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Arielle Kubu-Jones is Supervisor Gorin’s ‘go-to’ aide for fire recovery

The Kenwood Depot parking lot is empty when Arielle Kubu-Jones pulls in an hour before the May 9 meeting is scheduled to start.

She gathers her paperwork and prepares other informational material to share with those expected to arrive, people who have questions for the county about how to move forward to rebuild their houses destroyed or damaged by fire.

But first, she checks to see if the depot door is open.

It’s not. She was supposed to meet the caretaker at 5 p.m., but after 10 minutes he still hasn’t arrived. She hits the cell phone, calling first one contact then another, until she lines up someone who can help her locate a key. Then she opens the door and gets to work – setting up folding tables, folding chairs, prepping the room for the first “neighborhood captains” meeting in the Sonoma Valley.

Running meetings about fire recovery, talking to fire survivors about the options and opportunities for support services, and permitting requirements – it’s all part of Kubu-Jones’s role with 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin’s office as one of two newly hired aides. As she herself says, “I am the go-to fire person in the office.” And seven months after the fires first broke out on Oct. 8, that remains an important duty.

It’s not her first Sonoma County job, not by a long stretch, nor her first one in government. Coming out of Sonoma State in 2010 with two degrees, she worked for four years with state Sen. Noreen Evens, roughly in the same district now represented by Mike McGuire.

“I’ve actually never had a job in the private sector,” she said. “Even when I was in high school, I was working at ArtStart in the summers, painting the benches and whatnot.” She grew up in Santa Rosa – attending Santa Rosa Junior College before Sonoma State University – and lives there still.

The role in Evans’s district office, and later working for former County Health officer Karen Milman, put her in constant interface with the public. That can mean everything from taking phone calls or emails from constituents with complaints – “A certain amount of, you know, people venting frustrations kind of comes with the territory” – to helping organize meetings and writing communications.

The list even includes designing and creating signage. “I went to a Waldorf school, so am kind of a jack-of-all trades,” she said. “I’m not credited on them, but there’s a number of image-based things around that are mine.

She joined Gorin’s office in February, coming on board on a Friday before her former boss Milman resigned the following week. Since that time the Department of Health Services has been in a state of flux, with new and interim directors trying to deal with increasing needs and declining budgets. Even though it seems that Kubu-Jones knew something was up, she denies it. “I just know what you know,” she swears.

Kubu-Jones was hired along with Liz Hamon both to serve as new aides for the supervisor in the aftermath of the October fires. When people question why the supervisor needed to hire two new aides to replace the one, Jennifer Gray Thompson, who departed, Gorin has said, “We are swamped with the work of helping fire victims move forward to recovery. That is the number one priority of the County right now.”

But more than fire occupies the supervisor’s office, and Kubu-Jones is more than just the “go-to fire person.” She just finished managing applications for the community fund investment grants, presenting 10 before the full board of supervisors last month, including for Sonoma Teen Services.

And, of course, there’s cross-training with her colleague Hamon, so they can each pick up the slack if one is out or unavailable. “If someone gets overwhelmed then you have more people who at least have a working knowledge of everybody’s jobs.”

The third employee in Gorin’s office is Pat Gilardi filling the role of district director, with broader management responsibilities than either Hamon or Kubu-Jones. Gilardi is responsible for overseeing constituent services, scheduling and representing the Supervisor throughout the community when the Supervisor is unable. She also oversees and directs the work of field representatives, including Hamon and Kubu-Jones.

“There are a lot of diverse issues and diverse constituencies in the supervisor’s office,” said Kubu-Jones. She likens the 1st District to the county as a whole, on a smaller scale – “minus the ocean,” she notes. “You’ve got your wine and your vineyards and you have your parks and your nature and your artisanal producers and diversity and great restaurants – kind of everything that makes our county special can be found in this district.”

But the responsibility of helping the district’s residents deal with the aftermath of the fires is easily a full-time job, and then some. Take the purpose of this meeting at the Kenwood Depot, which is to be the first gathering of the “Neighborhood Captains” in the Valley areas destroyed by fire. It’s based on an idea 4th District Supervisor James Gore explored in his north county district, having neighbors choose a representative to meet with the supervisor and others who can supply support and guidance

“Neighborhood Captain meetings are intended as a place for Captains to come together and meet with Supervisor Gorin’s office, and talk directly with us and Permit Sonoma about challenges they and their neighbors are encountering,” said Kubu-Jones.

“Based on what topics arise, we will bring in guest speakers who can present at the end of the meeting about topics of interest.” Such topics include security and theft at burn sites; debris clearing issues including over-excavation; insurance issues, including how to maximize payment; defensible space and fire safe landscaping; and whatever else people are concerned about.”

The purpose of these meetings, Kubu-Jones stresses, “is to try to solve problems and get answers as efficiently as possible.”

After all the tables and chairs are set up, she checks her watch and looks at the door. “Fire people are usually early,” she remarks.

When they do show up, Arielle Kubu-Jones will be there for them.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.