Rebuilding Housing Post-Disaster
Lois Takahashi moderates a panel of public and private stakeholders on the roadblocks and success stories of rebuilding housing after fire in California, including Dave Sanson (DeNova Homes), Geoffrey Ross (California Department of Housing and Community Development) and Dan Dunmoyer (California Building Industry Association).
As California currently has a housing crisis due in part to the difficulties of constructing new and large-scale housing in the state, the panel concludes that rebuilding communities impacted by natural disaster remains a challenging process. Sanson points out that though most communities lack the resources to act quickly in rebuilding that requires federal support, a lack of unity via local control and NIMBYism also can hamper rebuilding efforts. Ross acknowledges that the federal system is not yet attuned to the unique needs of responding to fire, having focused for some time on flood, tornado, or hurricane relief. Though the question “should we rebuild” in fire-affected areas deserves examining, Dunmoyer identifies that homebuilding is not immune to natural disaster anywhere in California or even the US and emphasizes safe and smart building as a responsible solution.
- Thanks so much for being here. We have a great program today on Rebuilding California in the Aftermath of Natural Disasters. And my wonderful colleague, Lois Takahashi, who is the Flournoy professor of government here at the USC Price School, and runs the USC Sacramento Center, will be our interlocutor today for a great panel. And so with no further ado, Lois, please take it away.
- Thank you so much, Richard. And thank you for everyone for being here today, and welcome to this Lusk Perspective sessions on home building after disasters. As Richard Green just mentioned, we'll be talking through with our very astute and insightful panelists about, not only what they've experienced, but possible pathways forward. I have to say personally, I've been thinking a lot this week about tragedy, devastation and possible ways to recover. So I'm really happy that we're having this conversation today. So for today's session, I'll be asking the panelists questions for about 40 minutes. And we'll have our conversation, and then we'll turn to audiences' questions. So please post your questions at any time during the session in the Q and A box, and we'll get to as many of your questions as we can. So we are so fortunate to have our three panelists today, who again will share with us their experiences concerning home building after disasters with a focus on wildfires. Their full bios will be included on the Lusk Center webpage, but let me first briefly introduce them. So Dave Sanson is co-founder and CEO of DeNova Homes. Dave has over 30 years of experience in land acquisition, planning, finance, operations, and vertical construction. In 2014, he was inducted into the California Homebuilding Foundation Hall of Fame. Dave has recent experience in trying to rebuild housing in Santa Rosa after the Tubbs Fire in 2017, and we'll be hearing more about that in a moment. Geoffrey Ross is deputy director for financial assistance and federal programs for the California State Office of Housing, excuse me, and Community Development, where he is responsible for all federal funds related to housing, including post disaster. He's also a proud alumni of USC Price. And finally, Dan Dunmoyer, a CEO of the California Building Industry Association, which is the premier advocate for California's Homebuilders, and located in Sacramento. Among his notable positions, Dan served as deputy chief of staff and cabinet secretary for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger from 2006 to 2008. And he's also a proud alumni of USC Price. And I was just thinking this morning, Dave, that we may have to recruit you into one of our degree programs, so we can have a complete USC Price alumni panel here. I'd like to start though with Dave Sanson. As someone who builds hundreds of homes, after the Tubbs Fire 2017, which severely affected Santa Rosa, I know you tried really hard to help rebuild those communities, but you ran into many obstacles. Can you share with us a bit about that experience?
- You bet, Lois and Richard, thank you very much for having me here today. I really appreciate the opportunity to share my experiences, and collaborate with Jeff. And obviously Dan and I have a long working relationship together. Dan and I worked together at the CBIA in Sacramento representing our industry for housing throughout the State of California. And as you indicated, I do build a few homes every year. And we do approximately a thousand units a year. And so, because of that, between housing and lot sales that we do, when the disaster occurred, a couple of the local assembly men and senators reached out to me. We do build in Northern California as well as Southern California, have subdivisions in Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, Napa and such, which there's very few builders up there. And so, they reached out to me, and we dropped everything to try to help. That's kind of the nature of our company, and what my wife and I like to do. We've been together for a long time building homes and trying to help the communities in which we develop. Our efforts were really such that we were even willing to set aside some other projects, because we didn't have the ability in light of the tragedy to take on more obligation. We were gonna set aside some of our other projects in the Bay area to literally go to Santa Rosa to help with the rebuild effort. I've actually lived through several of those fires myself, being a Napa resident. And having our entire ranch and some of our outbuildings burned down. So I was very sympathetic to the process. And frankly, I've dealt a lot with tornadoes, growing up in the Midwest, and flooding, and seeing the amazing action that that FEMA can do. But a local jurisdiction, like Sonoma County, or even the state of California, just doesn't have the resources needed to immediately step in with a major tragedy like this. And partly because it's new. Other than the Oakland Fire that we had almost 30 years ago, which I helped to rebuild that early in my career, which was very challenging, very difficult, one house at a time. When Santa Rosa burned, there were school teachers, and doctors, and policemen, and just really community citizens that needed our help quickly. There was no alternative housing. They were gonna have to leave the area, or a lot of the services and businesses were gonna really suffer. And so, the elected officials did everything they could to round up folks like our company to help. What ended up happening really, was a can of worms. Because we just hadn't been experienced in all this. And when we jumped in there with the city who was very cooperative, and the county, and all the other agencies. Every time we asked a question, more roadblocks came up, whether it had to do the environmental issues, rebuilding the underground and infrastructure that melted and got destroyed, that nobody anticipated, the above ground infrastructure with electricity, and all those sorts of things. And