Oakland creates center to speed recovery
The 1991 Oakland Hills, Calif., firestorm caused $1.5 billion in property loss, affecting the lives of thousands of residents and posing a serious threat to the future vitality of the community. As most municipalities do, Oakland had emergency disaster relief plans in effect, but city officials quickly became aware that more than emergency relief was needed.
Oakland city officials were faced with the ominous task of rebuilding while resuming and maintaining normal city services and operations. So, the city retained Willdan Associates, an Anaheim, Calif.-based consulting firm, to assist with a comprehensive recovery plan that could expedite the long rebuilding process and promote long-term recovery.The city started by creating the Community Restoration Development Center (CRDC), a single, integrated clearinghouse for the entire building permit process. Located in a temporary sites as close to the disaster as possible, the center’s focus was on making the rebuilding process quick and efficient.
In Oakland’s case, a vacant grocery store space near the area was the site for a streamlined permit process. Federal funding administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Office of Emergency Services (OES) enable Oakland to bring in the necessary private sector expertise to staff and co-manage the center, freeing up city staff to work with FEMA and OES.
“It was virtually impossible for city staff to continue working downtown on normal city business and take enough time to administer the restoration center properly,” says Ezra Rapport, Oakland assistant city manager. “We had to have some city staff involved who knew the history of the zoning laws and all the technicalities of it. It would be too difficult for someone from the outside and without that background.”
One of the major advantages of the CRDC was that it enabled Oakland to receive federal aid. “In fact, most of the physical damage to infrastructure was to private property, which FEMA does not reimburse if you have insurance,” Rapport says. “So FEMA’s role could have been a very small one in this fire, and yet we would have been facing a truly horrific disaster without any federal support. So one of the things we were able to convince FEMA was that this was a way they could intervene in the public process and facilitate everyone’s process for rebuilding.”
One year after the firestorm over 9,000 inspections had been completed by the CRDC.
The center was cited as contributing factor in Oakland’s designation as one of the 10 All-America Cities for 1993 by the National Civil League.