How Santa Rosa, Calif., Is Rebuilding A Year After The Destructive Tubbs Fire
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The people whose lives have been devastated by the Camp and Woolsey fires will eventually begin rebuilding. It's something many other Californians have been doing over the past year. In October 2017, the Tubbs Fire killed 22 people and destroyed thousands of homes in Sonoma and Napa counties.
David Guhin is assistant city manager of Santa Rosa. It was in the path of the Tubbs Fire. We spoke to him earlier today about the rebuilding process there and the painful deja vu he feels seeing images of the current fires.
DAVID GUHIN: It definitely brings back a lot of memories. And I think that that's the case for a lot of residents of Santa Rosa. And we are on a regular basis reaching out, trying to help share what we've learned, what we went through, lessons learned.
CORNISH: Can you give us a sense of what's going on with the rebuilding process? What are some of the challenges there?
GUHIN: Yeah, the challenges are interesting. They've evolved over time from Day 1. And what we're seeing right now is a bottleneck essentially of concrete. So typically concrete can only stay in a truck for about 45 minutes before it hardens up. So as you can imagine, as this number of homes are trying to be rebuilt as quickly as possible, we have an enormous demand on concrete for foundations, for driveways.
And the demand is so high that we're having to look at changing our noise ordinance - people wanting to pour concrete at 4 a.m. just to get projects done and move projects forward. So we have to find this balance between the quality of life for people that are still living in the neighborhoods but also the people that want to rebuild their home very quickly.
CORNISH: When you talk about the kind of construction required on this scale, what were the kinds of things that the city had to do or change in order to get things moving?
GUHIN: Yeah, the first thing we did was set up a separate permit center just for people that needed to rebuild - so a dedicated place to help them through that process. And then the city put into place policies, and policies meaning moving plans through the process quickly. So a typical permit would take about six to eight months to get through a process for a house. We were turning first plans around in five days. The other thing we did was reduce costs and fees to submit permits knowing that they had a lot of costs that were piling up on them with - in terms of replacing all their belongings.
CORNISH: Now, given that one of the communities in Santa Rosa, Fountaingrove, had burned down twice over the last 50 years, what conversation has the city had about saying, look; people should not rebuild in a place that's susceptible to fires?
GUHIN: Yeah, I think where we live, in most places, natural disasters are common. And so what we try to do is develop zoning and rules to mitigate those impacts. So what's different is when homes are built before these fire codes went into place. And so all the new homes are coming back much more resilient - the protections, the mitigations, the setbacks. Fire sprinklers are required in all homes at this point. So...
CORNISH: So the homes are built to better withstand a crisis. There's no sense that they shouldn't be in the path at all.
GUHIN: Right. I think, you know, this was an unprecedented event. I think when we're starting to see more and more of these obviously there's this bigger discussion about what's happening with the climate in general. And as a city, we're going to be taking a look at our citywide general plan, which is the base document for how a city develops. We're starting that next year. And we'll be looking at what zoning needs to be in place to help protect our citizens.
CORNISH: More than a year later, how many people are back?
GUHIN: We're in the process right now of rebuilding 1,300 homes. Of that, 61 are complete, and people have moved back home. But what that also says is we have just over half, about 1,500 others, that have not started the process of rebuilding.
CORNISH: Have you encountered anyone who said, look; I'm not coming back?
GUHIN: Yes. Many people have determined that this is a lot to take on. And so they've decided to either move on. And that could mean a couple things - one, move out of the area. But we are seeing a lot of people buying homes in other parts of Santa Rosa and just staying in the community.
CORNISH: David Guhin is assistant city manager of Santa Rosa. Thank you for speaking with us.
GUHIN: Thank you for having me.
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