Coming Together out of Tragedy

After the 1991 fire, burned-out survivors were scattered far and wide. When we returned to visit the ruins we came upon posted notices for meetings at places like the Berkeley Tennis Club and the Claremont Hotel. There friends and neighbors, glad to find each other alive, exchanged contact info. We gathered in groups large and small to confront common problems of survival and rebuilding and to pool resources.

The three Phoenix Associations, including the North Hills Phoenix Association sat atop this pyramid of informal associations. The amazing initial Phoenix leaders convened heavily attended meetings where experts offered us vital information addressing the immense challenges of the reconstruction process. The North Hills Phoenix Association (NHPA) published a newspaper full of useful articles and ads. It catalyzed changes in tax codes, worked with United Policyholders and Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi to secure fair treatment from insurance companies, and worked with the City of Oakland and countless other agencies to address building code changes and our many and varied collective needs.


Everyone who lives in the area bounded by Ashby/Highway13, Claremont Blvd., GrizzlyPeak/Skyline, and Thornhill is a member of NHCA. Membership is free, but we depend on your support and participation so that we can cover our expenses (mostly for communication, a little for plants), work on issues that are important to everyone, and represent the community’s views when we interact with city officials.

Oakland hired Kaiser Industries to clean up the ruined, toxic area. New construction started. Life normalized somewhat. After a year residents began rebuilding and slowly repopulated the fire zone. The work of the NHPA became more focused on protecting the new neighborhoods and the future. Our fixed principal goal was to prevent repetition of the fire. NHPA lobbied ceaselessly for devoted and substantial vegetation management funding for the whole Hills area. We broadly sought the education of the Bay Area public about the dangers of wildfire. We called for implementing changes to encourage or require improved fire safety practices everywhere. Fire-safe construction materials, defensible space around homes, prudent landscaping and plant selection, public safety, emergency preparedness and egress (and more!) were our concerns. NHPA hosted Emergency Preparedness Fairs where experts made presentations and vendors offered residents emergency tools and products.

Truly the bottom line is that the NHCA is the creation of us who live here. With our active participation we can direct its actions and make it serve us most effectively.

With the introduction of Oakland’s Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils (NCPC), Phoenix activists encountered time-consuming duplication of efforts since both organizations addressed the same issues. Leaders met and agreed to merge so we could more economically and effectively address these issues. As part of the process, the organization’s boundaries were enlarged to include that portion of Beat 13Y which was included in the NCPC but had not been part of the North Hills Phoenix area. Many homes in that area had burned in 1991; thus we had gone through the same fire experience, making the inclusion very appropriate. And since then we had indeed achieved rebirth, the Phoenix rising from the ashes” symbol seemed more confusing than relevant. It was time for a change. In June 2010, the North Hills Phoenix Association became the North Hills Community Association.

With this community rebirth have come new challenges. Virtual unanimity and consensus flourished in the early years when the path toward common goals was clear and urgent. After almost a quarter century, our area has more diversity in opinion and more residents who did not live through the fire or even know the history of our area.

However, the essential goals remain the same. We must be sure that science and commitment combine to create the safest community in the Oakland and Berkeley hills that can reasonably be achieved. We must make sure that all residents feel (and are) safe from crime and harm in their homes. We must make awareness of emergency skills and preparedness for earthquake or fire as widespread in our community as we can. We must speak for our community. The cities of Oakland and Berkeley must be reminded of our needs, and at the same time encourage our residents to participate as an active part of the whole of Oakland and Bay Area community. As a community organization, we must assist residents with problems by guidance in finding help, advice or referral. We continue to seek ways to communicate with residents and reinforce our vital sense of community.

Truly the bottom line is that the NHCA is the creation of us who live here. With our active participation we can direct its actions and make it serve us most effectively.