Nearly 16 months ago a handful of people stood atop the three-story parking garage at Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Rosa hospital, awestruck as they witnessed flames from the Tubbs fire destroy their trailers at Journey’s End mobile home park.
They watched helplessly as propane tanks and firearms ammunition exploded throughout the 13-acre site while Kaiser medical staff, firefighters and law enforcement officials evacuated the adjacent hospital.
Not long after the 2017 fire subsided, Judy Coffey, Kaiser’s head of operations in Santa Rosa, took Kaiser’s top executive, Bernard Tyson, to that same spot to see the destruction — three-quarters of the 160 mobile homes incinerated. And two Journey’s End residents had died.
“He was devastated when he saw it,” Coffey said of Tyson, who used to work in Santa Rosa several years ago.
Before the devastating Tubbs fire, Journey’s End and Kaiser’s main Santa Rosa campus were neighbors, divided by a fence, evergreen trees and a creek. Now, those who control both sites are hoping to forge closer ties.
Earlier this month, Kaiser said it was donating $1.6 million to help kick-start the development of an affordable apartment community on the burned property. The money, a portion of more than $8 million Kaiser has thus far donated to local fire recovery, was given to nonprofit developer Burbank Housing. The nonprofit now has control of the Journey’s End property.
The donation is expected to advance an ambitious plan for a multi-story housing complex with 160 apartments that would replace mobile homes lost in the fire and the 44 homes that did not burn but were declared uninhabitable because of the blaze. Those homes will be razed or relocated to make way for the apartments.
Larry Florin, CEO of Burbank Housing, said the nonprofit housing developer has a memorandum of understanding with the family that owns the Journey’s End property and an option to lease it for 99 years.
Burbank officials now are in talks with the 44 mobile residents over how much they will be compensated for their property losses in the fire, he said. Many of them did not receive any insurance reimbursement or FEMA grants and most were either seniors or low-income residents.
Florin said Journey’s End residents will be given priority to rent in the new housing development. But such a project, which is only in the conceptual stage, could take several years before it’s completed. The most optimistic timetable and estimated cost for completion of the apartment project is roughly five years and $85 million, Burbank officials said.
That could be too long a wait for some Journey’s End residents.
Theresa Udall, 84, said she and other former residents do not have the luxury to wait for Burbank to build apartments. “Very few of them from Journey’s end will be alive by the time the apartments are built,” she said.
Udall, a retired nurse and hospital chaplain, said her mobile home on Sahara Street is among those still standing. She is now living in a granny unit next to a Bennett Valley Road home her daughter is renting.
She said she wished she and others whose homes were not destroyed would be allowed to hook up to city water and sewage and return to their homes, at least temporarily.