who was gonna rebuild the roads? If the roads were substandard by today's standards but built 50 years ago, did we have to widen the roads? The list just kept going on and on. And to get these homes going on short order and in a mass production standpoint and not doing it one home at a time as ultimately ended up happening, really became the issue for our company, which disallowed us from being able to help, even though the government agencies that were local wanted it to happen. I think we've come a long way since the Tubbs Fire, I personally witnessed the Paradise Fire as well. And FEMA really stepped in in a big way to do some of the initial hazardous clean up almost immediately. My own neighborhood, Napa, which burned last year, we were the only surviving home out of 100 homes within our community. And part of that was, I had worked with one of the state senators, Bill Dodd, who worked on some fire legislation. And so, we decided on our property to test all the things that he wanted to try to put into this to help Californians keep insurance companies in California. And again, I'm very proud and also sad to say, I am the only one out of 100 homes that survived, because we followed those guidelines that we recently put into place, but didn't previously have. And that's what we need to keep light up. We can't stop building homes in California whether they have urban interface, because there is no place else to build homes. We just need to be smarter and better about it. And we need to collaborate with the federal government, the state government, and local governments to keep that going. But doing a large scale renovation of a project like that on a production basis is extremely prohibitive because of all those things. And then secondarily, it was the insurance. It was, every homeowner was insured by a different insurance company. So we couldn't go deal with one insurance carrier and say, "We wanna rebuild 100 homes for all these people." And every one of them have a different process, different step. And so even as we got through the building process with all the engineering and public works and such, then we had to go through bureaucratic layer of process with the homeowners. And they got so frustrated after several months, they just moved away. And now we're back to that piecemeal development. So, that's kind of a snapshot. I'm happy to elaborate any more, Lois, but go no, I've gone too far.
- Thank you, Dave. And actually there's a lot to unpack there, but Geoffrey Ross was actually in the same vicinity during the Tubbs Fire, working in Sonoma County as executive director of the community's Community Development Commission. Jeff, we've heard a lot from Dave about what happened there at Tubbs and at post in the recovery period, home building, all the kinds of different issues that he ran into. From your perspective as someone at the county level now at the state level, what do you think worked well? What have you learned from all that? And how do you think things are changing to accommodate these sorts of, or to learn from these obstacles?
- Right, and I appreciate that. And thanks for letting me join today. And Dave, your experience is unfortunately with so many folks that you have had to deal with up and down the state, dealing with fires. I think one of the key things that I wanna emphasize is your point that, this is new. FEMA and the federal government is very used to dealing with tornadoes and floods and fires. Unfortunately, each year, since 2017, we continue to get racked with fires, and we're learning. But it's been a real learning process for the federal government as well. And I think you said it very well that, no one was used to dealing with the federal regulations, the way reimbursements work, the way that we were able to coordinate, or trying to coordinate with homeowners and getting things rebuilt. So much of that had to go through a lens that was never designed for fires. And so, in fact, the key infrastructure is usually three feet or so below the surface. And I want folks to realize how hot the fire is when it's melting that infrastructure, three feet below ground. And when it's doing that in the center of one on one, because those major things are going underneath the freeway. And the fire is obviously not burning on the freeway, but again, it's kicking off that kind of heat, and it's melting laterally underneath the freeway and stuff. And so we would have sites that are on the surface. And according to federal regulation, we're ready to rebuild. And there was no way you could rebuild. And we had to communicate that to the federal government. And that's a slow process, unfortunately. I think, we're starting to really make some inroads, but I will tell you, my two years in Sonoma County falling into fires, working on these issues daily, and then now with my new role. I'm still engaging on a constant basis, really trying to make sure that we're identifying and understand how do you streamline and move things. And quite honestly, we're not moving things fast enough yet. I mean, we are constantly trying to make sure that we daylight where roadblocks and obstacles are. And part of this is also government having to re structure and organize ourselves in a way that we can be more responsive. We've all talked about this in different forums that we haven't been keeping up with home building in California for quite some time, anyways. And to expect for us to be able to then turn around and rebuild post disaster, entire neighborhoods or cities, as we've seen with large portions of Santa Rosa and unfortunately at paradise, it is not where we're at in terms of just our organization and structure. And so that's one of the things that at the state level we've been trying to make sure that we're doing. In fact, that's partly why I'm in the position I'm in. My division is brand new. And we formed it a little over a month ago with me now overseeing it, in part because we need to be able to make sure that we've created the internal structures at the state level, that can be responsive and are giving the right types of oversight and attention to all of these programs. So my division handles federal assistance. But what that means is, we're responsible for all the disaster recovery, all the cares act, all of these new things that you see coming through the different rounds of stimulus, when it comes to housing and homelessness. And just a month and a half ago the division didn't exist. A little over a year ago, what we call a branch didn't exist. So like all this was kind of inter-modeled within other branches, other sections of departments, more scattered shot. So we're getting more organized. And part of that is how we're learning. But again, we still have a ways to go, and that's really my charge, is to make sure that we start to really streamline and be able to address these things. So that we don't have these issues going forward, where folks are trying to do the right thing, trying to be responsive, trying to get folks back to some semblance of normal. I mean, fires and natural disasters are just traumatic anyways. But we don't need to be adding to that trauma by our inability to respond.
