Coffey Park in March appears to sit in a kind of limbo. Some 1,200 homesites in the Santa Rosa neighborhood have been cleaned, but the major rebuilding effort has yet to get underway. Contractors have begun work on 18 homes by last week, according to the city. But by early March more than 40 homeowners had sold burned lots there, according to real estate records.
Even so, progress continues toward the neighborhood’s recovery. Here is a recap of key events in the past month:
Utility work poised to begin
Pacific Gas & Electric is preparing to start a major reconstruction of Coffey Park’s underground utilities.
The work slated to begin next month will include new electrical and natural gas lines, plus phone wires and cables for television service. All will be placed in a single trench in roadways just beyond curb gutters.
The original lines for those services sit under the neighborhood’s sidewalks. Experience from the Oakland Hills fire and other blazes has taught utilities that infernos can leave the lines at risk of failure.
“What we learned is you can’t rely on what’s in the ground,” said Jim Chaaban, PG&E’s service planning supervisor for Sonoma County.
The utility’s goal is to complete the work in Coffey Park by the end of October.
PG&E also will replace underground utilities in other fire-damaged areas around Santa Rosa. Chaaban estimated the utility will dig nearly 23 miles worth of trenches for electrical and gas lines in the Coffey Park, Mark West and Hidden Valley neighborhoods.
Until the permanent utilities are in place, PG&E has strung electric wires on poles for temporary power throughout Coffey Park and other affected neighborhoods.
Walls prove problematic
A benefactor has stepped forward to help Coffey Park neighbors find a solution for the burned concrete and wood walls that run along Hopper Avenue.
AshBritt, a Florida debris removal company working in the burned North Bay neighborhoods, this month said it would make a “significant” financial contribution toward build new walls for 1,500 feet along both sides of Hopper west of Coffey Lane. AshBritt, which is on track to clean nearly 2,000 burned properties in the North Bay, is partnering with the Coffey Strong neighborhood group and the nonprofit Rebuild North Bay.
Neighbors had been flummoxed over what to do with the walls, which they learned belong to the 38 property owners whose homes backed up to them on Hopper. Property owners have said they lack the ability to find a joint solution and many of them likely can’t afford the expense of replacing the walls. One contractor estimated it could cost $300,000 for new walls on both sides of Hopper, not including the demolition of the existing ones.
Coffey Strong will work with residents on a design and will seek bids on demolition and reconstruction, said Jeff Okrepkie, the group’s chairman. For the walls to be rebuilt, the affected property owners must agree in writing to allow the project on their land.
Many Coffey Park residents have said the burned walls have become an eyesore and a reminder of the fires. In contrast, new walls would show the recovery is underway.
This story is part of a monthly series in 2018 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here