John Ghigliazza was exasperated and a little desperate. “I am writing this email,” he informed his contractor, American Pacific Builders, last November, “knowing full well you won’t respond to us.”
It wasn’t always like that. In the beginning, the Santa Rosa-based company known as APB had lavished attention on Ghigliazza and his wife, Angela. After the Tubbs fire swept over their 9-acre property off Mark West Springs Road in October 2017, destroying the main house and a smaller one, the couple were looking for a general contractor to help them put their lives back together.
One builder was especially persistent. Michael Stutes, a former Major League Baseball pitcher whose LinkedIn profile identifies him as a “business consultant” for APB, cold-called them “constantly,” recalled Angela, until the Ghigliazzas decided to work with him and the company’s owner, Steven Bates.
Angela Ghigliazza teaches math at Comstock Middle School, while John has worked for PG&E, mostly in “gas operations,” for nearly three decades. After bringing two sons into the world, the couple decided to “try for a girl,” said John, with a smile. Instead, Angela give birth to twin boys. The four Ghigliazza boys, ranging in age from 23 to 20, now live with their parents in a pair of cramped cabins in Rio Nido, owned by Angela’s parents. Everyone is desperate to get back home. But, three years and nine months after the Tubbs fire, there is no homecoming in sight for them.
The Ghigliazzas were among more than a dozen families and homeowners, all disgruntled APB clients, who met in Coffey Park on June 22 to compare notes, discuss strategies and share stories about the contractor — like the one about the customer who became so frustrated by her inability to get a phone call returned that she dropped by the company’s offices, where APB called police to have her removed.
Since then, The Press Democrat has talked to 14 unhappy APB clients. Most — unlike the Ghigliazzas — have moved into their houses. Their challenge now, they said, is to persuade the builder to finish the job, to tackle punchlist items and warranty work, which in many cases has languished for more than 12 months even though APB is contractually obligated to take care of it within a year.
APB took on 37 Tubbs fire rebuilds in Santa Rosa, said Jesse Oswald, the city’s chief building official. The company also signed a smaller number of contracts for rebuilds outside the city limits.
Finishing those houses during a pandemic would put a strain on any contractor, Stutes pointed out.
“I don’t know that anyone can claim, no matter what experience they had, that they were prepared for that,” he said.
“From what I’ve seen,” he added, APB has “done nothing but try to honor quite a few requests.”
The wildfires ravaging the North Bay in recent years have led to a surge in complaints against contractors accused of long delays, shoddy work and unethical behavior.
Last year California passed a law, proposed by Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, giving the state’s justice department more authority to prosecute unlicensed contractors and companies that take advantage of those recovering from wildfires and other natural disasters.
At least five APB clients and subcontractors, including the Ghigliazzas, have filed complaints against the company with the Contractors State License Board, which polices the construction industry in California. Many of those clients said they became accustomed to having liens filed against them by subcontractors APB hadn’t paid. A lien is a legal document reserving someone’s right to seek compensation if they haven’t been paid for their work. Liens provide important leverage to stiffed contractors and subcontractors. One APB client was surprised to have a lien placed on his house nine months after he moved in.
Ron Calvi, co-owner of Calvi Construction, told The Press Democrat that APB owes his company “about $156,900” for work performed on “six or seven” jobs.
Deborah Buckman, who works at Hogan Plumbing in Santa Rosa, said of APB, “We currently have them owing us $70,732.”