Warm weather is coming, and with it the prospect of more homes rising in Coffey Park.
By April 20, builders had begun constructing 50 homes in the northwest Santa Rosa neighborhood, according to the city’s website. That compares with fewer than 20 a month earlier.
Even so, large sections of the burned area remain little more than charred trees and cleared, empty lots.
“There’s not as much movement as one would think six months out,” said Jeff Okrepkie, chairman of the Coffey Strong neighborhood group. “You want to see more happening.”
The Tubbs wildfire claimed four lives and 1,200 homes in the neighborhood in October. The debris from those homes has been hauled away, but an enormous recovery effort still must be undertaken.
Many fire survivors are battling with their insurance companies over money to replace their homes, Okrepkie said. He worries more neighbors will get fed up and choose to sell their lots rather than try to rebuild.
Nonetheless, Coffey Strong volunteers have been holding gatherings to bring neighbors together. Events include barbecues, potlucks and a communitywide seminar for fire survivors seeking to rebuild.
The organization also is getting quotes for rebuilding the long walls bordering Hopper Avenue. The walls, which extend 1,500 feet on both sides of the road, were damaged in the fire. In response, Florida debris removal company AshBritt has promised to make a “significant” financial contribution to replacing the structures. AshBritt is working on the project with Coffey Strong and the nonprofit Rebuild North Bay.
Here is a recap of other Coffey Park happenings within the past month:
Reimagining a damaged park
The 5 acres of public parkland in the middle of the neighborhood remain a green space, but one littered with wood shards, glass, fiberglass and other debris that blew in during the firestorm.
“There’s all sorts of stuff out there that we don’t feel we can clean,” said Jason Nutt, the city’s public works director and interim director of recreation and parks. The park received debris in amounts far greater than occurred at parks in the burned Fountaingrove neighborhood east of Highway 101.
Some topsoil likely needs to be scraped away at the park, Nutt said, just as it was done on the surrounding homes.
The city plans to rebuild the park “from scratch,” he said. It started talking with neighbors about what features they want at the park.
Proposals so far include adding a dog park and a public bathroom. The latter idea has been debated by neighbors. Some fear a restroom would draw homeless people, while others say it would save parents of toddlers from having to race home in the middle of a park visit.
The new park also may include some type of public art installation, possibly one that touches on the historic fire. However, Okrepkie said such art needs to be sensitive to those who don’t want to relive the horror and heartache.
“It should be about hope,” he said.
Utility work gets underway
Construction crews in April began replacing key underground utility lines in the neighborhood.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co.is overseeing the work, which will include 23 miles of trenches in the Coffey Park, Mark West Springs and Hidden Valley neighborhoods.
Into the trenches workers are placing new electrical and natural gas lines, plus phone wires and cables for television.
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.