- Thank you, Jeff, for that. We appreciate you streamlining and heading this new office. So I'm sure there's a lot going on. Dan, let me turn to you. You have a lot of experience with insurance, with housing, with state agencies, with legislatures. I mean, what do you take from all of this? And I should tell our readers, not our readers, our listeners, that one of the reasons that motivated the session was that Dan had talked to the New York Times about what were the challenges related to rebuilding after fire disasters like we've experienced. And so, can you tell us what you are thinking about all of this? And also if you've been hearing from your members similar to what Dave story has been about their challenges in rebuilding after disasters.
- Thanks, Lois. And thank you for this opportunity. Thanks for your leadership at the Sacramento Center. And Richard Green, thank you too for your leadership down in Los Angeles. A few thoughts, I just wanna build on Dave's comments and just amplify them for our membership. It is very difficult at post disaster, and having managed a number of hundreds of fires for... Governor Schwarzenegger I was there. You can walk into the devastation afterwards, and it really is a great tragedy. To build on the comments of Dave, there's a couple of things that make it really difficult. One is, it is the insurance mechanism and it's the community dynamics, those two together. I've only seen one truly successful rebuild in California. And it was a Scripps Fire, when Governor Davis was governor. And the reason why it was, this two things happened, the communities came together. So, a large component of the community came together, and was willing to reach out to three or four developers like Dave and say, "Hey, you bid on our homes. You tell us what you're gonna build us. And instead of building 200 completely different homes, you can maybe build four or five different homes we could depict from those plans. And together we will then work with our insurance companies to give you a framework to move on that." 'Cause each insurance can be patient something, so at least you have a framework and a foundation. That's the only success story I've seen in the last 15, 18 years on the firefighting front. Today's point, if you have to go home by home, different plan, different insurance company, and even different coverage with the same insurance company. 'Cause you might have an agent who is more diligent, and upgrading the policies, and updating them, so you have adequate coverage. You might have some, I haven't talked to my agent for a decade, who cares? And so you find yourself having inadequate insurance coverage. So if you can unite the community on the approach, and unite a builder or a collection of builders, is that's the other dynamic that Dave mentioned the other builders have. When you have a crew of labor, which is hard to find labor period. If you say, "I want you to build one home here, and then when we're done here, we're gonna go like four miles to the right. And then I don't know what's gonna happen after that. I think I'll get another home versus street homes that burned down." And the framer goes from one home, to the next home, to the next home, and there's four or five plans, and not 200 different plans. That's where you can create that. And this sounds somewhat cookie cutter, but if you look at Coffey Park, it was cookie cookie cutter. There weren't 200 different housing plans there. It was a community built by a developer decades ago. And so somebody like Dave Sanson's caliber can come in and say, "Here community, here are four or five models we've built in Livermore or Concord. We can do this here, and we'd like to do this. And you'll get a nice or newer, up to date, energy efficient home, and do so quicker, more effectively." And the crews then they move like, "Oh, this is model B," they know what to do. And they can move quickly, and rebuild, and rebuild at a better price point, 'cause that insurance dollar only goes so far. And the last thing I would say, just in this whole context is, getting communities to come together, is really the hard part. Because as Dave said, everybody gets scattered. And as Jeff mentioned too, there's this whole complexity of, are we really ready for fires? So, keep in mind the home of the mayors we saw on other fires, doesn't exist anymore. The mayor doesn't even live in the city. So you have to find ways to create hubs, whether it's portables or whatever, to bring people together, and communities together. And unite in your approach to bringing the community back. 'Cause if everybody scatters, and there's no unity, and there's no plan, it will take a long, long time to bring the community back. And that's the other part of the challenge. Thanks, Lois.
- So, Dave, can I ask you a little bit about the Scripps rebuild, and your experience there since Dan mentioned it. Do you-?
- I don't think Dave was, that was down in San Diego. So I don't believe Dave was part of that building. But, so now I have to... Sorry about that.
- Oh, that's right, that's right. Let me move to then Geoffrey Ross's wheelhouse, which is all this money, which the spigot has opened again. So, that's good news, but I'm sure it's a confusing time. And I wanted to ask you, Jeff, what sorts of federal funding sources do you think are most important, especially for our audience today, and thinking about home rebuilding post disaster?
- Right. And that too is, it's a patchwork. I think, as Dave was saying, FEMA is getting better. The ability to come in and help with the hazardous materials, and things like that upfront, which was a real fight fire for awhile on the Tubbs fire and some defiers. So that's obviously, that immediate response aspect of the federal government and those dollars is critically important. We then get what is more the longer term recovery dollars that come down the pipeline. And that's where we're trying to make sure that we are really organizing streamlining ourselves more effectively and efficiently. But again, all these dollars are limited. And all of this is in context with insurance. Because we also need to make sure that we're accounting for what insurance is gonna cover. And then we're trying to do this longer term recovery in expenditure of dollars that is over and above in compliments that insurance dollars not duplicating payments and those types of things. And then there's also some settlement dollars. So obviously PG and E has been in litigation. They are now starting to do settlements. And so, we've got to work through all these different funding sources, making sure that we're accounting for what they can use. So it gets a little bit complicated, and it is still a little new in some of these manners. And so, the key part is, is that there's not necessarily enough money coming in on the long-term response to cover everyone. So a lot of what we're doing is a lot of the funds that we're directly overseeing at HCD, are really for those moderate and low income folks, and it's also for a lot of the renters. So Coffey Park, which Dan mentioned in his portion, was an older neighborhood in Santa Rosa, wonderful community, wonderful homes. But a lot of those homes are actually rentals. And when you're looking to have this stuff get built back and especially at the price points in some of our communities, especially home prices in general in California. When those units are coming back, they're not necessarily gonna come back online as rentals either. So one of the things that we started to also account for is that our response needed to create some new multi-family and rental housing units, in addition to trying to support the single family that was destroyed and needs to be rebuilt and rehabbed. So also bifurcating our programs in that way. And so, that's why we're able to also start to leverage a lot of other non disaster recovery, non specific funds for these types of buildings. So that way we can leverage and just be able to hopefully bring more to bear, and help speed up that recovery. But a lot of this is fairly new. And one other piece is that we are also now starting to see disaster recovery tax credits, so we're getting some additional resources there. So, again, we're kind of evolving as we go, and we're trying to speed up and streamline that as we go.
