Earlier this year Coffey Park residents wondered when their fire-scarred neighborhood would at last start to bustle with rebuilding.
Now that construction is underway on hundreds of homes, many are asking why it is taking so long to break ground on their own projects in the northwest Santa Rosa neighborhood.
The delays they face in the increasingly crowded maze that must be traversed before they can rebuild — including home design, permitting and construction scheduling — has left a growing number of fire survivors frustrated.
Christina Pozzi Westphal, a Coffey Park homeowner, compares the situation to being stuck in a traffic jam. Her own rebuild on Nina Court is on track with her third builder, but progress came only after two earlier contractors failed to make much headway for her family.
“They’re hitting rush hour,” Westphal said.
Much like drivers trapped during a heavy evening commute, fire survivors are discovering the pre-construction process this summer is crowded, slow and stressful. For many, it comes with “the anxiety of wanting to get home,” said Jeff Okrepkie, chairman of the Coffey Strong neighborhood group.
The recovery effort comes 10 months after the most destructive wildfires in state history. The fires of October claimed 40 lives and burned 6,000 homes in the North Bay. Flames destroyed more than 1,450 homes in the Coffey Park neighborhood and surrounding area.
For fire survivors, delays have arisen because of a marked increase in the rebuild efforts.
By the end of April, only 311 property owners had applied to rebuild homes around Santa Rosa, according to city data.
Three months later that number had nearly tripled to 910 applications, about a third of the 3,000 residences burned in the city.
In response, the city greatly increased the amount of personnel available to process permits and inspections. The monthly staff time on rebuilding has doubled since March and soared some 58 percent from June to July to 5,147 hours.
Some fire survivors said the permit process in the last few months is taking longer than expected, as much as six weeks from application to issuance.
David Leal, who is rebuilding his Santiago Drive home, said his builder dissuaded him from asking the city why his permit was delayed. Leal said he received his permit in late July, six weeks after applying for it. He suggested the city could help those rebuilding avoid “a lot of sleepless nights” by simply announcing that the process now takes longer.
“They’re swamped,” said Leal of the city staff. “They’re doing the best they can do. They just need to communicate a little more so people aren’t in the dark about expectations.”
Other fire survivors voiced frustration with builders. They said the contractors had made little progress, whether on their own rebuild efforts or on other burned lots where those builders had placed signs. A common frustration was a lack of information.
“If they’re not communicating with you, there’s a problem,” said Mellissa Edney, whose home burned on Santiago Drive.
Edney and her husband, David, left their first contractor and switched this summer to Urban Equity Builders, the same contractor Pozzi Westphal is now using.