Thomas Fire Recovery – 1 Year Later


by Jeffrey Lambert, AICP, Community Development Director, City of Ventura

It was only a year ago that a fast-moving brush fire started north of Santa Paula and was pushed by strong Santa Ana winds through the City of Ventura. The fire burned for more than a month and scorched more than 281,000 acres. The impact of the fire in the City of Ventura was severe, with 524 houses and 100 apartments destroyed citywide.

Even as the Thomas Fire blazed through the city, the City Council began approving measures to help fire victims. City staff was directed to create the Thomas Fire Rebuild Permit Office at City Hall dedicated to help property owners reconstruct destroyed homes and structures. The office, staffed by a combination of City staff and contract services, has provided personalized service and one-on-one meetings for more than 475 homeowners and their design professionals.

The rebuild effort is a two-step process: first a zoning compliance certification must be obtained from the Planning Division, and second, a building permit must be issued by Building and Safety Division. To date, 274 zoning clearances have been issued, 126 homes are in plan-check and 143 homes have received building permits and are currently, or soon to be under construction. In fact, 6 homeowners have nearly completed construction and expect to be in their rebuilt homes by Christmas. The first property owners to rebuild from the Thomas Fire are likely to receive a certificate of occupancy in December.

The Thomas Fire rebuilding process is a high priority and the City Council took several important steps to institute an expedited approach. The City Council adopted the following Thomas Fire Recovery Statement early-on to guide the process: The City strives to quickly rebuild our communities to be more sustainable, more fire resistant, and consistent with current building materials and designs. We will work together to build communities, seeking to ensure new homes respect neighbors and a wider community identity. We will balance the needs for individual home styles and preferences with this desire to create and enhance our existing community images. The City will ensure the communities rebuilding continue to be served with adequate infrastructure.

Rebuilding after the fire can be a big job and every victim’s experience is different. To that end, the City of Ventura is committed to expediting the review process and helping each property owner with their unique needs. We have collectively learned a lot through this process and have noticed similarities in the property owners that worked their way through the system quickly: This process requires diligence, constant communication and a strong team that homeowners can rely on; homeowners who successfully navigated their way through rebuilding engaged a team of design and construction professionals that they enjoy and trust. To get through the process quickly, property owners with permits, stayed active in the rebuild process, attended meetings with City staff, researched features of the rebuilt home the wanted, were knowledgeable about their insurance and what it would take to complete the rebuild of their homes. Neighbors also learned from each other and spent time strengthening connections with other neighbors and the community at-large.

The City of Ventura remains committed to complete the rebuild of our community.

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