- Thank you, Jeff, for that. And we know that this is an ever-changing terrain. Dave Sanson, and so, when you were talking about having to navigate all these insurance companies, local governments, state government, I mean, how have you fought about, or how has your team been able to deal with all these different sorts of financing issues? This renter issue is a really important one too. I mean, you're right, Jeff, about Coffee Park. And lots of rentals throughout the state, I'm sure, there is single family, multi-family homes. So, Dave, how did you handle all of that? And what sort of help would you have liked to have to navigate through all these complexities?
- Yeah, absolutely. That's a great question. Because once we got through a lot of the state and federal environmental and contamination and infrastructure issues, it really did roll back to the insurance versus the homeowners situation. And that's where really got complex, which was challenging for us. We hired a couple of retired insurance adjusters and underwriters on our staff as consultants to help us navigate through the various policies. We were asked to come in and try to build 200 homes at a time as Dan indicated. It got so crazy at those neighborhood meetings, because you had 200 different homeowners that all wanted a different house plan, and they had different insurance policies. And so we tried to simplify it by saying, "Okay, these are the five plans that we're gonna build, and you can pick and choose like Coffee Park did 50 years ago." And most of the folks were okay with that. But then the insurance companies weren't okay with that. And then we're negotiating with all these different insurance carriers. And some had different coverage, some didn't have enough coverage. And then the whole thing kind of unwound from there. So then when we started breaking it down into smaller groups. I brought more project managers in and we tried to break it up in groups of 50. And then try to get 75%, 80% of each of those 50, so we could go in and build homes as Dan indicated, next to each other and get the efficiencies to stretch some of the precious insurance dollars that did or didn't exist. And I come to a lot of these types of meetings with Dan, and I hate to just talk the whole time about problems and issues, because it never helps to solve the problem. And since we have Jeff here, the one thing is I reflect on, how would I try to fix this? And certainly the City of Santa Rosa or City of Paradise, any town in USA can't take on the magnitude of this nor can the county. The state to some level can, but the only one that can print money is the federal government. And so you really have to have a significant leader in this process. And probably the best solution that I've seen internationally in recent times was, I was also asked to come to New Zealand after the Christchurch liquid liquefaction issue with the thousands of homes that got wiped out overnight there, and same situation as Santa Rosa. No place for those residents to go. They were all working and thriving families, there was no housing. And it took a little while, but that was a great learning lesson. Because the federal government stepped in, took over all the insurance policies. They had every homeowner sign over a waiver for their insurance, and the government was gonna step in, do the emergency, disaster relief, repair, replacement, alternative housing, and they assign their insurance policies to the government. And with time, government can be made whole through the insurance. But if it's an individual property owner, and they're fighting with the insurance carrier and all the local jurisdictions, they're outmatched and they're out resourced. And the bigger guy usually ends up winning, and the homeowner suffers. And so I think, Jeff, from a federal standpoint for these large disaster situations, we should possibly look at taking that model and potentially advancing it further here in the United States. Because it doesn't let the insurance companies off the hook, and it does help the to facilitate by bringing everybody together. And they have rebuilt those neighborhoods, they're in record time and taking care of all the environmental mitigation, and got the community and the economy up and running very quickly and efficiently 'cause the government stepped in. I know that's easier said than done, but it is a viable solution definitely for something of the large scale magnitude we're dealing with here.
- Right, and I think that that's an important note, because we are starting to see that in some cases of Superstorm Sandy, some of the title surges, some of the things that happen on the East Coast or the Gulf Coast with storm surge, even flooding. There is strategic retreats. There is organized the government, as a federal MC is coming in and buying up slots of land, doing that. The challenge is, and I was having this conversation actually yesterday in a meeting. So this is, you're spot on Dave, and I really do appreciate the point. But I wanna point out like community like Paradise, Coffee Park, areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura that have burned, things like that. Or even Oakland, if we go back to what it was in '89, '90. What we've got to start to understand from policy perspective is, how do we help preserve community, give folks the ability to make a choice on, do they stay or do they go? Because of the trauma informed with a fire, which is different than these other disasters. And how do we do that in a way that kind of preserves the individual, and the household, and their needs, and respects, and some of their choices. They might want to stay in the community, but they might not want to stay in that location. And likewise, how do we make local governments whole? Who need certainly, tax resources, their infrastructure has been aligned a certain way. I think the nuance and the challenge with fire more so than maybe some of our other disasters is that, it can kind of be like a tornado, but on a bigger scale really hit different pockets of the community, because the embers fly in the air, it's not a linear attack by a fire. It really just spreads, and does things that are different than what we see with other disaster points. And the way they impact the community is different physically. And so, I think as Californians we all know, like new Zealand's that an earthquake can happen, and unless we're gonna leave California, we're not going to leave the earthquake zone. But it's a different thought also, I think with the fires. And so, I don't think we've gotten there yet. I think you're right, the federal government, and insurance is a real issue in California right now. Getting insurance in the fire zones is a real challenge. So I think we're trying to grapple with this, but the reality is that, this is different and it is very new in terms of the ways we've got to think about how do we mobilize the federal state apparatus. 'Cause you're absolutely right, it is not fair, and we should never expect local governments, cities or counties to be able to handle this on their own.
