Rebuilding Sonoma County: Wikiup rebuild off to slow start after bridge woes
Like nearly every other person who owns property on Wikiup Bridge Way, Janet Leisen’s rebuilding costs extend far beyond her home that was destroyed by the Tubbs fire nearly one year ago.
Earlier this year, she had to help pay to replace the privately-owned bridge connecting her neighborhood to Mark West Springs Road. The total price tag for the project was more than $317,000.
Next, she will likely have to contribute for a new retaining wall in a landslide area. That replacement cost is currently estimated at between $144,000 and $175,000, Leisen said.
Eventually, Leisen thinks most of those who own property on the private Wikiup Bridge Way will also collectively pay at least $300,000 to replace culverts and repave the road.
“I didn’t sign up for this,” she said, somewhat lightheartedly. “These extra expenses and extra stresses aren’t helpful. There are days that I wish I was in Coffey Park, where all I was dealing with was the rebuild.”
Last year, before the fires, 27 homes stood along Wikiup Bridge Way, by Leisen’s count, including two south of the bridge between it and Mark West Springs Road.
Now, with the disaster’s first anniversary fast approaching, just three homes — including one on the other side of the bridge — are under construction, county figures show.
Leisen, who lost both the home she and her husband lived in and a neighboring rental, accounts for one of them. Her daughter and son-in-law account for another.
Wikiup Bridge Way was among the last Sonoma County neighborhoods to have its debris fully cleared this spring. Subcontractors had difficulty figuring out how to get their equipment in and out of the area due to the loss of the old bridge, which was replaced about six months ago with a new concrete and steel structure.
The cleanup delay postponed the rebuild for property owners on the rural private street. Recently, Leisen has been able to make significant progress on reconstructing the rental, where she plans to live first before moving into the main house.
Walls are up on the first house, and Lesien expects the structure to be fully enclosed in November, with completion targeted for sometime in March.
“It’s all the peripheral stuff that just compounds the stress of trying to deal with what is already kind of traumatic,” Leisen said.
Still, she said, “we’re getting there.”
Geologic studies bar the way
Some Wikiup area property owners faced another expensive complication they only recently overcame with help from the Board of Supervisors.
County officials told owners of 56 fire-ravaged properties earlier this year they had to complete geologic studies before rebuilding due to their proximity to the Rodgers Creek Fault. The studies cost about $15,000 each, according to county estimates, although some fire survivors said they were quoted much higher figures.
“It more than doubled our engineering costs, just to put it in perspective,” said Fernando Mora, a Wikiup Bridge Way property owner whose rebuild came to a standstill because of the earthquake study requirement.
The county’s requirement had its roots in a 1972 state law called the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act, which was designed to prevent new construction on top of active faults. While the state exempted single-family homes from the geologic study requirement, Sonoma County supervisors decided to lift that exemption as part of an update to the county’s general plan in 1989. County officials wrote the change into their zoning rules in 1993.