The community effort to replace 2,900 linear feet of burned walls in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood could commence later this summer with up to $650,000 in contributions from a Florida debris removal company and a group of local businesses.
AshBritt Environmental has agreed to donate $450,000 in cash for the rebuilding of the perimeter walls along Hopper Avenue, the company and others involved in the rebuild effort announced Friday. Local contractors will provide up to $200,000 more in in-kind contributions to demolish the old walls and dispose of the debris.
The replacement of the burned and cracked walls matters not just to the adjacent homeowners but to all the residents of Coffey Park who regularly drive past them, said Jeff Okrepkie, chairman of the Coffey Strong neighborhood group.
“We’re going to be able to get rid of that and make it look better than ever,” Okrepkie said. “It’s going to be an emotional and uplifting thing.”
The walls of wood and concrete were scorched in October when the Tubbs fire destroyed over 1,450 homes in Coffey Park and the surrounding northwest neighborhood. The fires in Sonoma County that month claimed 24 lives and burned more than 5,300 homes.
After the fires, the property owners who back up to the walls were surprised to learn that they, and not the city, own the burned structures, which extend nearly 1,500 feet on either side of Hopper east of Coffey Lane.
An initial estimate put the cost of new walls at $300,000, not including demolition. Many of the roughly 40 homeowners said they couldn’t afford to pay such an expense and that as individual property owners they lacked the ability to find a solution.
Coffey Strong last winter began seeking partners to rebuild the walls and in March announced a tentative agreement with the nonprofit Rebuild North Bay and AshBritt. The three groups said then that they needed to make more preparations and develop cost estimates before finalizing the rebuild plans.
AshBritt conducted debris removal for upward of 2,000 North Bay properties burned in the October fires. Rebuild North Bay was founded by Darius Anderson, managing member of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.
As a next step, Coffey Strong this month will seek to get detailed right-of-entry agreements signed by each affected homeowner. Martin Hirsch of the Santa Rosa law firm of Perry, Johnson, Anderson, Miller and Moskowitz provided pro bono legal aid to draft the agreements, which are tied to each property.
Coffey Strong will apply for a city building permit for the walls and also is seeking city help for related tree removal and sidewalk work along the walls. Assistant City Manager David Guhin said the city has been speaking with Coffey Strong “from day one” to help move the wall project forward.
“I think we’ve come up with a pretty good plan to make it work,” Guhin said.
Okrepkie said Coffey Strong seeks to start the walls’ demolition in September. Once the site is cleared, building the new walls is expected to take about eight weeks.
The new walls will be 8 feet tall, compared to 5 to 6 feet for the previous structures. Columns will be spaced every 20 feet, and Coffey Strong is seeking further contributions to place stone veneers on the columns.