A Florida debris removal company has offered to help Coffey Park residents solve a vexing problem: replacing the burned, cracked and sinking walls that line a few blocks of Hopper Avenue.
The Coffey Strong neighborhood group Thursday announced a tentative agreement to partner with the company, AshBritt, and with the nonprofit Rebuild North Bay. The three groups said together they want to spearhead the neighborhood effort to tear down and rebuild the walls that line both sides of Hopper west of Coffey Lane.
“This is the perfect initiative that we can assist with and hopefully making a lasting contribution to the community,” said Gerardo Castillo, project manager of AshBritt’s North Bay debris removal efforts.
The company has committed to making a “significant” financial contribution once the cost of the wall project is known, Castillo said.
Coffey Strong Chairman Jeff Okrepkie praised both AshBritt and Rebuild North Bay for offering to help the neighborhood.
“We have a solution to do this at no cost to the residents, and I don’t think there’s a better solution out there to accomplish this,” Okrepkie said.
The 5-foot-high walls of concrete and wood were damaged in October when the Tubbs fire destroyed more than 1,200 Coffey Park homes. A series of fires that month claimed 24 lives and 5,200 homes in Sonoma County.
After the fires, many Coffey Park neighbors incorrectly believed the city owned the cracked, adobe-colored walls, which were built about four decades ago. Instead, residents learned the structures belong to the 38 property owners whose homes backed up to a stretch of Hopper that extends for roughly 1,500 feet.
One contractor’s estimate put the cost of rebuilding the walls at $300,000, not including demolition and debris removal. Many neighbors said they couldn’t pay for a new wall and that they as individual property owners lacked the ability to find a solution.
Jennifer Gray Thompson, Rebuild North Bay’s executive director, said AshBritt approached her a few weeks ago and asked about possible projects to which the company might contribute. She said her first answer was the Coffey Park walls because the project would show residents that recovery is underway.
“For us this will be a symbol of progress and hope,” she said.
Rebuild North Bay was founded by Darius Anderson, managing partner of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.
Coffey Strong will work with residents on a design and will seek bids on demolition and reconstruction, Okrepkie said. For the work to proceed, the affected property owners must agree in writing to allow the project on their land.
Kevin Johnson, one of property owners along the wall, called the partnership’s announcement “real good news” and urged his fellow wall owners to lend their support.
“It’s going to be a huge cost savings for a lot of people,” Johnson said.
AshBritt is on track to clean nearly 2,000 burned properties in Sonoma, Lake, Napa and Mendocino counties, Castillo said.
While the company has done larger disaster projects, such as Hurricane Katrina, this cleanup has been noteworthy for the number of homeowners who contacted AshBritt about the cleanup of their homesites. As a result, Castillo said, AshBritt and its contractors heard from “so many property owners who told us their individual stories of hardship, but also of triumph and resiliency.”
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here