Rebuild ramps up in Coffey Park

By: Robert Digitale
The Press Democrat | May 7, 2018

Travis LaPlante took photos as a towering green boom loomed over his Coffey Park property Friday and pumped a truckload of concrete into the forms marking the footprint of his new home.

Building the foundation for his Randon Way house involved nearly a dozen construction workers, many stepping into the still-mushy concrete while wearing rubber boots sealed at the top with a wrapping of red duct tape.

For LaPlante, the day marked an important milestone after losing his home last fall in a deadly wildfire.

“I think a lot of people have been waiting for this moment,” said LaPlante, whose family includes his wife, Stephanie, and young son Leo.

The concrete work was noteworthy for being part of a string of rebuilds recently started in the Santa Rosa neighborhood by a local builder. LaPlante’s foundation was one of 20 being poured by Synergy Group by Christopherson over a month’s time.

“This is far and away our priority for the next two years,” said Brian Flahavan, a partner in the Santa Rosa company.

Flahavan and partners Andy Christopherson and Greg Windisch said they are focusing on Coffey Park partly because it allows them to more quickly replace burned homes. Christopherson estimated that in the time it takes to rebuild one home in the hillside Fountaingrove neighborhood, Synergy can build six to eight homes in Coffey Park.

Seven months after the wildfires, Coffey Park is starting to look like a construction zone. The increase in building activity can be measured in projects under way, even as the number of permit applications keeps increasing at City Hall.

“Every day there’s more and more coming in,” said Steve Jensen, manager of Resilient City Permit Center, a rebuilding operation set up specifically to replace buildings destroyed in the fire zones. “We’re seeing more construction going on, more need for inspections.”

The October wildfires claimed four lives and destroyed 1,200 homes around Coffey Park, a compact collection of subdivisions that sprang up over the past three decades in the northwest part of the city. For the region, the fires killed 40 people and burned 6,000 homes.

In Coffey Park, construction workers began rebuilding the first home right before the New Year. By last week, 78 houses had started there, according to the city.

Builders had applied to rebuild 245 homes in the neighborhood. That amounts to nearly 80 percent of the 314 applications turned in for new homes in the city’s fire-struck neighborhoods.

Among builders, Gallaher Homes had submitted the most applications — 28 — followed by Synergy with 19, and 10 each for APM Homes, RHB Builders and Sonoma Pacific Homebuilders. All those builders are from Santa Rosa, except Sonoma Pacific in Rohnert Park. The companies typically have experience in building subdivisions and offer a series of floor plans for fire survivors to choose from.

Gallaher is focusing on Coffey Park and expects to start construction on about 75 homes there this year, a representative said in an email.

APM currently is working with 55 property owners, said President Aaron Matz. He suggested the builders could pull permits for 400 to 500 homes this year in Coffey Park.

“The momentum’s catching, isn’t it?” declared Matz.

Such numbers would help ease the anxiety for Jeff Okrepkie, chairman of the Coffey Strong neighborhood group,

“I’d feel a lot more confident,” Okrepkie said, “if we were talking 400 or 500 permits pulled within Coffey Park.”

His concern is that property owners could get started rebuilding so late they run out of temporary housing funds from their insurance companies — a benefit that typically ends two years after a fire, or by October 2019 for local fire survivors.

Nonetheless, Okrepkie applauded the building progress and said, “We’d like to continue to see that ramp up.”

Synergy’s partners predicted they’ll pour about 100 new foundations this year in the fire zones. Of those about 80 will be in Coffey Park — each one requiring six to seven truckloads of concrete.

Building 20 home foundations now means the company’s framing subcontractor later won’t run out of homes later on which to work.

“The framing contractors dictate the building schedules,” said Christopherson, whose parents, Keith and Brenda Christopherson, are longtime Sonoma County builders and operate their own construction company.

“If you don’t hold up the framer, that means you’re not holding up the plumber” and other subcontractors needed to complete a home.

Synergy’s typical new home for Coffey Park requires 27 separate companies providing everything from roofs to electrical wiring to kitchen cabinets. Of the various construction workers, the framers generally spend about six weeks on each house.

Flahavan said he personally spoke with more than 750 fire survivors interested in rebuilding their homes.

A large number initially thought they didn’t have the means to rebuild, he said. But after they looked at the insurance funds they were entitled to, many determined they could move forward.

Often, he said, “it’s not as bad as people think.”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or