- Thanks for that, Jeff and Dave. Dan, have you been hearing similar or different stories from your membership concerning sort of their experiences around all these issues?
- The challenge for us and the disappointing part for us is most of our members aren't as courageous as Dave is to even step into this sphere, because of all these complexities and issues. And the last thing you wanna do as a home builder is step into a community that's gone through a horrific tragedy, and try to force a different approach, or something that they might not be ready for yet. The grieving process that Jeff talked about, and if there's loss of life, you usually don't wanna move back into the home that burned down, where your live almost, was deceased and killed. So it is being that flexible. So, unless you go back to uniting the community, and I see a question from one of our colleagues today here is on how to unite that. It really does require really strong leadership, local, state, federal. 'Cause there's always, and this is every president, this isn't partisan. Air Force One comes in, boom. It's a big event, everything's beautiful. "We're gonna save this community, we're Americans, we'll fight hard." And then like for the next three years, it's crickets. Because the people who are on the ground have to actually put it together. And so, that's the challenge. And so, for a builder to have the courage Dave had, to step in and say, "Hey, I'm gonna try to take all these raw emotions and complexities, and try to rebuild." Unless the leadership of the community, the state and the federal leadership, and the local leadership, the people who live there come together in a united format, it's really hard to move quickly. I have seen it done before in the Midwest, where communities will do that. I think part of it is if you don't move somewhat quickly, what I mean by that, is within 24 months, the community pretty much changes radically post disaster. There's two things happening; insurance money runs out 24 months this thing called additional living expense. So you pretty much, as Dave said, you got to up your family and move to, if you're in Paradise, you moved to Chico. If you're in Santa Rosa, you may have to move all the way down to Tracy, so that you can find a home. And so, and then all of a sudden you're like, "Hey, we've got the kids here. We're going to school here. Do we really wanna move back up to Santa Rosa?" And then you're like, "Tracy is a pretty nice community, I wanna stay here." That's not bad. It's just, if you want this community to come back in a holistic way, it's bad. And if you're like, "Forget about this, we're just going to scatter." That's why moving with some dispatch and speed is essential. One thing that has changed on the insurance side that gives you that flexibility is most companies now, not all, but most will write you a pretty big check once you get to that point, and you can hold onto it and rebuild, or you can just take it and leave, and find another home somewhere else, 100 miles away, 20 miles away, depending how big the fire is. Prices are high, but it usually, if you combined contents, structure, additional living expense, you can get pretty close to the home you had. And so, if you wait those two years to use your additional living expense and all the other expenses, 'cause you have like two homes and two mortgages and all that, it gets really hard on the consumer. Even if you have the top rate coverages for like a Chubb Insurer. Apartments from these high end ones, they still run out of money. So, I think that's why there's not this willingness for a builder to step in, unless that's put together to some degree, all you're doing is, your likelihood of offending people is great, unless that unity comes together.
- Thanks, Dan. And Dan is referring to the question in the Q and A. So I'm gonna read it to you, and maybe we can have some other responses from Dave and Jeff. So, Miesha Tyler writes, "Unity is a great concept for planning for recovery after the pandemic too. As devastating as this period has been, we're all going through the same thing together, which is actually unifying. What can communities, nationwide and locally do to collaborate with public, private and not for profits to a, build the necessary hallux housing needed? And b, create equity and access for all? So maybe I'll start with Dave, 'cause I don't know if people know, but Dave Sanson also runs a foundation. He's been a part of home building and housing sort of strategies for low income and homeless people. So, Dave, how do you respond to Miesha's question about, what can we do together?
- Yeah, the unity and rebuilding are, sometimes it becomes an oxymoron. When we work on issues of housing crisis in communities, a lot of times my wife and I through our foundation, we'll go to a town or we'll be contacted by an elected official and say, "Hey, can you help us? We need some transitional housing, or housing for those making 30% of the median income, which they're not homeless and they don't qualify for affordable housing." And then we go to start to identify how to do it. And then we find out within that very community they say, "No, we don't want it here. Put it in the town next door." And we've had that happen to us many, many times. And so, we have to, as a society, get used to the idea that we have to create housing for everybody. It just can't be for those that afford it, it can't just be rental, it can't just be one size fits all. And we have to have more compassion and empathy in our hearts to wanna help our fellow community members at whatever level needs to be done. If we build a high end home, it opens up a whole series of homes at different socio-economic levels below it. And if we build affordable homes, those are members of our community that work in our community and provide the services that we desperately need. So at both ends of the spectrum, they're absolutely essential, but it's the public perception, that I think, and education that we really need to get through. And that's part of what this pandemic has done with COVID. It's made everybody understand we're all equal. It doesn't matter who you are, what you are, or what you think you are. We're all susceptible to the same disease, and the same negative outcome. And so, it put us all on the same level. And we need to think about housing that way also. And I think we'll go a long way. And again, I think not to keep putting everything back on Jeff, but local control is the problem. Because when a mayor comes to us and says, "We want this kind of housing." And then his other council members say, "No, put it in the town next door." Somebody has to step up and be responsible. And those local officials don't get reelected if they are doing something that may be in the community's best interest but not in their voters or their supporters. So it takes a higher level of government to eliminate that process of local control from the standpoint of trying to create regional goals, or statewide goals that then have the ability to be met. We can keep coming up with more ideas, but they have to be able to be implemented, and you can't do that at a local level. So, it kind of like, it just falls back to the same issues over and over again that I've seen for decades. And it's not just in California. I'm sitting in Montana, California today dealing with government officials here on the same thing. I'm vacationing, but they're asking me the same questions. They have the same issues with housing here. They just don't have the homeless issue that we do in California 'cause the weather so bad. But it's everywhere. So, that's my two cents on unity.
