s
s
Sections
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone

Special Coverage

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.

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.

“For us, this will be a symbol of progress and hope,” said Jennifer Gray Thompson, Rebuild North Bay’s executive director.

___

Business people look to recovery

Coffey Park sits near an expansive commercial and industrial area in northwest Santa Rosa. The wildfire directly and indirectly impacted those businesses.

The northwest area contained many of the 29 businesses damaged or destroyed in the city. Large retailers affected there include a Kmart store that was lost, a Trader Joe’s supermarket that remains closed and a Kohl’s department store that reopened this month.

The fires also affected small businesses and their staffs.

Some business people like Sean Burns, owner of the Mail & More Store on Hopper Avenue, spent 15 hours with family and a friend hosing down the small shopping center to protect it from the flames. Burns, who manages and whose family has an interest in the center, said he’s looking forward to the recovery because it’s hard to work day after day in the midst of a neighborhood that suffered such destruction.

Others shared in the economic losses that continue after hundreds of families were forced out of the neighborhood. Business is decidedly down at Luigi’s restaurant on Hopper. Waitress Erin Beaumont expects that more customers will appear once construction workers show up to rebuild homes, “but it’s not happening fast enough.”

And many like Brian Hunt, founder and brewmaster of MoonLight Brewery on Coffey Lane, are looking forward to the days when neighbors once more stroll over from their rebuilt homes to hoist a glass.

Before the fire, Hunt said, roughly half of his customers used to be locals, “and a lot of them don’t live here anymore.”

___

With children in mind

Outsiders and neighbors continued in March to provide a human touch to the children of Coffey Park.

The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County hosted a free night for Coffey Park families, with pizza provided by Mary’s Pizza Shack. The event provided not only a time for residents to talk with one another about matters besides insurance, contractors and debris removal, it also offered an opportunity for many adults and children to reconnect after being dispersed to temporary living quarters around the county.

“A lot of these kids hadn’t seen each other since the fires,” said Collette Michaud, the museum’s founder and CEO.

The children’s museum is reaching out to host similar events for survivors in the Mark West/Larkfield, Fountaingrove and Sonoma Valley areas. “Then we’d like to do one for the first responders as well,” she said.

Also, Coffey Park’s own Schaeffer School received a special guest last month: 1992 Olympic gold medalist figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.

The mother of two and author of a New York Times best-selling children’s book read to more than 100 kindergarten and first-grade Schaefer students and gave each an autographed copy of her 2016 book, “Cara’s Kindness.” The book speaks of paying forward acts of caring.

“They just loved her,” said Principal Jamie Worthington. “They ate her up.”

Show Comment