Coffey Park residents wary of grand plans for their destroyed Santa Rosa neighborhood

A Coffey Strong sign is posted in front of a burned home along Tuliptree Road, in the Coffey Park area in Santa Rosa on Thursday, November 2, 2017. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)


For Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove community, a few local officials have asked publicly whether it makes sense to rebuild homes on a hillside that burned twice in the past half-century.

But seemingly no elected leader wants to raise the banner for re-imagining Coffey Park, which lost about 1,300 homes, the greatest toll for any neighborhood in the historic firestorm.

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who represents portions of Santa Rosa but not Coffey Park, was quoted a week ago in the San Francisco Chronicle saying that the rebuilt neighborhood should include “grocery stores, dog parks, smarter senior housing, single-family homes, higher-density stuff.” She added that “we have to respect the homeowners, but I do think a lot of people — particularly the newer generation — are open to something other than this suburban sprawl we are all so stuck in.”

Zane since has said the article failed to accurately represent her views, but not before the published comments were met with widespread disapproval around the neighborhood. The rejection came from those whose properties burned and those whose homes still stand.

“I think the community is going to rebel against that thought,” said Paul Donner, who lost a home on San Miguel Avenue.

David Oliver’s Skyview Drive home stands beside nearly 200 burned houses. Asked about adding higher-density housing in the area, he replied, “I want them to build back Coffey the way it was and to build it as fast as possible … The last thing I want is somebody re-imagining my neighborhood.”

In response, Zane said the earlier news article “did not reflect how I feel. I think people need to rebuild the way that they want to.”

She said government should offer options, such as allowing granny units for those who want to add them. But homeowners have “a right to rebuild how they want to,” she said.

City officials said they don’t plan to initiate discussions on redeveloping Coffey Park.

Mayor Chris Coursey acknowledged the homeowners there must undertake a great rebuilding effort, but “I don’t think that gives the greater community the right to tell them what to do with their properties.”

Councilman Tom Schwedhelm, a Coffey Park resident whose home survived, said the homeowners there should decide the neighborhood’s future.

“We ought to be listening to what they want,” he said, “not telling them what’s best for them.”

Schwedhelm suggested most neighbors want to keep what first attracted them to Coffey Park.

“I love this part of town,” he said. “And that’s the sense I get from others.”