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Butte County explores payment plans for rebuilding fire survivors

Trailer in Berry Creek, Calif. on Sept. 18, 2023.
Jamie Jiang
Trailer in Berry Creek, Calif. on Sept. 18, 2023.

Fire survivors in Butte County could soon have an easier time paying building permit expenses.

That’s due to a new payment plan system the county is creating that could be in place as soon as January.

The plan would allow residents to start building and pay off permit costs along the way.

The county’s Department of Development Services began exploring the idea after Berry Creek residents — who were burned out by the 2020 Bear Fire, later known as the North Complex packed an October Butte County Board of Supervisors meeting asking for an extension of an RV ordinance in the burn scar initially set to expire in December.

During public comment, Berry Creek resident Jennifer Phillips introduced the idea of a payment plan, as many residents said having to pay for building permits up front was a major hurdle to rebuilding.

Phillips responded to the news that the county was moving her idea forward with excitement and surprise.

Though she would not be eligible to take part in the proposed plan since her family moved to Berry Creek after the fire, Phillips said a payment plan for her neighbors would be a further benefit to the recently extended camping ordinance.

“That would give people the opportunity to get their permit paperwork done before the deadline,” Phillips said.

Building permits can cost anywhere from $2000 to upward of $10,000, creating a barrier for fire survivors to begin the rebuilding process.

Curtis Johnson, the assistant director of Butte County’s Department of Development Services, said implementing an idea like this one is unprecedented and yet his department is committed to finding ways to roll out a payment plan to help fire survivors.

“That’s something we are putting a lot of effort into,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t happen overnight but we’re gonna make sure to make the time and address it.”

He said Bear Fire survivors haven’t seen the same support as other burn scars in the county.

“There have been a lot of resources out there for Camp Fire survivors over the years, starting almost immediately,” Johnson said. “There have not been many resources out there for Bear Fire survivors and even as much for Camp Fire survivors in outlying areas.”

Although it was Bear Fire survivors who proposed the idea of paying for permits in installments, the expected plan would also be available for other county fire survivors.

“The further you get away from Paradise, the slower the recovery has been,” Johnson said. “So we’re really trying to focus on those demographics and those geographical areas to find out what we can do to help.”

One obstacle to implementing a payment plan, Johnson said, is the current software in place for permitting.

“Our current processes are set up in such a way that it doesn’t allow permits to move forward if there are outstanding fees,” he said. “But that is something we are finding a way to work around.”

Johnson said Development Services will have to work with other departments to find ways to allow a payment installment system.

Ultimately, Butte County supervisors likely would need to approve a payment plan.

Erik began his role as NSPR's Butte County government reporter in September of 2023 as part of UC Berkeley's California Local News Fellowship. He received his bachelor's degree in Journalism from Cal State LA earlier that year.