Rebuilding Sonoma County: Wikiup rebuild off to slow start after bridge woes

Like nearly every other person who owns property on Wikiup Bridge Way, Janet Leisen's rebuilding costs extend far beyond her home that was destroyed by the Tubbs fire nearly one year ago.

Earlier this year, she had to help pay to replace the privately-owned bridge connecting her neighborhood to Mark West Springs Road. The total price tag for the project was more than $317,000.

Next, she will likely have to contribute for a new retaining wall in a landslide area. That replacement cost is currently estimated at between $144,000 and $175,000, Leisen said.

Eventually, Leisen thinks most of those who own property on the private Wikiup Bridge Way will also collectively pay at least $300,000 to replace culverts and repave the road.

'I didn't sign up for this,' she said, somewhat lightheartedly. 'These extra expenses and extra stresses aren't helpful. There are days that I wish I was in Coffey Park, where all I was dealing with was the rebuild.'

Last year, before the fires, 27 homes stood along Wikiup Bridge Way, by Leisen's count, including two south of the bridge between it and Mark West Springs Road.

Now, with the disaster's first anniversary fast approaching, just three homes — including one on the other side of the bridge — are under construction, county figures show.

Leisen, who lost both the home she and her husband lived in and a neighboring rental, accounts for one of them. Her daughter and son-in-law account for another.

Wikiup Bridge Way was among the last Sonoma County neighborhoods to have its debris fully cleared this spring. Subcontractors had difficulty figuring out how to get their equipment in and out of the area due to the loss of the old bridge, which was replaced about six months ago with a new concrete and steel structure.

The cleanup delay postponed the rebuild for property owners on the rural private street. Recently, Leisen has been able to make significant progress on reconstructing the rental, where she plans to live first before moving into the main house.

Walls are up on the first house, and Lesien expects the structure to be fully enclosed in November, with completion targeted for sometime in March.

'It's all the peripheral stuff that just compounds the stress of trying to deal with what is already kind of traumatic,' Leisen said.

Still, she said, 'we're getting there.'

Geologic studies bar the way

Some Wikiup area property owners faced another expensive complication they only recently overcame with help from the Board of Supervisors.

County officials told owners of 56 fire-ravaged properties earlier this year they had to complete geologic studies before rebuilding due to their proximity to the Rodgers Creek Fault. The studies cost about $15,000 each, according to county estimates, although some fire survivors said they were quoted much higher figures.

'It more than doubled our engineering costs, just to put it in perspective,' said Fernando Mora, a Wikiup Bridge Way property owner whose rebuild came to a standstill because of the earthquake study requirement.

The county's requirement had its roots in a 1972 state law called the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act, which was designed to prevent new construction on top of active faults. While the state exempted single-family homes from the geologic study requirement, Sonoma County supervisors decided to lift that exemption as part of an update to the county's general plan in 1989. County officials wrote the change into their zoning rules in 1993.

On Sept. 18, however, the current supervisors voted unanimously to devise a way for fire survivors to rebuild without completing a costly geologic study. County staff members will study their options for the three to four months.

For Mora, the vote finally gave his family the necessary certainty to finally move forward.

'Since that day, I jumped on the whole process. We're in hyperdrive,' he said. 'We're truly like kids in a candy store now.'

More progress in the area

Throughout the greater Larkfield-Wikiup and Mark West Springs area, 245 homes are currently under construction and eight have been completed, including mobile homes, according to county planning data.

The Tubbs fire wiped out more than 1,700 homes in the vast unincorporated region, which starts north of Santa Rosa and runs east into the Mayacamas Mountains.

In the Larkfield lowlands, two group rebuilding efforts have continued to make steady progress around Mark West Springs Road and Old Redwood Highway. Orange County-based Stonefield Cos., which has manged three other group rebuilds after earlier fires in California, is rebuilding 78 homes in the devastated Mark West Estates subdivision. Many are in active construction.

The company announced last week it has now secured county permits to rebuild 15 homes in Larkfield Estates, located opposite Mark West Springs Road from the other subdivision. Stonefield anticipates pouring its first foundations in Larkfield Estates on Wednesday, with completion targeted for both communities by the end of summer next year, weather depending. The first move-ins in Mark West Estates could happen as early as January.

Another group rebuilder, Fairfield-based Silvermark Construction Services, also continues to make progress on rebuilding a crop of homes in Larkfield-Wikiup. A home the company constructed on Willow Green Place became the first rebuilt home finished in the unincorporated county in June.

Elsewhere in Larkfield-Wikiup, members of the family behind the Kendall-Jackson wine empire have decided to scale down a proposed housing development at the former Wikiup Golf Course, which they bought in 2015. The total number of homes envisioned for the project, known as Wikiup Commons, has been reduced from nearly 100 down to 64 amid blowback from some people who live nearby.

After hosting a series of community meetings this year, the developer will now need to seek permits from the county planning department.

Progress on electric lines

PG&E has now finished about 4 miles of trenching to replace underground electric lines the firestorm destroyed in Larkfield Estates and Mark West Estates, according to spokeswoman Deanna Contreras.

Contract crews hired by PG&E have also completed installing underground utility boxes to store transformers, switches and telecommunications equipment, Contreras said in an email.

Crews are done pulling the electric conductor through the conduit in Larkfield Estates but still need to finish that work in Mark West Estates. Workers will continue repaving and replacing concrete on curbs where they dug through the end of the year.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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