Close to Home: To rebuild or not — that is the question

Human Rights Commissioner Larry Carlin


It’s been more than two months since the fire, and my heart is still breaking. My younger grandson, who turned 7 a few weeks ago, is pleading with his mother to stay here with us. The tears are falling. He is petrified. He gets the same way when he hears a siren still.

His Hidden Valley school burned down. He also lost his home — as did we. My therapist has told me the number of kids he sees since the fire has quadrupled.

My daughter and son-in-law are packing up from the house we are sharing in Sebastopol to move to a very nice apartment in Santa Rosa. My wife, older daughter and I have been sharing the house with them. We will soon be joining them in the same complex — in a new three-bedroom, two-bath home.

For my wife and me, the whole story is should we rebuild or not?

Before moving to Santa Rosa almost 20 years ago, we lived in Malibu for 26 years. And survived six (count ’em) evacuations. Malibu is all about fires. Sonoma County? Not so much. At least we thought.

Six weeks after we moved here, we berated ourselves for not making the move years earlier. We love it here. We fell in love after the first fall with those trees with brilliant red, yellow and orange leaves. Not much of a fall at the beach.

My life is built around local social action and human rights issues, and my wife is a long-time employee of the Sonoma County Library system, Coddingtown branch. We have wonderful friends and neighbors and a congregation that provided weeks of meals and many other things we lost in the fire. When you lose pretty much everything as we and our daughter and her family did, everything is a gift.

There is no question that we will stay in Sonoma County. Currently, we have joined many of our neighbors in beginning the process of rebuilding. They are finishing the debris removal right now, debris from 49 homes around the corner from the late, lamented Sweet T’s restaurant.

Many of these people will rebuild. Some have decided against. It will likely take two or more years to rebuild. This is a difficult question for those of us of a certain age. Friends ask. “Why would you rebuild in an area that will likely continue to be a fire hazard?”

History does repeat itself. Indeed. Nevertheless, we have met with the architect who originally designed our house. A decision awaits.

Meanwhile, not a day goes by that I don’t recall something else lost in the fire: my wife’s English porcelain collectibles, my vinyl record player and all the vinyl and CDs, my wife’s extensive collection of cook books, the paper weight with a piece of an original film strip from “Citizen Kane,” and my collection of film books and original posters (“Casablanca,” “Psycho,” “Gone With the Wind,” etc.).

But most important of all, our two families survived including two dogs and two cats (we did lose three cats). Not everyone was so lucky, however.

Going forward, our family history will forever be measured and remembered in the context of two things: “Before the Fire” (BTF) and “After the Fire” (ATF). Whether rebuilding is part of our ATF life is still unknown. But what is certain is that Santa Rosa will be our home. We are here to stay.

Larry Carlin is a Santa Rosa resident who lost his Hidden Valley home in the October fires. He was living temporarily in Sebastopol along with his daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons who also lost their homes.