Local Government, Global Thinking
A small fishing boat recently washed up on shore near Crescent City California, where I have the privilege to live and the honor to serve on the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors. There is nothing all that remarkable about a boat washing up on the shore of a North Coast fishing town, but this 20-foot open fishing boat, called a Panga, was different.
It was covered in barnacles and other debris, and had clearly been lost at sea for a long time – just over two years to be exact. We know that because this Panga has now been positively identified as coming from the Takata High School marine sciences program in Rikuzentakata Japan—it was washed out to sea in the March 2011 tsunami that devastated much of coastal Japan and killed several thousand people in Rikuzentakata. The boat had apparently been foundering around the North Pacific until it washed ashore earlier this month, the first confirmed tsunami debris to reach the California coast.
I looked at a map to find Rikuzentakata. It is almost precisely due West of Crescent City across several thousand miles of open ocean. And there appear to be some similarities between the two cities. They are about the same size, both have harbors, and in both cities, many people rely on the ocean for their livelihood. I can only imagine that the people are not all that different either: tough, self-reliant people used to hard work and rough weather.
And when I think about it, I am almost in awe of the connection this small boat symbolizes. The same Tsunami that devastated the town of Rikuzentakata, slammed into Crescent City about 10 hours later. One man died here, and our harbor was wrecked. Two years later, the boat drifts peacefully ashore on the ripples from that terrible day—reminding us on the California Coast just how lucky we were.
I also take that boat to be a reminder that our world is getting smaller and smaller. What we do here today as local elected leaders can have impact far beyond our shores. We must be aware of that, and we must also be vigilant for unexpected impacts from things that we cannot control that might originate far far away.
So now, when a Panga washes up on Del Norte County shores two years after the disaster—I can’t help but think of the children of Rikuzentakata to whom the boat belongs. I am reminded of the loss they have endured, the process they must be going through still to recover and the long road ahead. And I am reminded of a commitment I made when my year-long term as the President of CSAC began—that this would be “the year of the child” in California county government. I pledged to consider the impact on children as I cast votes, developed policy and enacted budgets. I asked you to join me in that commitment and I know many of you have done so.
I’m not sure what we as local leaders can do to help the children of Rikuzentakata, but as we reflect on that question, please let that Panga and its’ amazing two-year journey serve as a reminder to redouble our resolve to put children at the top of our priorities.
David Finigan serves as Immediate Past President of the California State Association of Counties and is a Del Norte County Supervisor.