Financial aid and legislative help are speeding the North State’s recovery from the worst wildfire in modern history, but as the region’s top elected leaders heard at a town hall Monday in Chico, much more is needed.
Genuine cheers briefly echoed through the Chico Elks Lodge as political leaders rattled off progress on some long-held, big-ticket priorities that may become reality: wastewater treatment for a town known for overburdened septic tanks; regulatory leeway for a stand-alone emergency room; widening Skyway across the reservoir; eliminating an evacuation hampering bottleneck; Sacramento making up lost property taxes for multiple years. After a slow start, even the dreaded debris removal is a month ahead of schedule.
But away from the big picture, residents and fire survivors still face obstacles.
Insurance is the biggie. After paying out unprecedented claims, insurers are cutting their losses. Renewals aren’t offered and when they are, homeowners complain of sticker shock.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa, a Republican representing the area, said the issue can’t be papered over.
“It’s going to be a big issue, we have many, many mountain communities here in Northern California and around the west, they are going to have to take a very sober assessment of what’s going to make their communities safe,” LaMalfa said. “Insurance people, they write insurance based on, directly on risk. I don’t know, they’ve probably been underwriting, or under, underestimating the risk. They saw Paradise and now they are pretty freaked out.”
LaMalfa said homeowners will likely pay more, sharing their concern.
“As one of my colleagues said, rates may well have to go up somewhat, but we don’t want them skyrocketing through the roof because they aren’t affordable,” he said. “People trying to rebuild their homes have to be able to attain insurance, just to do the construction and get the permits and all that.”
Hazardous trees are another large obstacle that remains. Concerns ranged from the high cost to remove trees to who will foot the bill to questions about how neighboring trees could delay—if not prevent—reconstruction.