Rebuilding Sonoma County: Fencing project, new homes underway in greater Mark West
A cacophony of pounding hammers and screeching saws punctuated the brisk December air in Larkfield Estates, a stark difference from the silence that blanketed the fire-scarred neighborhood at the beginning of the year.
Brad Sherwood, who is rebuilding the beloved Chelsea Drive home his family lost to the Tubbs fire last year, watched the flurry of activity from the window of the skeletal frame of his new house Dec. 12. It has been a year of navigating insurance policies, debris removal and other emotional gut punches after the firestorm destroyed more than 5,300 homes in Sonoma County, but signs of hope and progress are evident, he said.
“Last December, we were still looking at a burned-down house,” said Sherwood, a Larkfield Estates block captain. “To see the neighborhood a year later like this is day and night. Debris is gone. The majority of the burned-out trees are gone, and about 50 percent of the neighborhood is in some state of rebuilding. You’ve got people moving into the neighborhood. It’s awesome.”
His home is among more than 360 under construction in the greater Mark West area, extending east to Knights Valley, according to county data. Nearly 20 homes have been completed in the region.
Fairfield-based Silvermark Construction Services, a major player in the rebuild, has completed 15 homes in the region, said David Hosking, vice president of operations. The company in June marked the completion of the first rebuilt home on Willow Green Place and is in the process of building 41 other homes in the region, he said.
Meanwhile, Orange County-based Stonefield Companies is rebuilding 78 homes in Mark West Estates and 17 in Larkfield Estates, all of which are under construction, spokeswoman Debbie Dorsee said.
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore lauded the progress, but noted challenges remain in hillier areas where rebuilds are tougher to navigate.
“Larkfield and Mark West estates are bubbling with hope, anticipation and resilience,” he said. “It’s absolutely inspiring and shocking how fast the rebuild has been in those lowland areas. All you have to do is go a mile up the road and that changes. The hillsides are expansive.”
The new year holds its own unique set of challenges, such as repaving roads and advocating for utility companies to bury lines, Sherwood said. Most insurance companies stop covering traditional living expenses after two years, a benchmark coming next year.
But communities have united to find hope in new ways since the fires, including through weekly block captain meetings.
“The fire has really brought people together,” said Willie Lamberson, a block captain who is rebuilding his Carriage Lane home.
Work is underway to replace a mile of fencing that served as a barrier from traffic on Mark West Springs Road and Old Redwood Highway. Rebuild NorthBay and Habitat for Humanity have partnered on the “Rise Up” project, which organizers say will save $475,000 for residents who otherwise would have shouldered the cost of replacing the fence.
“For the entire neighborhood, when people come home to newly rebuilt houses, they will be surrounded metaphorically and literally by an effort from the community that says ‘we want you to stay, and we will do whatever we can, step by step, dollar by dollar, nail by nail, to ensure that you know that we value you and we want you here with us,’” Rebuild NorthBay Executive Director Jennifer Gray Thompson said at a Dec. 10 groundbreaking event.
Rebuild NorthBay was founded by Sonoma-based lobbyist and developer Darius Anderson, who is managing member of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat. Funds were raised from more than 20 donors and sponsors, Thompson said.
Work will be completed by a contractor, with opportunities for volunteer days. The fence could be completed by February, Thompson said.
Mike Holdner, a Mark West Estates block captain, said the fence “defines the perimeter of the community” and will surround 51 lots in both neighborhoods.
“Everyone loves the fact that this is going to happen ... It’s nice we haven’t been forgotten. It’s a year and some change later and people are still willing to step up and help us,” he said.
Green for greenery
The Larkfield Resilience Fund, an effort launched by fire survivors in October, is accepting applications from Larkfield Estates residents who are rebuilding and would like to receive a 24-inch, drought-tolerant box tree to plant in their front yards, said president Shawn Ratliff. Applications close Jan. 31, and trees could be delivered in February, he said. Homeowners are responsible for planting them.
Greenery is an important mark of recovery, Ratliff said.
“Basically everyone who bought in the neighborhood bought because of the trees. It was a well-established community and it had great old trees” he said.
The group is working to gain nonprofit status, and so far has amassed $60,000 in grants and pledged donations, Ratliff said. It also aims to bolster emergency preparedness and community resilience.
Sonoma County supervisors Dec. 11 voted to drop a requirement for costly seismic studies that would have impacted 55 homeowners seeking to rebuild in the greater Mark West area. The geologic studies cost about $15,000 each, according to the county.
While the state exempted single-family homes from needing to complete the costly geologic studies, Sonoma County previously decided to remove that exception. The Board of Supervisors in September asked staff from Permit Sonoma to craft an amendment. The new policy impacts only those seeking to rebuild in a specified area, where homes will still be required to comply with other seismic codes.
You can reach Staff Writer Hannah Beausang at 707-521-5214 or email@example.com. On Twitter @hannahbeausang.