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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

As the recovery effort from the October fires slowly transitions from cleanup to rebuilding, nearly 300 people attended a town hall meeting in Santa Rosa on Thursday evening to better understand what steps need to be taken before they can break ground on a new home.

Most in attendance had lost their homes in the Tubbs fire and listened intently as federal, state, county and Santa Rosa officials answered dozens of questions and attempted to address concerns.

The primary focus of the community meeting was to explain the permitting process with Sonoma County and the city of Santa Rosa and help people rebuild homes on fire-damaged properties without getting bogged down in paperwork and bureaucracy.

While more than 5,000 homes burned in Sonoma County just 31 permits to rebuild have been approved — 21 in Santa Rosa and 10 in Sonoma County, officials said.

So far 1.1 million tons of debris has been removed from fire-damaged properties in Sonoma County, about 25 tons a day, said Army Corps of Engineers Col. Eric McFadden. About 72 percent of the debris has been removed countywide.

One audience member asked, via index card, if they could have a trailer on property while rebuilding their home.

“Absolutely,” said Tennis Wick, director of Permit Sonoma, the county’s land use planning and development permitting agency. “We want you back on your property.”

Wick then said a permit for live-in trailer on a fire damaged property was $83 and good through the end of 2019. A few questions later, a man commented that he paid more than $83 for a permit to place a trailer on his property.

“I’m aware of your situation and let’s talk after because we need to get money back to you.” Wick said.

The tone at the Finley Community Center was muted, with fire victims jotting down notes as if they were preparing for an exam.

Fees for accessory dwelling units? Not if they’re under 750 square feet, although you will pay fees to connect to the city’s sewer system, said David Guhin, Santa Rosa planning and economic development director.

Can such a secondary dwelling, or granny unit, be built and moved into before the main home? Yes, Guhin said.

What happens if my home was too close to the street and not up to current code? Homes will grandfathered in as long as they’re in the original footprint, he said.

Can a pool be counted as a tank for a fire sprinkler system? No, Wick said.

Many people in attendance brought their questions to government officials one-on-one either before or after the nearly hourlong presentation. Some just came to listen in and see familiar faces.

Mike Van Dordrecht said he and his wife, Lesley Van Dordrecht, still haven’t committed to rebuilding on their property in Coffey Park and are “looking at all of our options.” They recently looked at buying a home to see what was available.

“I’ve been to quite a few of these,” Van Dordrecht said. “They’re helpful, but I come just as much for the networking — seeing friends and neighbors who also lost their homes.”

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim @pressdemocrat.com

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