Rebuilding the hillside Fountaingrove neighborhood continues to lag other areas of the city.
Seven and a half months after the Tubbs fire decimated the area, just 26 homes are under construction, 2 percent of the 1,400 homes incarcerated by the blaze.
That’s a fifth of the number that are being rebuilt in the Coffey Park neighborhood to the west.
There’s more than that in the pipeline, of course, with 91 permits submitted and 49 issued. But the pace is still far slower than city officials and residents had hoped. Citywide, 250 permits have been issued for new homes in the fire zone.
The reasons for the anemic pace of construction in Fountaingrove are numerous.
The cleanup process managed by the Army Corps of Engineers got underway later in Fountaingrove than in other areas. The home sites in Fountaingrove, many of which are larger than lots in other neighborhoods, have taken longer to clear. A high percentage of insurance claims remain unresolved. And contamination in parts of the water system has added a new layer of uncertainty as residents decide whether to rebuild.
One thing Fountaingrove has going for it, however, is that key parts of its infrastructure appear to have fared better than other parts of the city.
The electrical system in particular emerged from the firestorm in much better shape than the system in Coffey Park, which was completely fried by the Tubbs fire.
While it took Pacific Gas & Electric Co. crews months to rebuild Coffey Park’s electrical grid, Fountaingrove’s underground power lines could be re-energized almost immediately after inspections confirmed the lines were largely unscathed, said Andy Dashner, the company’s director of service planning and design.
It’s not entirely clear why the lines running about three feet under the sidewalk fared better in Fountaingrove, though it could have something to do with the lower density of homes in the area compared to the compact Coffey Park neighborhood, Dashner said.
PG&E crews and contractors are now making significant progress upgrading the utility infrastructure in the Fountaingrove and Hidden Valley neighborhoods.
The company has completed upgrades to three subdivisions where about 100 homes once stood, ensuring that residents will connect to a fully modernized electrical system when they rebuild their homes.
Crews, many from out of the area, have been installing new hookups that will allow residents to easily reconnect to power temporarily during home construction and when the home is ready for occupancy, he said.
“Our goal is to complete all of our subdivision work by the end of the year,” Dashner said.
Another key utility in Fountaingrove, municipal water service, is also showing signs of improvement.
After months of concern that benzene contamination might force a wholesale replacement of the water system, city officials say that may no longer be necessary.
The steady drop in benzene levels in the water mains — as opposed to the water service lines — gives them hope the cancer-causing chemical is steadily getting flushed out of the water system in the 184-acre advisory area.
“The data suggests it may be premature to rush into full replacement,” said Ben Horenstein, director of Santa Rosa Water.
Instead, the city is initially planning to spend $3.4 million to replace 500 water service lines — 350 in the advisory area and 150 outside the area — and hope contamination levels in the mains continue to drop and eventually disappear.