Help California wildfire survivors

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Dear wildfire survivors and their supporters,

On October 8-9, 2017, my daughter and son-in-law, our twin grandchildren and my husband and I, three generations of our family, lost our homes and all we had to the devastating Tubbs wildfire. Thousands of other families in Sonoma, Mendocino, and Napa counties also lost everything they had that night. Some lost their lives. Today many of our friends and neighbors face another threat to their security and well-being. One that has been created by the very entities that they paid to help them, their insurance companies. We need your help by signing this petition now, before it’s too late. 

At the time the disaster struck our communities, California law required insurers to provide a minimum of  24 months “Additional Living Expenses” (ALE) to help pay for temporary housing and other expenses. A similar 24 month deadline was placed on the recovery of the full amount they were entitled to for the replacement of their houses known as Extended Replacement Costs. The insurance code also requires that insurers grant disaster survivors at least 6 month extensions for “good cause.”

A 24-month minimum timeline for rebuilding a home destroyed by a disaster sounds generous, right? After all, the average time to build a home in Sonoma County prior to the fires was 6-12 months. 

The unprecedented fires in 2017 and 2018 changed the timeline dramatically. 5,300 structures were incinerated in our immediate area, most of them homes. Almost two years later, we personally have yet to complete our rebuild and are surrounded by the empty properties of our neighbors who are just beginning the process. Our daughter and her family have begun another new school year living in a fifth-wheel trailer. Throughout the disaster area, thousands of people have yet to begin rebuilding their lives. 

California State legislators, recognizing the challenges faced by wildfire survivors, recently passed SB 894 and AB 1772, providing relief via extensions to Additional Living Expenses and Full Replacement Cost coverages from the required minimum of 24 months to 36 months. This legislation was clearly a result of the fires in 2017-18 but was not made retroactive. Our state insurance commissioner has formally requested that the insurance companies apply these extensions to the survivors of our wildfires. It is clear that the delays outlined below constitute “good cause.”

Some insurance companies such as AAA and Farmers have done what was asked and voluntarily extended these deadlines for their clients. 

State Farm and other companies have not. 

We are calling on all insurance companies to do right by their customers, abiding by the “good cause” part of the insurance code that was in place at the time of the fires, honoring the motivation behind SB 894 and AB 1772 and the request of our insurance commissioner. 

By signing our petition, you will support our efforts to convince all insurers to extend the Additional Living Expenses and Full Replacement Costs to 36 months or longer, for survivors of the 2017-18 fires, too. The survivors of the fires in Southern California and Shasta county will soon be facing the same deadlines. All the wildfire survivors  desperately need the insurance companies to do the right thing. 

Thank you, 

The Wildfire Survivors of Sonoma County, Supervisor District 4 on behalf of all California Wildfire Survivors. 

Here are some of the reasons why many fire survivors still don’t have a home two years later:

  •  With over 5000 structures destroyed in our area alone and thousands more throughout the state in 2017 and 2018 the building industry was overwhelmed. General contractors were unable to find enough skilled labor much less offer to bid a project.  Geotechnical, structural and civil engineers, architects and designers were slammed with requests; we waited months for reports needed to even procure building permits.
  • Temporary housing was nearly impossible to find with thousands of families at once looking for the limited vacancies. Many survivors were forced to rent outside the area often hours away from their former homes and their children’s schools further complicating the rebuilding process. 
  • Some insurers contributed to the delays, taking months to issue checks or send adjusters. 
  • Access to properties were compromised. Our only access to our properties, a 65’ wooden bridge, burned in the fire. Power poles and trees were down throughout the fire areas. Culverts burned causing roads to collapse. Others were faced with poisoned water or private water systems that were destroyed. 
  • The largest debris removal in FEMA history advanced quickly in some of the more densely populated areas, but rural land often took four to six months to clear. 
  • Required assessments of septic systems were delayed because of a limited number of professionals able to do the evaluations. Sewer hookup decisions by the county took months to resolve.
  • Fire survivors whose properties were in the Alquist-Priolo zone for seismic hazards could not even start the building permit process until the county provided a solution, 14 months later.
  • If the rebuilding began, concrete companies couldn’t always provide materials. Truss companies were unable to provide bids, let alone services. Materials like a special reflective roofing board required for new codes were in short supply. Utilities delayed gas and electricity connections because of the volume of services needed. 
  • Torrential rains last winter exacerbated the problems delaying site preparation and slowing the building process. Many homes that started rebuilds during the rains now require delays for extensive rehabilitation to mitigate mildew and mold in the floor joists and underfloor insulation. 
  • Some fire survivors fell prey to unscrupulous or over-eager builders who promised low costs only to leave without finishing the houses. Survivors were left with half-finished structures, hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hole, and still no home.