On Nov. 16, about 500 people attended the Business Journal’s Impact Project: Rebuild event to hear about “restoring business and confidence in our North Bay” following October’s devastating fires.
Chris Coursey, the mayor of one of the cities most devastated by the fires, Santa Rosa, was unable to attend. He was asked to respond to questions about the city response to the fires.
At this point, what do you see as the most urgent priority?
CHRIS COURSEY: Today’s most urgent priority is removing debris and ash from nearly 3,000 lots in Santa Rosa. This is a step-by-step process, and cleanup must happen before rebuilding begins.
This is a huge job in itself, and so far it is going well. We got about 90 percent of property owners signed up for the government program being performed by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Where do you want the rebuilding process to be in 90 days?
COURSEY: In 90 days I expect the rebuilding process to be well underway, with at least some homes under construction. The Santa Rosa City Council has established what essentially is a “second” planning department to deal specifically with rebuilding, which will smooth and shorten the permit process to get construction underway faster, and speed the inspection process to help builders keep their work moving.
What are the next steps for the state, county, city?
COURSEY: We need to think beyond “just” rebuilding. Discussions are underway about how to help homeowners build “beyond code,” such as providing subsidies to pay for “net zero energy” homes now — even though state code won’t require that for a few more years. Sonoma Clean Power wants to help with that, and it will benefit not just the individual homeowner, but the entire community and — ultimately — the entire planet.
How is red tape being cut to expedite rebuilding?
COURSEY: In Santa Rosa, we adopted our “Resilient City” ordinance to issue building permits over the counter, without extensive review, to anyone wanting to rebuild within their home’s prior footprint.
Design review will be limited to a staff determination rather than requiring a public hearing. Second units will be allowed on the property so homeowners can live on site while rebuilding their homes.
And as noted earlier, a separate “Resilient City” planning department has been created to specifically deal with rebuild projects, ensuring that firestorm recovery doesn’t have to compete with the day-to-day planning needs of city government.
Tell us one story you remember that gives you hope for the rebuilding.
COURSEY: This goes a little beyond the rebuilding theme, but I think it’s important.
Since the fire, I have had numerous meetings with builders and developers who are interested in investing in Santa Rosa outside of the burn zones.
These are people who want to create multi-family housing projects in our downtown and transit-oriented neighborhoods. Santa Rosa has been working on creating more housing downtown for several years, but the fire has brought us the attention that is necessary to make that happen.
This is important because, while we need to rebuild the 3,000 homes lost in the fire, we also need to build thousands more units in Santa Rosa — senior housing, affordable housing, student housing.
This interest gives me hope that in five years, we won’t just be back to where we were in 2017; we will have actually made progress in our efforts to provide “Housing for All.”
More business coverage of the North Bay fires and recovery: nbbj.news/2017fires