- Yeah, and I think-
- [Lois] Go ahead.
- I was just saying, I think that the community aspect brings a lot of different pieces. There is the conversation, and I was a part of it at Sonoma County, where we're not at a point yet in this state to tell people where they can or can't rebuild. But there's the community conversation of, these fires have happened historically before. They're just more intense, they move faster, they're hotter than they were in the past. But the burn scars are the same burn scars that you can go back and see in history where these fires have happened. So, that has raised the conversations locally as to, should folks be building in those areas? And again, we're not to that point on public policies level yet to quite say it. But insurance is pushing that conversation. That is part of the insurance challenge in the moment. And that's part of the conversation that locals are having. So, as the community aspect, cannot be understated. I think that Dan and David, both rightfully said that is an important piece. But it is it is not necessarily a cohesive community conversation. It gets really challenging. And that leads to public policy and decision-making. Now one of the things that I was really glad to see that we were able to get resolution on very quickly that didn't exist before the Tubbs Fire, was when the money was starting to come in on the federal level to help rebuild Santa Rosa, it was going to just all be single family homes. It wasn't about this equity component and housing for all. It was like bill back when it was there. And as a community, we advocated, I was on a lot of calls myself at the time with DC and stuff saying like, "Look again, there's renters, there's folks that, the housing that we're gonna build back is not going to be the housing they can afford to move into." And so we need to be able to account for that. And the federal government did, they did change and allowed for us to be able to create that housing option. And the state's been able to put that program into place. But to Dave's other point of then there's the local control issue. We have started to deal with that as well, it's another conversation. But the home key program that I led before taking on my current role, we built 6,000 units that are being occupied as of this month, in six months. Because a lot of that was pre-existing, but some of it is brand new. To mobilize and create permanent housing that didn't exist, and introduced 6,000 units in that amount of time, shows that if we work together as a state and locals, and we talk about land use conformance, and environmental streamlining, and we address these issues on the front end, we can do a lot, and we can do a lot quickly. But we haven't mobilized yet on this particular point on how to do that effectively.
- And you know, Jeff doesn't represent everybody in the government. So we don't wanna put all the onus on him for everything. However, there's a lot of debate about local land use control, state preemption of local land use control. I mean, it is part of the, sort of a discussion of the day. And actually I wanna turn to Dan Dunmoyer about this, because I think Dave and Jeff both mentioned this controversial idea, which is, should we be rebuilding homes in places that have been devastated by wildfires? And as Jeff pointed out, a lot of these places have been devastated before. And we know that these fires are not going to get better. They're not gonna get lesser, and they're gonna probably be as bad or worse. So, Dan, what do you think about all this? I mean, we know there's talk going on in the legislature right now about this very issue. Should we be rebuilding homes in these places? And if so, how do we do that safely?
- Yeah, it is a question that, great question, Lois. So a couple of thoughts on this. Let's look at California holistically. 'Cause this are, we're talking fires here, but Jeff touched on the issue of earthquakes too. So, there is not a safe place to build in the State of California, we restate that. There is not a perfectly or even somewhat safe place to build. Let's say we move everybody from the wildfire areas into the urban core, and we build up, to look like parts of Malaysia. Do you know what that is? That's the largest location earthquake faults in the State of California. You got Hayward, you got San Andreas and San Jacinto. And so, and by the way, if you look at the true fire maps of California, the greatest likelihood of loss of life from fires is after an earthquake, not in the forest. Nobody seems to remember that. But if you look at the James Lee Witt Report under President Clinton, you look at the loss of life and property and damage to California, the impact of an earthquake is a factor of 50x in Paradise, maybe 100x, you're talking 10,000 tons, you're talking 300 billion in infrastructure costs alone just for the government of California, we haven't talked about the human rebuild side. The little Northridge earthquake, 633,000 homes impacted, how big was the biggest fire we've had 20,000 homes. So, I think part of this is we have to build smart no matter where we've built, whether it's in the San Andreas Fault, whether it's on mudslides, landslides, flooding, and fire. Now we can build a fire smart. And when my friends say, "Dan, we shouldn't build here at all." Like go back a hundred years, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, wild land on urban interface, we've just paved over. All in California except for parts of desert, will burn. And even this past year, we saw the Joshua Tree burn for the first time ever. So, I think part of it is planning properly, it's building properly. The good news is we have the most fire safe homes now in the world, thanks to the 2008 fire code changes. And even if you look at the recent Paradise fire home, we have four to five times greater survivability in 2008 or later built home, than a pre 2008 home. So with good codes and proper fire management which in English means parks, where you place your roads, where you place your water systems, you can create a safety hedge around a fire prone area. You just have to plan it accordingly. And I do think post-fire, if you take the time to think that through, you can rebuild these communities, you can do it effectively, and you can do in a way that saves lives. 'Cause if we have a really, really big earthquake, then all the policies gonna shift. People are like, "Who is forcing everybody into these urban cars?" "Well, we did it for environmental reasons." "Yeah, but everybody knew their earthquake faults. This is California, we should have thought this through." And that's why we say, plan where you build, plan for safety, plan for safety of property and life. And whether it's a mudslide, landslide, flood, earthquake, fire, you gotta plan for it. Otherwise, you're gonna have to build somewhere else. Last thing I'll say, is the safe place in America to build is a small pocket of land at the Panhandle of Oklahoma. And so I thought, "Well, what do they build there?" Well, that's where we store nuclear waste. So anyways, I mean, there really is not a safe place. I mean, there's somebody, if 80 years ago figured out the safest place from tornado, hurricane, flood, fire, famine, and they didn't realize, the us government bought it. And that's where they put nuclear waste so that it doesn't get hurt. My point is, there's not a lot of safe places in this country, especially in California, we just have to plan for it, and plan smart for it.
