California spends billions rebuilding burned towns. The case for calling it quits?
This story was produced by the California Newsreel Project, a partnership of the California Historical Society, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, California State Parks, and San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
Sitting on a wooden chair in her family’s living room, Julie Zuckerman turns from the television and looks out the picture window.
It’s the first Thursday of May, and the sun is shining outside the window on the hills of Oakville, the first large town that was severely burned in the 1994 Northridge mudslide. Zuckerman has been watching the pictures on the news ever since the mudslide roared through her Oakville neighborhood a month before.
She has been looking at the pictures for over a year. She has been reading accounts of how her neighborhood was destroyed and then rebuilt, and how the community banded together to find the money and rebuild.
She has been watching the community rebuild, the same way that she was watching her town, and she sees two things: the rebuilding of her community has never been completed.
More than a decade after the Northridge earthquake, her Oakville neighborhood is still struggling mightily to rebuild. And it is hard to get a sense from the reports and photos that Julie Zuckerman, the woman pictured in the TV news story, is the only one here who has made it back to the old Oakville.
“And you don’t think there’s a whole bunch of people out there that survived the mudslide?”
She pauses. She can’t imagine there are others here.
A year ago, she walked out of Oakville for about a week. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer while she was on a business trip to Europe. So after a week of traveling, she sat in the hospital for ten days with her breast cancer, and then she went home.
Two days before she left, the phone rang.
It was the Oakland, Calif., city manager, Steve Davis, who was calling to tell her that Oakville officials had called with a request he hadn’t even anticipated. He wondered how to handle such a request, but he asked if he could come to California to talk with Julie.
She said yes.