Fire Families Respond to McPherson Comments
Agenda item 38 of the Board of Supervisors (BOS) January 31, 2023 meeting, addressed an amendment of the County’s contract with 4Leaf, the Pleasanton, CA construction management firm which had been hired after the CZU fire to streamline and manage the permitting process for fire victims hoping to rebuild. The program for fire victims was called the Legacy Older Structures Program (LOSP) and was enacted three months after the fire. New action taken by the BOS widens the scope of LOSP to include victims of the recent storms. County staff reports those numbers include over 200 homes red and yellow tagged.
During the discussion, Supervisor Bruce McPherson homed in on the topic of the CZU fire requesting more information about the process which has been broadly condemned as a failure. “I’m just a little concerned about how it has gone and I just don’t know the answer and there won’t be a single answer, but I’d like to see some analysis to inform how we manage the storm rebuilding and what success looks like and what we should realistically expect,” McPherson said. Two and half years after the fire McPherson wondered if there was a way to collect and analyze data so that county leadership might have a better idea of why the process has been so challenging.
McPherson mistakenly told the Sentinel, “The county isn’t standing in the way, people just aren’t proceeding. If there’s a reason 4Leaf or the county is standing in the way, well then I want to know about it.” He went on to insist that the county’s fire recovery has been done “comparatively well” to neighboring regions in fire recovery mode.
McPherson’s comments raised reactions from families attempting to rebuild who counter his assertions that it must be something other than County obstruction. Fire survivor and community advocate Antonia Bradford curated letters from fire victims, building professionals, and community members who have witnessed first-hand the many reasons for the County’s failure to support the rebuilding process. Read those letters in full in Antonia’s column Open Letters to Bruce McPherson and County Leadership. See excerpts below.
Broken Promises from the Very Beginning
“When the county said they were going to help us, I believed them. I believed them when they told us they wouldn’t treat us like new builds. I believed them when they said they would remove the obstacles and create a fast track for us to get permits. None of it was true. The county has been our biggest obstacle BY FAR in our efforts to return home.” – Christopher Bradford
Why Many are Giving Up
“Once the “preclearance” was completed the County would not issue approvals on what had previously been cleared. Fire survivors are giving up every day, and sadly we are now seeing foreclosed lots. Some lot owners are filing bankruptcy to try to stay the course to rebuild and not lose their land.” – Chris Clayton
We Are Absolutely Delayed by the County
“It has been more than two and a half years since the CZU Fire took our home, but here we are still not able to apply for a building permit! The first major delay was commissioning the Atkins Study. That study took 8 months to complete and 2 months to review, causing a 10-month delay in pre-permitting. During that time, prices have gone up and professionals have become busy and unavailable.” – Ann Black
The County Does Not Want Us to Rebuild
“After losing our home and everything my family had in the CZU fire, dealing with the county has been a nightmare, specifically the geology department. We submitted at least 5 geology reports, all stating we can safely build, but they were denied over and over again. More and more testing was required until we finally got one approved, almost exactly 2 years after our house burnt to the ground. It took a year and a half, two separate geology firms, hiring a lawyer and $30,000 to finally get a report that would appease the county’s geologist.” – Tracy Walker
Of 911 Homes, Only 24 Have Been Rebuilt
“Please don’t for a moment think that these people who have lost their homes are doing anything other than struggling their best to rebuild. To publicly claim anything else it a disservice to their resilience and hard-fought efforts.” – Cassie Mass
Nothing but Obstacles from the County
“What happened to “being there for fire victims” and a “streamlined process?” Not to mention, “will not be treated as new builds”?! I had to wait months for the completion of the study only to be told what I already knew, which was that my home was not in any threat of a debris flow. This was months that went by where the cost of materials only went up. I had to go back and forth with our insurance company proving to them that it wasn’t us that was stalling the process. It was the county. Instead of being an adversary, it was all of our hopes that the county would be in our corner, looking for solutions and ways to support and rebuild the community, instead of standing in our way. You asked if the county or 4Leaf is standing in the way then you’d like to hear about it. I hope others come forward to tell you their stories because there are hundreds.” –
Fire Survivors Should NOT Have to Fight Every Step of the Way to Rebuild Their Homes
“Those who lost everything they had in a fire and then found the grit and determination to begin again should not have to fight every step of the way for simply rebuilding their homes. We should be gathered around them finding all the ways we can make it easier. We should be cheering them on. This community needs better representation, advocacy and our elected officials should be championing them home.” – Rebekah Uccellini-Kuby
McPherson’s Statement Incorrect, Places Blame on the Victims
“How can Supervisor McPherson claim he does not know of the ways in which the County and 4Leaf have impeded rebuilding efforts? He and the Board have been told time and again of the problems. I respectfully suggest that reviewing the recordings of past Board of Supervisors meetings and the related public comments submitted to the record would be a good place to start.” – Alison Breeze
County Has Been a Hindrance
“I’ve seen and heard firsthand how the county has promised one thing and pulled back when the time came. The county had absolutely been a hindrance. They are not focused on assisting people back home and instead ride with any excuse to deny progress. It’s been disheartening as a lifelong community member to witness.”- Gretchen McNelis
CZU Survivors Getting Home Should be Considered “Important Enough”
“Don’t tell me it’s not possible to bypass the bureaucracy, because it clearly is … when it’s important enough. Seems like CZU survivors getting to go home should be considered “important enough”.” – Dan Delong
The County HAS Stood in the Way
“You HAVE heard our concerns. You’ve heard our pleas for help. I’ve been in your office. I’ve been in the chamber during board meetings. I’ve sent emails. I’ve written articles. I have been in countless zoom meetings. The county HAS stood in the way. The county HAS forced many fire families into making a hard decision to walk away. We had to fight for a year to simply pass pre-clearance, and it almost broke me. One staff geologist demanded we do an advanced geo study that wasn’t even on our land that would have cost a fortune. If you want to know why people aren’t getting anywhere, the notorious planning department is the first place you should look.”
“Inspectors are downright rude and abusing their powers. Denying finals for shower curtains, showing up at job sites just to giddily tell contractors the project is going to fail inspection. There is a reason only 24 homes have been rebuilt, and it is not because we don’t want to. Supervisor McPherson, the roadblocks, delays, and adversarial nature of the departments on your watch have made it impossible for so many. Every time I see another fire family give up and leave after spending close to $100K to move forward, my heart breaks just a little more.” – Antonia Bradford
Photos by Christopher Bradford