Burnt chimneys, vehicles and appliances all pose their own set of health and safety risks.
Burnt chimneys, vehicles and appliances all pose their own set of health and safety risks and must be dealt with properly before the rebuilding process can begin.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Will CZU survivors get relief? Supervisors set to reevaluate geologic surveys for those trying to rebuild

Following the Aug. 10 board meeting, Supervisors Bruce McPherson and Ryan Coonerty directed the County Planning Department and the Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience to provide some options at the Sept. 14 meeting, which would allow CZU fire survivors to rebuild without having to mitigate potential geologic hazards that existed on their property before the fire. What will happen on Tuesday?

More than a year after the CZU fire destroyed the properties of 900-plus Santa Cruz County homeowners, the future of rebuilding is looking a little brighter.

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors will address further options and resolutions to allow CZU survivors to rebuild their homes without evaluating and mitigating potential geologic hazards that existed on the properties prior to the fire.

Led by Supervisors Bruce McPherson and Ryan Coonerty, the agenda item will outline more specific information on how the CZU Rebuild Directive will be implemented and streamlined for homeowners.

As McPherson said at the Aug. 10 meeting: “Many of our survivors are underinsured and already facing a difficult time — if we apply the code to the pre-fire conditions, we run the risk of making it that much harder, if not impossible, for some folks to rebuild their homes.”

McPherson added Friday via statement: “We have an opportunity on Tuesday to meaningfully help survivors rebuild by removing requirements to deal with both pre-fire conditions and post-fire debris-flow risk. The geological conditions that existed before the fire have been there for many years, often never documented or mitigated because most of these homes were built before our code was even adopted. And we know that the best mitigation for post-fire debris flow is evacuation.

“So, rather than make it more costly or impossible for our survivors to rebuild, we need to provide the swiftest relief possible before time and money run out. That’s what I hope to see.”

Via phone on Friday, Coonerty said that, while the process has been streamlined for approximately 300 families, the goal is to extend that to more survivors. While there are families who have been able to rebuild, others have dealt with issues surrounding geologic surveys, construction costs and insurance payments.

“People whose houses burned may be still standing next to people whose houses didn’t burn, and they should be OK with the same geologic footprint,” he said. “We’re aiming for a different approach to treat fire victims differently from a geologic assessment point of view than we do to new construction.”

Antonia Bradford, who lost her home in Boulder Creek and has become a San Lorenzo Valley community builder in the fire’s aftermath, believes Tuesday will be an important step for many CZU families like hers.

“Folks are very anxious to get to the meeting — we want people to use their voices and speak to how this has been affecting them,” she said.

Bradford noted that, following the Aug. 10 meeting, one CZU survivor said he was so dismayed and disappointed by how slowly the process of rebuilding had been that he would rather “burn in flames than go through this again.”

“This is how this is affecting people — there are real-life ramifications,” she said. “I think the planning department didn’t see their actions as anything less than being responsible, but I think they’ve seen they’ve been creating harm on top of harm.”

Come Tuesday, Coonerty hopes that CZU survivors can have further assistance as they continue the rebuilding process.

“We want to help everyone rebuild and get back home as soon as possible, and this is one piece of that,” Coonerty said. “It’s been a very difficult year for folks and we want to do everything within our power to make it easier.”