- Dan, I would say that you're exactly right. We can't wait to plan for it after the disaster. Because as you rightfully pointed out, we only have so much time before a community is lost. And so, I think that that's what we're trying to be able to figure out how to do appropriately. How do we begin to really plan and be intentional on what we're doing, so that way, unfortunately, when disaster does happen, because whether it's an earthquake, a landslide because of flooding, whatever, it is beyond just fires. That we're better prepared to get in there, to move quickly, to allow folks to reposition their lives, post disaster, in a way that is more resilient and better, and adaptive to... What we all know is true is that, as you've pointed out, there's not a safe place in California. We love where we live, we love our communities. We just have to over time use this opportunity and hopefully be better prepared so that we can mobilize and respond better than what we've been able to do.
- Thanks for that, Jeff. So, Dave, you talked a little bit about your own house, and how you use different tactics to make it more fire secure. So, I'd love to hear more about that. But also as a home builder, would you try again to rebuild housing in these fire devastated areas, 'cause we know it's gonna happen, or it could be an earthquake or whatever else happens? And if so, what would you need as a builder to make sure you don't experience the same obstacles as in Santa Rosa? We heard you say about federal government and mentioned, but first let's talk about your own house, and then let's talk about what are the things according to you is necessary for rebuilding to occur in an efficient way, and equitable way?
- You bet, I always love following Dan, because he has such a great way of explaining in simple terms a very complex issue. And his comment was right spot on with my experience personally, and with my feelings as to how we could rebuild safely and effectively in existing fire areas that were ravaged. And you would think, "Well, history gonna repeat itself." And I think with my own personal experience, the answer is probably not if done properly. And it was really interesting on our ranch. When I got my home plans approved, the planning process wanted me to plant all these trees around my house to make it more obscure from the the visibility of the public. And that was great for awhile, but then the trees grow up, and they grow next to the house. And just like every other house that we build. And then you have all this fuel, you have this beautiful landscape, but you have all this fuel around the house. And they don't want you to eliminate it. And so, you're really just asking for trouble. After the 2017 fire, when the state was attacking this issue very diligently at the legislative level, I worked with a couple of assembly men and senators, as I mentioned earlier. And I'd said to them, "Well, I have the perfect case study in order to do this." So I brought the CDF out to my house. We went through, they immediately recommended that I take out all the trees that the planning department had me put in. So we selectively thin those, and the planning department was very disappointed, but the fire safety always rules, which was great. We did all the other just common sensical things with fuel management and building materials. We used cement siding concrete around the house, a metal roof. And then we bolstered up the water fire sprinkler systems, which older homes historically don't have. And as Dan indicated, there since 2008, we put them in every new home. And lo and behold, four years later, fire comes through, the last fire in Napa County and Sonoma County. It just burned tens of thousands of acres, knocked out all my neighbors who didn't have the opportunity to do exactly what we did. And CDF was actually taking water out of my tanks that I put in under part of this process for this new legislation that was put forth to help protect the rebuild all existing fire interface communities. And it worked. So, there was a lot of effort that was put in, and in and a lot of study. And is actually a proven fact that it is capable of being done. And so, if we were to rebuild in those areas, many of my neighbors will not be, because it's taken them too long, and they got jobs, and they have their lives, and they have to move on. But if it's done properly, you can do it to protect the consumer at a much, much higher level than when the homes were historically built decades ago. And I can't think of another place to rebuild my neighbors homes anywhere in the region that's gonna be any safer. The fuel is now gone, it's all burned. It needs to be cleaned up, and that's it. The chances of a fire coming back through there again, it would be decades. But not if the fuel is managed properly. And I think that's the one thing in California from an environmental standpoint, we gotta get over, is trees are wonderful, landscape is beautiful, but we need to also do it practically and sensibly, and it can be managed so that we can be compatible together. So, that's my personal take on it.
- Thank you, Dave. And for those of you who are looking at the chat box, Richard Green has shared a map of hazards across the United States, and California is almost entirely red. So, in another, there is no place to build that safe, relatively. So I think there are a couple of blue pockets but not very many.
- [Richard] Yeah, I had to say, when Dan said what he said, I thought, "Okay, it can't really be that bad." So I do. And Dan, you were talking about spot on. It's also the only example I can pick up where California is a solidly red state.
- I'm sorry, Richard, , that completely makes me pivot somewhere else. But anyway, to get back to what we were talking about. Thank you, Richard for that map, 'cause it's always good to have evidence for what we say on these Lusk seminar, Alaska Perspectives. We're coming up close to the top of the hour here. So, I'd like to hear, I'll go round through again. What is the, one or two most important takeaways that you want our audience to hear about, housing, rebuilding, fires, hazards, whatever it is you wanna talk about. So let let me start with Dave Sanson.
