Lobbying effort helps boost FEMA funding for new Santa Rosa fire station

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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

A recent lobbying trip by local officials and civic leaders to Washington, D.C. brought good news for Santa Rosa as federal officials announced a tentative decision to pay nearly $4 million toward replacement of the two-year-old Fountaingrove fire station destroyed by the Tubbs fire last October.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said they had more than doubled their initial $1.9 million estimate for the station’s reconstruction, upping it to $3.9 million, said Adriane Mertens, a Santa Rosa city spokeswoman.

That decision was based on documents the city had submitted to FEMA prior to the trip, she said.

The FEMA funding, along with an insurance payment of about $5 million, appears to ensure that Santa Rosa can replace the Fountaingrove station, which was built to improve emergency response times to the northeast area of the city.

Santa Rosa had estimated the replacement cost of the station at Newgate Court and Fountainrove Parkway at $4.5 million, but is now considering other sites along the parkway west of Newgate, where the cost would be about $8 million, Mertens said.

Meanwhile, the city is establishing a temporary fire station at 3480 Parker Hill Road, the site of a vacant fire station that was also destroyed by the fire.

The FEMA announcement was “important news,” Mertens said, noting the groundwork had been laid before a 17-member lobbying delegation organized by the Rebuild Northbay Foundation departed for the nation’s capital.

The group included Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, Napa County Supervisor Belia Ramos, Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey and City Manager Sean McGlynn, as well as city and county staffers and two lobbyists for Santa Rosa.

Most of the three-day trip’s business was done on Sept. 5, including meetings with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, as well as staff members for California Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pennsylvania, who chairs a House subcommittee on economic development and emergency management.

The group’s agenda included a meeting with eight FEMA officials who announced the fire station funding decision, but Rabbitt said the venture is not entirely defined by immediate payoffs.

“You typically don’t know in one trip,” he said. “You’re talking to bureaucrats at FEMA and HUD that are not in a position to say we’re going to give you $10 million more.”

Officials have to “go back up through the ranks” to assess the delegation’s requests, keeping in mind that any changes they make may have “unforeseen consequences,” Rabbitt said.

“More disasters are coming down the pike, and if they change the rules for one, it changes them for all,” he said. “All we’re doing is asking for them to be fair and equitable.”

Rabbitt, who has served as a supervisor since 2011, said the involvement of local business leaders was important.

“They haven’t gone through the lobbying ordeal working through those kinds of bureaucratic mazes,” he said. “It was very, very valuable to have them there to tell their employees’ stories.”

Private sector delegates on the trip included Burbank Housing CEO Larry Florin, Santa Rosa auto dealer Henry Hansel and Michael Mondavi, a Napa Valley vintner.

Coursey said he had been on similar missions to Washington in December and March.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

“We need to make our voices heard and our faces known in Washington,” Coursey said.

“I honestly feel like we’ve been beating our heads against a brick wall, and on this trip, we started to see cracks in the wall,” he said. “We’re getting to know our way around and people are getting to know us. People are hearing what we have to say.”

Hansel, a Rebuild Northbay board member, also had an upbeat assessment of the trip.

“I’m feeling the federal government is absolutely there to assist our homeowners and those that were impacted by fires, and they’re looking to us to make an assessment of the needs,” he said.

Rebuild Northbay Foundation is a nonprofit founded last year amid the October wildfires to work with public and private sector leaders on recovery efforts in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake and Solano counties.

Darius Anderson, a Sonoma- based lobbyist and developer, founded the organization. Anderson is managing member of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat. He and Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, made the trip to Washington.

Jennifer Gray Thompson, executive director of the Rebuild Foundation, said the group’s purpose was to back local government requests for funding.

“To be clear, we were there for support of the city and county asks,” she said. “We do not set the agenda, we help with access to top decision-makers and lawmakers.”

Rebuild Northbay staff and board members made a similar trip to Washington in January, when they were lobbying the federal government to cover a greater share of fire debris removal costs. Federal officials ultimately agreed to pay 90 percent of the cleanup, up from the 75 percent originally planned.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or On Twitter @guykovner.

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