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Coffey Park Chronicles

As part of an ongoing series, The Press Democrat is following the residents and recovery of Coffey Park, the Santa Rosa neighborhood destroyed by the Tubbs fire.

Special coverage: Coffey Park Chronicles

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Neighbors shook hands, wrote down the personal cellphone number of their county supervisor and broke up into five area groups to select block captains.

Coffey Park is getting organized.

The 500 residents who turned out last week at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts share a common goal. They want to rebuild their homes, which were among more than 1,300 houses lost in the northwest Santa Rosa neighborhood after last month’s historic wildfires.

Many of the neighbors figure their best chance for success is to band together, share information and perhaps even join with those around them to hire the same homebuilders.

The neighbors’ collaboration provides a means of “owning their own future,” said Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, who represents the neighborhood and helped lead the meeting.

For some neighbors, the organizing effort informally known as Rebuild Coffey Park has become crucial because the costs of replacing their houses may far exceed the fire insurance proceeds they expect to receive.

“I cannot afford to rebuild the home that I created there,” said Damian Clopton, an organizing leader who lived in a two-story house on San Sonita Drive.

Other neighbors will face the same problem, Clopton predicted. Together they need to find creative ways to keep construction costs down and to pay for whatever expenses aren’t covered by insurance.

The most devastating wildfire in California history last month swept across central Sonoma County, jumped a six-lane freeway and leveled Coffey Park, a neighborhood of tract homes built mostly in the 1980s and 1990s. In the center of the destruction, not a home stands along a strip three fourths of a mile long, from near Piner Road to the northern city limits.

In the county, the disaster claimed 23 lives and 5,130 homes, including nearly 3,000 in Santa Rosa.

For those who lost houses and virtually all their possessions, recovery requires grasping key elements in such areas as debris cleanup, insurance, mortgages and housing development. For most, a rebuilding deadline of two years looms because that is when insurance companies typically halt their temporary housing payments.

The Coffey Park neighbors who met last week compared notes and began to network, using social media pages like Next Door as well as a private Facebook page and the email address, rebuildcoffeypark@gmail.com. Two leaders who emerged were Clopton, who runs a catering company, and Jeff Okrepkie, an insurance agent for businesses. The two men and other neighbors helped organize last week’s meeting.

Their aim, they said, was to do away with the need for more huge gatherings. Instead, homeowners would use last week’s meeting to gather into five distinct neighborhoods, select block captains, build email lists and begin to voice to one another their concerns and needs.

Okrepkie is both a renter and the president-elect of the Active 20-30 Club for the U.S. and Canada. He said he hopes to move his family back into a rebuilt home on the property they lease from a relative, and he thought his past experiences could help in organizing Coffey Park.

“I don’t want people I consider my friends and neighbors to be taken advantage of or left behind,” he said.

Many said their top challenge now concerns what they will construct on their burned homesites and who they will hire to build it.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

“The biggest question is the cost to rebuild,” said Jim Scally, one of more than 30 block captains and whose burned home was on Crimson Lane. Calculating the cost now remains nearly impossible because of so many unknown factors, including any expenses for land preparation and underground utility expenses, as well as the costs of labor and building materials.

In the months ahead, the property owners could choose to pick their own contractor, select a small builder planning to tackle a dozen or so houses clustered together or go with a large company seeking to construct scores or perhaps hundreds of houses.

Eric Edenfield, a block captain whose burned home was on Skyview Court, said the homeowners feel like “we’re all sitting at a dock wondering which boat to get on.”

For most, it’s too early to know which rebuilding option to pick, Edenfield said. But he hopes the organizing efforts will help his neighbors and him get the information and contacts they need.

“I want to feel like I made the right decision,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.

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