There has been a lot of activity in our District this past year, but our shared fire stories of tragedy and loss are evolving into a focus on rebuilding. It takes all of us grit, patience to learn about insurance coverage, sharing information on builders, contractors and construction costs and above all, determination to rebuild. These are the stories of celebration for this new year.
I am inspired by everyone who has been able to get their rebuild plans permitted and moving forward in the construction process. In the First District in 2018, 22 bridges and 413 homes were either completed, in construction, permitted or under review. Though this is less than half of the homes lost in District 1, this is incredibly hopeful considering the myriad obstacles to rebuilding.
We also have 66 ADUs either completed or in the works. Some of these will provide roofs for fire survivors as they rebuild on their properties. Hopefully, after rebuilding, these units will be put on the long-term rental market to help alleviate a small part of the housing crisis.
For almost a year now, I have been meeting with a network of “Neighborhood Captains” from fire impacted communities throughout my district, including Cavedale and Trinity roads, Bennett Ridge, Glen Ellen, Kenwood, Rincon Valley, Calistoga Road, Mark West and Riebli and Wallace Roads. These meetings bring other benefits beyond just factual knowledge. As a fellow fire survivor, hearing from these representatives about their and their neighbors’ triumphs and struggles helps me personally work through my own issues with my rebuild.
I’d like to share some brief information about some of our Captains, as well as their own words to start 2019 on a positive note:
Our Treehaven Lane Captain, from Kenwood, reported that through the rebuilding process, there is more unity in the neighborhood than before the fires. She shared: “We have all lived here for many years, but really didn’t know each other very well until we were faced with this disastrous tragedy. Connecting with others who have gone through this helps us all as we grieve together for our losses and helps us to feel less alone. In many cases the general public does not understand our loss or the emotional upheaval we are in, so being with others in the same situation eases the pain.”
Out in the Foothills neighborhood, off Riebli and Wallace roads, over 100 homes were lost. More than half of the residents are committed to rebuilding, with several nearing completion on their homes, and many more in the construction process. Our Foothills Captain is rebuilding a home which was built by her in-laws in the 1970s. She shared: “Last week we got to see our first wall! It is a retaining wall for our basement. We hope to be in our new house this year, so we are welcoming 2019 with much anticipation for new beginnings. The process of building a home is stressful in and of itself, but when you layer that with grief, the trials of dealing with insurance, the effort required for the recovery of the neighborhood and community, and careers, it can be overwhelming at times. So it is good to celebrate the milestones.”
O’Donnell Lane in Glen Ellen has become a hub of activity in recent months. I had the opportunity to go visit the neighborhood, and lots of progress is being made. Our O’Donnell Lane Captain said: “After the long wait to get the lots cleared, geology surveyed, trees removed, and permits approved, O’Donnell Lane is alive with activity. Eleven homes are in various states of construction. Looking forward to a further rebirth in 2019!”
The Bennett Ridge neighborhood lost more than 70 percent of its homes in the wildfires. The neighborhood has come together to support recovery and resilience for the future. Today, dozens of new homes are under construction with several nearing completion in the next few months. Our Bennett Ridge Captain shared: “Neighbors have shown an amazing diversity of experience and professional skill through the long recovery process. We have an engineering contractor who’s lent his expertise, several neighbors with tech backgrounds have helped establish a very active neighborhood email list, as well as attorneys, retired firefighters, animal care specialists and design professionals -- all of whom are contributing to the rebuilding effort.”
In the Crystal Drive/Wilshire/Heights neighborhoods off Riebli and Wallace roads, our Captain and her in-laws are both rebuilding. She said: “My husband proposed to me on our Crystal Drive lot, we raised our two children in this house that he and his father built. We held many family gatherings from births to memorial services, and all holidays were celebrated at our home. My in-laws took on the daunting task of rebuilding with a vengeance. While they mourn the losses from a lifetime of traveling and collecting art pieces and know their home will never be the same, they are determined to rebuild.”
I’ll close with words from one Captain, who expressed what I’ve seen emerge as a common theme amongst fire survivors in my district and beyond: “Neighbors have made new and stronger connections since the fires. New friendships have blossomed and a spirit of giving and compassion has flourished.” May this spirit carry all of us through 2019.