- Oh boy, you put me on the spot. Well, I think at last, you've given me the opportunity to pretty much share my personal experiences and thoughts, both with my own home and fire and protection, and trying to rebuild fire ravaged communities. And it is a public-private partnership. And with these disasters, the third leg of the stool really is how do you manage the insurance and the rebuild process? And so, I think if we can focus on using common sense, and level heads to put all three of those together in a proactive way, when the next emergency happens, we're going to get better and better, as Jeff said. I've seen huge improvements since the 2015 fire, just off the road from Santa Rosa and Middletown, which was one of the first large fires, 2,500 homes. And many of my friends, and such lost their homes there. So, we're making progress, but we still have a long way to go. And I think it just is gonna take a lot of cooperation and collaboration from all levels of government and the private sector, and we can overcome these challenges.
- Thank you, Dave. Jeff, we are so glad you're in this neutral environment that you are leading, which I'm sure it feels like you're drinking out of a fire hose. But what sorts of takeaways would you leave with our audience?
- Yeah, no, I loved this conversation. I think a couple of things is, it's critical that we continue to progress from reacting to being proactive. To really get try to think through it. Dave's story about his home, I think it just reminds where we want to get to, and how to figure out how to do this in a way that does create housing for all. Because I think that if we can get there, we're in on great spot, and we can comfortably live in and the "red state" that the map shows. But the other part is to be able to do this in a way through the public-private partnership, we're preserving personal choice for folks that have gone through this unfortunate traumatic events. And unfortunately public policy in some ways is very restrictive to that personal choice. And we've got to be able to address that in a way that supports community, but supports the individual. And so I think that it's not only the physical rebuilding, but it's the rebuilding of that individual or that community that we also have to be very focused on. And that too is gonna take some more time. So, those are all aspects that I know that I'm trying to be focused on. I love this conversation because it reminds me of where we still need to get to, and it continues to kind of make that push up. And so, I'm just really appreciative of it. And that's really kind of what I'm focused on and what I'm taking from all these conversations.
- Thank you, Jeff. And Dunmoyer, what's your big take away as from all of this?
- Well, thanks Lois. Thank you again for this opportunity, I appreciate it, professor Green too. I just want to build on both Jeff and Dave's comments. So one, leadership matters. And the fact that government new, so it's been stepped up to put Jeff in this leadership role at HCD, is a really positive statement. 'Cause if you do plan ahead, it's a lot easier if you walk into a community with general ideas of what has worked. 'Cause your not mayor from a small community, unless it's, I don't know, in San Francisco or LA, or you're probably part time, or you're probably volunteering, and you're probably like a pair of dress or selling insurance or whatever, you're not a disaster recovery expert like Jeff is. And so bringing in expertise is helpful. It does require a community to come together, local and state and federal, and use these resources, and be able to help the community understand that it does have an opportunity to restore itself and rebuild itself and do so effectively. I think the other piece of this is planning ahead of time. I just wanna build on that. As Dave has done, and Dave has personally shown, when you plan ahead of time, not only can you save Dave's home, you can save Dave's entire community, if the community comes together. And this is hard. I mean, I was involved in the Oakland Hills Fire post disaster insurance issues. It was the first big fire in a city major, American cities in Chicago in the 1860s. So we didn't know what to do, it was a mess. The great part about it is the community came together, the bad part about it is they all wanted to build their own homes, their own way, and could care less about each other, 'cause they all had special homes. And the saddest part about it, was five years after we went through all that, the community didn't clear it's brush, it's surrounded by eucalyptus. Eucalyptus has oil in it, it's a fuel for fire. And we used to go back every year and try to help the community have a community cleanup day. And after a while, they were like, "Yeah, we're done with this, we don't wanna do that, because you're messing up the way our place looks." So the Oakland Hills is actually set to burn today. Even though it could be very easily managed to not have all that underbrush, all that growth. It takes the community to come together and create a fire safe community. And it has been done. It's been done in Southern California. There is a number of places that the entire community comes together in a fire safe council, with the leadership of local fire departments, leaders from local electeds, and leadership of the community. And they get together, and they clean up the community collectively. So it was just a point where you have these massive fuels, massive fire, massive temperature, when you clear that out, you can protect it, you can defend it, you can stop it, and there's no fuel. And the fire heat is very minimal. and the embers that Jeff talked about, then gets sent a quarter mile down the road, that stops. So together as a community, ahead of time planning will change the face of California in a very positive way. It's a great way to bring a community together on something that's not political. It's not left versus right. It's the community for the community. And that's what we need more in so many ways. So, thanks Lois for this opportunity, I appreciate it.
- We're at the end of this conversation, and as all conversations go with people like you who know so much and have so much great experience and insights, I could keep talking for a long, well, maybe five more minutes. But were at the end of our time, so I wanna thank you all so much. This was such an engaging conversation. I hope we continue to keep talking about these things, 'cause Jeff, you need some help up there. We'll keep talking with Jeff and making sure that we get information flowing across the non-profit public and private sectors, 'cause that's the way we're gonna solve this problem. I learned a lot today, I'm sure our audience did as well. I also wanna encourage you all to go to the Lusk Perspectives webpage to watch other seminars. There is huge amount of expertise and insights on that page. All the podcasts and webinars have been extremely informative. So please go to that. Thank you for attending everybody. We really appreciate you being with us today, and hope you have a wonderful day and week. Thanks so much.