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Coffey Strong, the neighborhood support group of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park, gets new leader

Special Coverage

For more stories on the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County, go

here.

In the wake of the two-year remembrance of the Tubbs fire that leveled more than 1,400 homes in Coffey Park, including his own, Steve Rahmn was looking forward to getting away for the weekend to a campground in Willits.

There would be swimming and a petting zoo for kids. Rahmn, a project manager for W. Bradley Electric who this month took over for Jeff Okrepkie as president of the neighborhood support group Coffey Strong, seemed most excited about Halloween. Each of the 15 members in his party would be dressed as a different Muppet. For his part, Rahmn would don sunglasses and the orange wig of Mahna Mahna, best known for performing the nonsense song of the same name.

While that character need only know one note, Rahmn must be versed on a wide range of topics as he takes on his new leadership role with Coffey Strong. Rahmn is taking over a well-oiled and mature organization that has played a vital role in an unprecedented Santa Rosa neighborhood rebuild. Over 90% of Coffey Park homes are somewhere in the building permitting process, said Gabe Osburn, Santa Rosa’s deputy director of development services.

The Press Democrat recently sat down with Rahmn, in the unfinished garage of his partially completed home on Waring Court, to talk about his rebuilding journey, the major challenges still facing homeowners, and how Coffey Strong might still prove invaluable, even after its primary job is done. The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: Before we discuss Coffey Strong, please explain your perverse allegiance to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, grew up in Santa Monica. It was a great place to grow up. I had a surfing class in the morning at Santa Monica High, but my Dad and my grandparents lived up here, and I always like visiting. When I graduated, I moved here.

Q: Your wife, Michele Rahmn, has done stellar work as a fundraiser for Coffey Strong. When did you move into this house?

A: We closed escrow on July 19, 2017. We were in this house for three months. On Oct. 7, we went to the PGA golf event in Napa, stayed the night, came back on Sunday, Oct. 8, had a nice dinner and went to bed.

Around 1:30, Michele woke me up, telling me she smelled smoke. I went to the window, and the sky to north and east was glowing a bright red. I told her to grab our son, Desmond, and get in the car.

The suitcase we’d brought back from Napa was still in the garage. I hadn’t unpacked. So the suitcase was still there. Because of that, we had a change of clothes.

Q: You spent the night in the parking lot at a nearby Raley’s. When did you find out your house was gone?

A: Around 7:30 the next morning I told everybody I was going to get gas for the car. When I was at the gas station I thought, ‘Our house is right there.’ I drove down San Miguel and saw some houses still standing. But then I turned the corner and everything was gone.

I pulled up here, parked the car, there was stuff still burning. My golf clubs were right over there (pointing to a corner of the garage). I had baseball cards, I could still see them kind of melting.

Q: How long did it take Coffey Strong to get off the ground? And when did you get involved?

A: Pretty much Day One. I remember we went to a meeting at the Luther Burbank Center that Supervisor James Gore put on. (Gore and Rahmn are cousins). After that meeting a bunch of us from Coffey Park got together, and we said we should form an organization. We came up with the name Coffey Strong. Right there, Jeff got on his phone and bought the internet domain name.

The goal, the mission, was to get our neighbors in their homes as quickly and efficiently as possible. To do that, we gathered as much useful information as we could, and shared it with homeowners. It allowed us to learn from the other peoples’ experiences.

Q: Where did the block captain concept come in?

A: What seemed to work was what Supervisor Gore did in Mark West: he divided up the neighborhoods, and said, OK, who wants to be in charge of this street? So, we basically got a map, took a pen and divided Coffey Park into five sections.

In the fire, you lose all your things, so you want to have some control. One way to do that is to help others. So I thought, I’ll be a block captain. For me and Michele, this is our group therapy. Giving back to our community has helped us cope with our own loss. And we aren’t alone. A lot of people who offered to help in the beginning are still in our group. A large majority of the people in Coffey Strong have been there since Day One.

Q: Coffey Strong has been historically good at its mission of getting people back into their rebuilt homes. The entryway to Coffey Park is well underway. You personally helped spearhead the completion of the Hopper Wall. What are the main challenges you’re inheriting?

Special Coverage

For more stories on the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County, go

here.

A: Street lights are going to be the next big hurdle. Work should start by the end of the year. Some streets and sidewalks are going to be torn up that people weren’t expecting to be torn up, because some of the infrastructure is damaged. So we need to share information with people, let them know what to expect, don’t get them stressed out.

Q: What will be the challenges in finishing the entryway to Coffey Park, and the park?

A: Our biggest problem is that the donated dollar is running out. There are so many disasters. People forget, and that makes fundraising a lot harder. We’re trying to be as creative as possible. Bottle Barn is coming out soon with a wine label called Barn Raising, and donating the proceeds to us.

Q: What happens to Coffey Strong when everyone’s back home?

A: That’s one of the big questions we ask ourselves. What’s our role when the last person moves in? We’ve had conversations about sharing our knowledge and experience, creating a kind of a plan or road map for other communities devastated by wildfires.

Q: Coffey Park has come back so quickly, it stands to reason that others would want to know what you’re doing right.

A: That’s true. But there’s also something special about this neighborhood. The fire had this amazing effect on a lot of people. People who weren’t social are social now. They’re more outgoing. People who didn’t tend to help out - they help now. They care. The community we have here is amazing.

HHHHHH

Paving the way

One of Rahmn’s first official acts will be a 4 p.m. ribbon cutting on Nov. 2 for Atlas Pavers, whose 2,500-square-foot showroom at 1710 Fourth St. in Santa Rosa features a dizzying array of paver stones. Atlas will donate a portion of its proceeds to Coffey Strong.

HHHHHH

Tax matters

Coffey Park residents who rebuilt their homes, increasing their value in the process, got some good tax news at a recent neighborhood meeting. One of the questions posed to Deva Proto, the county’s clerk-recorder-assessor and elections chief, was: If the value of my house is now significantly higher, will my property taxes spike accordingly?

“With a rebuild,” Proto said, “if you build a similar structure, you will keep your pre-calamity base-year value. You’re not going to be reassessed for a new home. You bought the house in 1983, you’re going to keep your 1983 tax base.”

The converse, alas, does not apply, as one woman learned who asked: “What happens if you go the other way, from a 4-bedroom 2-story to a ?3-bedroom 1-story?”

While state law is designed to protect people who lost their homes in a disaster from then getting clobbered by a massive tax hit, it makes no provisions for those who opt to build smaller abodes. Their homes may have shrunk, their property taxes have not.

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter ?@Ausmurph88

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