California Treasurer John Chiang tours burn zone, offers recovery aid

John Chiang and Judy James


California Treasurer John Chiang offered his assistance Wednesday to the North Bay’s fire rebuilding efforts.

“I want to do all I can to make sure you have a rapid recovery,” Chiang told business leaders at a breakfast meeting of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Chiang, a Democrat running for governor, said his office will provide low-interest financing for damaged health care clinics and those purchasing debris hauling trucks and recycling equipment “so haulers can sale up to meet the current needs.”

He also sought input on other ways state government could better aid the recovery.

After the breakfast, Chiang’s itinerary included a stop at a destroyed Mountain Mikes Pizza in northwest Santa Rosa and visits to an affected cannabis business and two health clinics.

Before an audience of about 150 people at Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa, Chiang noted that the Vista Clinic operated in Fountaingrove by Santa Rosa Community Health Centers had suffered $16 million in damage from the recent wildfires. Helping such clinics rebuild is important, he said, because roughly 1 in 7 Californians gets health care through such community centers.

After the treasurer’s presentation, business people had a chance to raise some concerns.

Aaron Friedman, owner of the sign company Signarama, told Chiang that his Piner Road facility still stands but “we’ve lost a lot of business” from the weeks when the surrounding area was under mandatory evacuation.

“Where is the help for some of us?” he asked.

Meanwhile, those in the building industry said contractors are concerned that rebuilding will be slowed greatly unless a streamlined system is developed for the release of insurance funds for reconstruction. Those funds will be controlled by hundreds of different lenders for residential properties with mortgages.

David Harts, a former construction company vice president, told Chiang that without a reliable flow of funds to builders, “this recovery will not happen.”

During his comments, Chiang raised a separate concern that the GOP-controlled Congress could slow new housing construction by ending federal tax breaks on “private activity bonds.”

Such tax-exempt bonds are used for the majority of private-based affordable housing projects, he said.

“If you think the housing crisis in California is bad today, it’s going to get far worse if that provision passes,” Chiang said.