Vol. 11, No. 7 – Jan 3 – Jan 16, 2018 – Opinion/Editorial

• Even though the Thomas Fire was the largest in California history, it was nowhere near the most devastating in the terms of structures or lives lost. The Cedar fire took 15 lives and destroyed 2,820 structures. The Thomas fire claimed a little over 1,000 structures (perhaps 600 in Ventura) and two lives – one of which was caused by a vehicle accident. Of course, if you lost your house that is little consolation.

Now comes the extremely difficult part for the hundreds of people who lost their homes. Recovery for families will be a long and arduous process. In some cases it will be very difficult to rebuild some of the lost homes in their previous forms. Many of the older homes had non-conforming yards, and perhaps heights that are not allowed any longer.

New structures will need to adhere to existing zoning and building codes which are much more restrictive then when many of these homes were built. Geology and soil reports will be required in many cases that could result in very expensive foundation modifications.

Hopefully the City will take every step possible to expedite the planning and building department approvals so that folks can get on with putting their lives back together. The City Council has voted to declare a local emergency and approved an ordinance that suspends deadlines associated with “routine” land use, subdivision and zoning applications. That allows planning staff to focus on projects related to the disaster.

I have seen a few destroyed homes with ”lot for sale” signs up already. I would expect more of these as time goes on. The process of clearing the lot, dealing with insurance companies, having plans drawn-up, managing contractors and pulling permits could easily take two years or more and many people just won’t be prepared for this. Especially some of the older ones.

Hopefully, the outpouring of love and concern shown by Venturans will continue for a long time during these extremely difficult times. As you might know, I am a retired architect and contractor so if I can be of any help (no charge), please let me know.

Driving through the burned areas, it is amazing how quickly the city had EarthGuard sprayed on homes and hillsides. It actually looks a little spooky with all of them being green. The cost of this will be in the millions of dollars, which will certainly put a strain on our City budget. Not sure if Measure O money can be used for this.

I saw a lot of insurance company signs already posted on many lots. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Are they taking advantage of a bad situation to advertise their product or just showing that many people had fire insurance and will be taken care of?

It bothers me when the news media points out that very expensive homes (some even owned by movie stars) are in danger of burning as if this is a worse scenario than the less expensive properties. It is likely more of a hardship for the less affluent owners when compared to the Montecito properties, and many of those folks likely have second homes.

In addition, we now need to be concerned about rains coming. As much as we need the water, when they do come we hope that they will be light and spread out over longer periods of time.

• At the December 18 City Council meeting, the Council adopted an emergency ordinance banning the use of gas, electric, and battery powered leaf blowers in the City of Ventura (it includes homeowners and gardeners).

Public health officials have cautioned against the use of leaf blowers to clean up ash as they cause fallen ash to become airborne. This increases the risk of the ash being inhaled by both residents and animals.

I’m afraid the ordinance is mostly symbolic. Any person convicted of violating the ordinance would be guilty of a misdemeanor. The police department will not be able to deal with this. Perhaps code enforcement would be able to, but they don’t have enough staff to respond in a timely manner.

Some people are taking it upon themselves to tell gardeners to stop but many of them are not from Ventura (and probably wouldn’t know about the ordinance even if they were).

•The lack of water pressure at homes and especially in fire-hydrants is of great concern to us all. We all saw firefighters just standing watching homes burn to the ground because of lack of water. The Breeze will have future articles dealing with this serious problem. With fire comes electrical outages, which means pumps can’t work so there needs to be a backup system to ensure water pressure is not lost.

• I have mentioned this before, but it is very important. Fire victims may be targeted by scammers posing as contractors offering their services. If nothing else, never give money in advance to anyone offering services. The contractor’s law is very specific about this and only allows a small amount to be paid up front.

Crooked companies, officials warn, may use websites that appear legitimate with false endorsements from the Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Cal Fire.

Authorities urge fire victims to thoroughly vet contractors or other vendors they are considering to use in their attempts to rebuild. A contractor’s license status can be checked through the California Department of Consumer Affairs Contractors State License Board. More information can be found by visiting www.cslb.ca.gov. Another way to ensure the legitimacy of a contractor or vendor is to check the official listing of certified companies at www.venturacountyrecovers.org. And do remember that licensed companies can also be dishonest so get multiple quotes and verify references.

• Ventura County Treasurer/Tax Collector Steven Hintz said his office will waive all penalties and fees related to late property tax bills for homeowners affected by the fire. Homeowners can also get their future property tax bills reassessed to reflect the current values of destroyed or badly damaged homes.

Hopefully he was not motivated by the fact that he lost his home in the fire (kidding – sorry to hear Steve). Get more information at ventura.org/ttc/fire-disaster-2017.

• The Breeze is looking for people who are willing (if not too painful) to share their experiences as they rebuild their homes and lives. If you are interested, please let me know at publisher@venturabreeze.com.

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