Many of the Sonoma Valley “fire survivors” who attended the Feb. 28 Rebuilding Community Meeting at Altimira Middle School were taking the first steps toward forging a new future for their properties – now that the debris removal process is finally nearing completion.
Sonoma Valley is last on the list for debris removal and steps toward rebuilding, due to the Army Corps of Engineers applying their resources to the more densely-impacted Coffey Park and Fountaingrove areas. But now, it’s Valley time.
“I am so delighted to see you, and so sad to see you,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, whose district was one of two hit hard by wildfire. “We’re all in the same boat, having suffered great loss.” The supervisor lost her home on Oct. 10, one of only two residences in Oakmont that burned to the ground.
But it was one of over 5,300 houses lost county-wide in the fires, and 1,400 in Gorin’s own district, affecting hundreds of individuals and families in the Sonoma Valley and Bennett Valley.
The progress of debris removal has seemed agonizingly slow to those whose homes and memories were scorched in October, and especially so in the Sonoma Valley.
In late November, those figures were 209,000 tons of debris from 595 properties in the 3rd District, close to and inside Santa Rosa city limits. As of early January, the Corps has cleared 2,228 properties – about half of those affected by the October fires.
On March 6, following publication of this article, the Army Corps released figures that 1.3 million tons of debris had been removed in Sonoma County alone, and 2,818 parcels completely cleared and ready for rebuilding, or 3,235 parcels cleared overall in the county. (See attached graphic.)
Only in the past month have the resources of the Army Corps in clearing debris moved steadily into the Sonoma Valley, with active debris clearing now focused around Glen Ellen.
This was the first of several public meetings in the Valley, organizers promised, noting that the process was already well underway in the Santa Rosa areas damaged by fire.
A housing fair is also being planned for some time in April, similar to those already held in Santa Rosa.
Permit Sonoma director Tennis Wick pointed out that Valley residents may be at least a month behind residents of Coffey Park, Wikiup or Larkfield in the rebuilding process, unless they have cleared their properties themselves.
The Army Corps of Engineers – represented at the meeting by the commander of the Sonoma Recovery Field Office, Col. Eric McFadden – focused their initial clean-up efforts in the Santa Rosa area, and have been moving their efforts eastward into the Valley.
There, neighborhoods have already rallied around “block captains” to help organize and pursue economies of scale in such important home-building steps as surveys, soil samples and, eventually, construction needs as well.
McFadden reported that another thousand properties have been cleared since the first of the year.
“So far we have removed 1.6 million tons of debris in 116 days,” said the camo-clad colonel. “We have cleared 3,200 parcels, and 2,200 are ready for rebuilding.”
Wick went further, saying that 22 houses had already drawn permits to rebuild, and 13 bridges were also ready to rebuild. But Wick acknowledged the strain it put on his own department, saying, “It’s important to give fire survivors the service they need, but maintain service for the 90 percent of the county that didn’t burn.”
Block Captains Wanted
Sonoma County Board of Supervisors from the fire areas are supporting “neighborhood captains” as we organize to rebuild our community. In their roles as neighborhood captains, also called block captains, individuals meet weekly to share rebuilding questions, resources and needs specific to their community.
At the meetings, the captain learns from builders, surveyors, soils engineers, utilities and other community stakeholders. Neighborhood captains report out updates and information to their community.
To sign up as a neighborhood captain, contact Arielle Kubu-Jones in Supervisor Gorin’s office by email at Arielle.Kubu-Jones@sonoma-county.org, or by phone at 565-2241.