire, but it wasn’t destroyed. We have 140 years of town history here.”

Urban Design Associates are town planning specialists, disaster recovery specialists and affordable housing experts that have worked on other disasters like the recovery after Hurricane Katrina. One of the Urban Design Associates’ main goals is to base their process on resident involvement and projects that most contribute to community recovery from disaster.

One solution Long brought up is using factory-built housing. These houses are built outside of the town and then brought in on trailers to be permanently placed in their lots. The benefits of these types of houses are that they wouldn’t have to rely on only the local labor force in the area to build a whole town, and these houses would be fire resistant.

After Long’s presentation, community members split into groups of about 15 where members of Urban Design Associates and community leaders led discussions about the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities that Paradise has. Members of each group put stickers on a large map of Paradise to show areas that they think needs improvement and where there are opportunities as a result of the disaster.

Susan Hartman, who is a city planner and has worked in Paradise for 25 years, led one of the small groups.

“I grew up here. I’ve worked for the town since I was 16. I love the consultants helping out here. This event is just amazing,” Hartman said.

Many strengths that were echoed by several groups was the natural beauty of Paradise, the communal feel that everyone has had through the years and the willingness of people in and outside of the community to help those affected by the Camp Fire.

Some of the weaknesses that were pointed out were lack of a sewage system in Paradise, vegetation control and having only one lane on Skyway — the main road in and out of the town.

The opportunities correlated with the weaknesses and many community members agreed that this is a prime time to improve roads throughout the town, put in more sidewalks, a sewage system and try to attract a younger community.

“This is the first meeting, this is not the only meeting you’ll see and this is not the only time we are going to listen. We are going to listen throughout this process,” Long said.

This community event is the beginning of the recovery plan for the town of Paradise. Urban Design Associates will be in constant contact with the community members every step of the way until Paradise is back to where it should be.

One tool that the Urban Design Associates will be using to keep the community up to date is This website will be up and open to the public within a week.

Gordon Papalias can be reached at [email protected] or Twitter @GordonPapalias.