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Coffey Park residents seek share of Santa Rosa’s $92 million PG&E payout

It’s not clear when Santa Rosa will receive its share of the $1 billion deal hammered out between PG&E and local governments to settle claims for damage caused by wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

But it could be as soon as July. Santa Rosa’s share of that sum — $92 million after legal fees and litigation costs — could come as early as July, said Chris Rogers, a member of City Council.

Coffey Park, which lost 1,422 homes in the devastating Tubbs fire in 2017, intends to be at the front of the line for a slice of that money.

That was the topic of Sunday’s hastily arranged meeting of Coffey Strong board members in the backyard of Anne Barbour, vice president of the neighborhood group. With the city facing years of long-term revenue shortfalls, there will be a long line of takers for pieces of the $92 million pie.

One of the important things to know about the settlement with Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Rogers said, is that it “was based on an understanding, or agreement, between the city and the company that Santa Rosa still had “unmet needs” from the fire — damage done that has not been reimbursed by FEMA.

The city plans to eventually hold public meetings on how to disburse the PG&E payout. At lunch last week with former Coffey Strong President Jeff Okrepkie, Rogers said that he’d specifically like to hear from Coffey Park and Fountaingrove fire survivors “what they see as their largest priority. What projects that are not across the finish line would you use this money for?”

“The whole enchilada on Hopper,” said Coffey Strong President Steve Rahmn, answering that question at Sunday’s impromptu meeting of the neighborhood group. He was referring to Hopper Avenue, the neighborhood’s main drag. FEMA has repeatedly declined to pay for cracked and crumbling sidewalks, curbs and gutters damaged during the Tubbs fire.

The PG&E money also could be used to repair cracks in the neighborhood’s streets, and “road scars,” where objects like trash cans melted into the pavement.

Sidewalk repair also might be extended to all the sidewalk ramps which, at the moment, are not compliant Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I’d like to get rid of the dead trees that are still sticking up,” one Coffey Strong board member said.

Coffey Park residents involved in Coffey Strong will be invited to weigh in with their priorities on Facebook. A list will be compiled and emailed as soon as possible to City Council, “to plant our flag,” Okrepkie said.

He also suggested people living in Coffey Park take turns at upcoming City Council meetings, emphasizing the neighborhood’s unmet needs, and its right to a share of the city’s financial settlement with PG&E.

When the $92 million does finally drop into the city’s general fund, it will create “an interesting wrinkle,” Rogers said. According to Santa Rosa’s Measure O, passed in 2018, a fixed percentage of the city’s general fund must be spent on police, fire and violence prevention.

Regarding the expected windfall from PG&E, he said, “I would assume we would be able to get six votes to waive Measure O.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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