Santa Rosa contractor vows to finish, free of charge, woman’s half-built house
Two and a half years after the Tubbs fire took out most of Coffey Park in October 2017, the rebuilding of that northwest Santa Rosa neighborhood was proceeding at a remarkably brisk clip.
For the most part.
During his months working on a house on the cul-de-sac Randon Way, contractor Michael Wolff could not help noticing, day after day, the eyesore just behind the lot where he was working.
It was the plywood shell on which progress had come to a grinding halt. The front yard was piled high with refuse, including several kiddie pools once used for mixing concrete.
That property blight on Waring Court was “heartbreaking,” said Wolff, the founder of Wolff Contracting of Santa Rosa, and “an insult to the entire construction community.”
After learning the backstory of that project — it was owned by Marybeth Adkins, who’d fired two builders, and now couldn’t afford to finish the house — Wolff interceded. A former Marine with a soft spot for underdogs, he consulted his co-workers, and made a decision in the spring. Despite Adkins’ limited budget, Wolff Contracting would finish her house, with help from any other companies willing to pitch in.
“Why are we in business?” Wolff asked rhetorically Wednesday, raising his voice over a clatter of hammers, as his workers finished the framing on Adkins’ house. “It’s not to make money. I mean, yes, we have to make a profit to stay in business. But our mission is to improve peoples’ lives, and if what we’re doing is in keeping with that core value, the money will just happen.”
When Adkins lost her house in the wildfire, her bad luck was just beginning. To rebuild, she first turned to Chiaramonte Construction of Tulare, whom she fired after that builder blew a series of deadlines. In July, Chiaramonte’s owners were briefly jailed and charged by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office with 59 felony counts, including grand theft of personal property and theft from elderly clients.
After firing Chiaramonte, Adkins turned to Santa Rosa-based Urban Equity Builders, a company now being scrutinized by California’s Contractors State License Board. In May 2019, Adkins balked at paying a $73,000 invoice from Urban Equity that charged her for labor that she claimed hadn’t been completed, and some materials that hadn’t been delivered.
The two parties officially parted ways five months ago, after each signed an agreement not to disparage the other. While she spoke to the Press Democrat at length for a January story that detailed her struggles with Urban Equity, Adkins declined to comment for this article.
After firing Urban Equity, she lacked the money to finish her house until Wolff came to the rescue.
His hope, Wolff said, was that “other people would get involved, too, and it would create a domino effect.”
So it has. The paint company Kelly Moore is donating all the paint for the project, said Ava Warren, associate project manager for Wolff Contracting in charge of wrangling those dominos. Warren Construction and Roofing decided to donate all the materials for Adkins’ roof — a critical addition, with a rainy season on the horizon. Golden State Lumber has pledged to provide the siding for the house. Alpha Fire Suppression Systems, Lozano Electric and North Bay Platinum Plumbing are all offering generous discounts.
Before any new construction could begin, “we had to haul off a dump truck worth of trash (Urban Equity) left behind,” said Warren, who also ticked off a list of defects Wolff has had to correct, including framing that could not pass city inspection, and daylight coming through the cracks “because they didn’t finish the sheeting.”
“Time out,” said Charles Olpp, founder and owner of Urban Equity Builders, when asked for comment on the matter.
After months of a standoff with Adkins, “We said, pay us or we don’t move forward, and she said, move forward or we won’t pay you,” Olpp said. Urban Equity then put a mechanic’s lien on her Coffey Park property in August 2019, and issued a stop work notice.
Because Urban Equity filed that lien and stopped work, “we didn’t get to finish” Adkins’ house, he said. “If we’d been allowed to talk to the engineer and do field corrections, those defects wouldn’t be there.”
Crossed construction paths before
Earlier, Wolff had stepped in to finish a different house started by Urban Equity, this one on nearby Tuliptree Road in Coffey Park. Olpp was pleased to discuss that Tuliptree project.
There came a time during the construction of that house, he recalled, “When we started seeing this Wolff construction truck show up.”