“Whether (homeowners) stay or they go, they should never leave because we failed them.”
— Supervisor James Gore
Here’s one way we can stop failing them. Let’s end the armchair quarterbacking about how Fountaingrove and Coffey Park homeowners should be “allowed” to rebuild their homes and, in some cases, whether they should be allowed to rebuild at all.
It’s pointless, and it’s divisive.
Given the general antipathy over how Fountaingrove was built in the 1990s, it didn’t surprise me to hear the let’s-do-it-right-this-time chatter come out even while flames were still burning. But I’m surprised it has persisted this long.
“People are doing a nice job of representing the right of the rich, the powerful, the educated and highly paid Fountaingrove families to rebuild their now twice-burned homes (1964 and 2017),” a Santa Rosa resident said in a letter to the editor published Tuesday. “We are going to have to figure out, plan and put into place some new, safe and sane rules for rebuilding.”
So much for how “we’re all in this together.” Apparently membership is now income based.
I get it that people are unhappy with how Fountaingrove was developed in phases some 25 or more years ago. I remember the arguments well. People were understandably upset that ridge lines weren’t protected as they had been promised. Rules weren’t followed. It was frustrating.
That said, some folks need to separate their feelings about how Fountaingrove was developed and their feelings about those who call it home.
These are not lines on a developer’s blueprints that we are talking about. These are the ghostly outlines of what once were people’s houses and lives. For about three decades, people have celebrated family birthdays, weddings and holidays in those homes. They’ve played catch, learned to ride bikes and had block parties on those streets. Telling them how to rebuild is like telling them how they should be “allowed” to decorate their living rooms.
And, no, we do not “have to figure out, plan and put in place” new rules for them to follow. They have a right to build their houses the way they were and, most likely, the way their insurance company’s insist. And my guess is they don’t need to be reminded of the fire dangers.
I can’t imagine anything more frustrating for these residents, after all they have been through, than having people rubbing their hands in hopes of using this fire to correct some past planning mistake. This catastrophe is many things. But it is not an opportunity for a community do-over.
The same is true of the 1,300 homes lost in Coffey Park. Unlike Fountaingrove, few officials argue with the way that area was developed long ago. Nor did many anticipate that one day it would be destroyed by an urban wildfire.
But some still have strong ideas with how the residents there should rebuild. And much of it is coming from people from outside the area or who did not lose houses in these firestorms.
“For a city that has historically been slow to build workforce housing … Coffey Park poses an unheard-of opportunity,” noted a recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle. “It could be the ideal commuter village, if residents are willing to sell their single-home plots to developers of multi-unit buildings.”