Larkfield Estates add municipal-style sewer system after North Bay fires
Those passing by Larkfield Estates could mistake it for part of Santa Rosa.
The cluster of streets, home to 166 single-family residences before the subdivision was leveled by the Tubbs fire, sits at the southeast corner of Mark West Springs Road and Old Redwood Highway. Cardinal Newman High School is down the road to the south, and Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital sits to the west, beyond a shopping center that lines the intersection.
This developed piece of Sonoma County is just that — part of the unincorporated county, beyond city limits. And it was built originally like a rural development: with homes relying on septic systems instead of sewers.
That’s set to change starting next year, when work begins on a municipal-style sewer system proponents say will provide peace of mind for homeowners, ease environmental concerns, open up parcels to further development and potentially increase property values.
It started in March 2018, with a neighborhood meeting. A group wanted a sewer system for the rebuilding neighborhood. At an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 per home, the price sent some neighbors running. Others posted signs: “My yard, my choice.” No way were they going to be bullied into buying into a city-style sewer system when their septic system and accompanying leech fields would do just fine. Since bids were opened this past week, the cost estimates have dropped to $42,000 per home.
“Of all the issues we’ve faced as a community, this issue was potentially the biggest dividing issue,” said Doug Koski, a neighbor who moved back into his house in March. “There’s still a little bit of a ripple. Guys that do a half wave instead of a hearty handshake.”
Part of the cause for improved relations: the program is voluntary.
To date, just 25 homeowners have signed on, and another 60 have given “soft commitments,” said Mike Thompson, assistant general manager for Sonoma Water, the county agency. Those who don’t agree to hook up will just continue to use a septic system. If the property at any point in the future does hook up to the sewer, it will pay the costs to hook in.
Sonoma Water is offering participating residents a low-interest loan program to cover the costs. The loans come in the form of liens that are paid off on homeowners’ property taxes, meaning any attempt to refinance a mortgage or sell a home would first require a homeowner to pay off the sewer costs, Larkfield Estates resident and mortgage loan advisor Westin Miller said.
“It’s limiting our options from a financing perspective,” he said.
But Miller will likely still sign on. Homeowners have until Oct. 8 to do so.
It’s the next step for neighbors in this small sliver of the larger Mark West-Larkfield area, where 1,729 homes were destroyed by the Tubbs fire in 2017. To date, 77 homes have been rebuilt, averaging about one completed home every two days since August. Another 274 are under construction, and construction is pending on 59 more.
For those already committed to rebuilding with sewer, like Gena Jacobs, the program requires some creative plumbing. Today, Jacobs’ house is hooked into a septic system in the backyard. By this time next year, it will be hooked into the sewer in the front yard.