By now we’ve all seen pictures of the horrific conditions in Haiti following a 7.0 earthquake Jan. 12: Entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble, collapsed hospitals, a port and airport that could barely function. While we can’t control natural disasters, we can control our ability to respond to them. It should be an embarrassment to the world community that it has let a nation languish in such poverty that it had absolutely no capacity to deal with a natural disaster that was sure to come sooner or later.In contrast, our mountain county weathered last week’s storms with just one major injury reported—one person in a vehicle accident. Although there were intermittent power outages and road closures, our emergency response systems worked.
That’s due in part to simply having the necessary equipment and infrastructure—snowplows and tow trucks and hospitals—but it’s also due to having trained personnel in place and set processes and protocols. We congratulate our emergency personnel on a job well done and hope they can sustain through what is predicted to be more bad weather this week.
All this was in the back of our minds when we listened to a woman complain recently about building permit fees. She’s not alone. A lot of people never stop to think was goes into those—a structural plan check and a life-safety check as well as in-the-field inspections.
“Why does it have to cost so much?” she asked.
Because we’re not Haiti.
One of the first pieces of news out of Haiti was that hospitals had collapsed. California has the most stringent seismic building standards in the world. Those standards are even higher for what are considered “essential structures:” hospitals, firehouses, schools—everything you most wouldn’t want to collapse in an earthquake. We want those structures not just to stay standing, but to function.
We have heard a lot of talk recently about plans to build a new hospital in Quincy that would meet the latest seismic standards for hospitals.
The sticking point has been the cost. Opponents don’t want to pay more than $50 per $100,000 of assessed property value. Proponents say the hospital can’t be built for that price.
Opponents are mad because the actual cost for the bonds that have been sold so far was higher than the estimate on the ballot. And they fear the rate could go much higher when additional bonds are sold. (The hospital directors have said they are not going forward with a planned bond sale next month.)
We grant that there are probably some seniors on a fixed income or a family whose breadwinner has lost a job for whom the higher rate is a real burden. But many opponents do not fit into that category. For them, it seems to be more about control, feeling misled and a general anti-tax ideology.
But Haiti provides a cautionary example of what happens when a community can’t or won’t invest in the life-and-death essentials. If our community truly cannot afford to build a new hospital, then we have bigger problems than we thought. If we can—we’re not saying it will be easy—we should. We have a 50-year-old building that needs to be replaced.
We should build our hospital, and build it well.
Because commitment to community should be stronger than any ideology.
Because we’re not Haiti.