Conejo Valley Residents Attempt to Rebuild After Woolsey Fire
In November 2018, the Woolsey Fire destroyed 1,643 residences and commercial buildings in incorporated and unincorporated Los Angeles County and Ventura County. Conejo Valley residents who choose to rebuild are not only on the path to having a place called home but also to rebuilding their lives.
“Most projects go through planning, building and safety and we’re expediting that process (for the rebuild projects),” says Building and Safety Division Director for the Ventura County Resource Management Agency, Ruben Barrera. “We’re in a clearing house that verifies that the applicant has obtained the clearances. Once the permit is issued, construction can begin.”
More than one year later, the process is slow for those who want to rebuild, with more than 40 incorporated and unincorporated Los Angeles County residents being granted permits to rebuild, while about 20 were granted in Ventura County. As of Jan. 20, Barerra says two residents were given their certificate of occupancy. Only five were given in unincorporated Los Angeles County.[KW1]
“I’m hoping that they can rebuild soon and get their lives back to normality,” says Barerra. “We are here to help them through that process.”
We Will Rebuild
Tony Rodriquez and his family of Malibu Lake was sound asleep at 2 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2018, when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department informed them to evacuate their home. He had known the Woolsey Fire had started earlier the day before.
“I’ve lived in the canyon for 22 years, so I’m used to monitoring the fires,” says Rodriquez. “The Malibu Lake neighborhood has never burned since its inception. You have a plan but we were always back after evacuating.”
Rodriquez and his family evacuated at 7 a.m. to their cabin in Lake Arrowhead. They returned a couple days later to stay at the Residence Inn in Westlake Village, where it was confirmed through a neighbor that theirs was one of the 50 homes in Malibu Lake that was lost in the fire. Rodriquez’s home was a 1,900-square-foot house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a detached garage for an office.
“It’s an interesting feeling knowing everything that was here is gone,” says Rodriquez. “Our home was purchased on a hill with a view of the canyon and when you turned away from rubble, you still felt like you were home. We knew right then we were going to rebuild.”
Rodriquez immediately called a friend, who was a contractor and had just rebuilt three homes after the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa and asked him what the next steps were. The contractor connected him with a team of individual companies that performed debris removal, soil testing and architectural design.
“I wanted more living space and an open area where we could entertain better,” says Rodriquez. “I didn’t care about bigger bedrooms.”
Rodriquez then had to go through the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning to have the drawings approved, followed by an approval from the Building Safety Department.
“I always knew there was going to be a big stack of plans (at the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning) and just wanted to be on top of the stack,” says Rodriquez.
He is currently waiting for the Public Health Department to approve the new septic system with filtration tanks.
“A lot of communities in the canyons are on a septic system and not sewer,” says Rodriquez. “Typically, septic systems aren’t damaged, but need to be rebuilt to code standards.”
New foundation has also been poured along with new retaining walls. Rodriquez says the new design is a Napa farmhouse style with a metal roof and natural stone that will include three bedrooms, three bathrooms and about 120% more of the square footage than the previous home. The house also meets the fire code rating under the California Standards Building Code of 2020.
“I go by twice a week and sit in the natural setting with the vineyards and bring the dogs to have them run around,” says Rodriquez.
At the moment, Rodriquez is renting a home in Calabasas. He hopes to move back into the new home by July once the new septic tank is installed and throw a housewarming party for family and friends.
“They have supported us through this process; you don’t get by this on your own,” says Rodriquez.
Rodriquez believes acting fast and being persistent is what helped him through the rebuilding process. He says he heard about 80% of residents who lost their homes were underinsured, while 60% were uninsured so badly it would be hard to rebuild. November 2018 wildfire insurance losses were more than $12 billion, according to the California Department of Insurance.
“I’m ahead of the game, to get in within 20 months, that’s great,” says Rodriquez.
Home for the Holidays
When Lori and Tim Jackson lost their mobile home at Oak Forest Mobile Estates in Westlake Village, a church family offered to have the couple stay at their father’s furnished home in Thousand Oaks until their new place was rebuilt. The couple have lived in Oak Forest for six years.
“We had plenty of time to evacuate and didn’t think the fire would come that far and get to the house,” says Lori during the time they evacuated. “But you need to take it seriously. Your home might not be there when you return.”
On Oct. 2, 2019, their new mobile home was delivered for assembly and on Nov. 2, the couple moved in just in time for the holidays. This time, instead of the home being on stilts, it was manufactured.
“This one is on a permanent foundation and it makes a big difference with insurance or a home loan,” says Lori.
The design of the white mobile home is 2,000-square-feet with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, a wrap-around porch and 16 additional windows. The exterior siding is fire-resistant with cement, asphalt shingles on the roof and sprinklers inside, and the vents have smaller screen mesh. Tim also plans to add on a two-car garage.
“We had to trim the oak trees to get into this place because they had overgrown and (the mobile home) barely fit by a millimeter,” says Tim. “We had to get city approval and HOA approval (to trim the trees).”
For the Jackson’s, they are still getting adjusted to their new home.
“Even though we’re home, Tim and I still feel like we’re in an Airbnb because there’s nothing familiar about it,” says Lori. “It doesn’t feel like home the way you knew your home. All of those things you collect over the years that make it feel like home are now brand new.”
At Oak Forest, the Jacksons are currently the only residents moved in. Some neighbors had sold their land, moved away, are trying to make a decision about what to do next or are in the process of ordering their mobile homes.
Tim says neighbors they did not know before the Woolsey Fire have now turned into long, meaningful relationships.
“It’s been a total blessing moving back in,” says Tim. “We’ve met so many neighbors and we have great conversations because there’s a reason to stop and talk. We are going to have more housewarming parties as well.”
Home Destroyed: 9
Homes Damaged: 36
Building Permits Granted: Unknown
Home Destroyed: 9
Homes Damaged: 4
Building Permits Granted: 5
Unincorporated Los Angeles County
Homes Damaged/Destroyed: 397
Building Permits Filed: 88
Building Permits Granted: 38
Occupancy Certificates: 5
Homes Destroyed: 31
Homes Damaged: 14
Building Permits Granted: 4
Unincorporated Ventura County
Homes Destroyed: 107
Homes Damaged: 35
Building Permits Granted: 12
Building Permit Applications: 24
Occupancy Certificates: 2
Source: City of Agoura Hills, City of Calabasas, City of Thousand Oaks, Los Angeles Public Works Department, Ventura County Resource Management Agency