The first sign of a new home rising from the ashes in Santa Rosa's fire-ravaged Coffey Park neighborhood came days after a major builder announced last week it is pulling the plug on plans for rebuilding dozens of homes.
The first shell of a new house appeared Monday on land in the middle of the burn zone, and in a few months, a family should be able to move back into it.
But a potential shortage of labor could spell a long wait for many others, as heavyweight builder Denova couldn’t secure enough subcontractors to move forward with 75 more homes.
Coffey Strong’s board president and others focused on the positive.
"Absolutely, there’s some symbolism!" Jeff Okrepkie said. "It’s a beacon of light for the community to see. The rebuild has started."
One observer on hand Monday, 78-year-old Stan Commerford, said he suffered a "double-whammy" in 2017.
"I was married for 56 years, and my wife died April 30," he said. "And then my house burned down five months later."
All Commerford wanted was a sign of a resurgent rebuild. But the lifelong Santa Rosa resident was reading the tea leaves, and they didn’t look good.
"My house burned to the ground; I want to rebuild," he said. "I don’t think they’re going to have the labor to do it!"
Subcontractors serve as a lifeblood of sorts for home development. And after Denova said it couldn’t find enough subcontractors to help with 75 homes, some folks got spooked.
"The subcontractors, and especially the framers among those subcontractors and general contractors, are trying to find labor to ramp up to do that," Okrepkie said. "And cost of living without access to local labor is just compounding the problem."
Ed Waller, CEO of Shook & Waller, used to run arguably the largest home framing company in town. Now, his company builds custom homes. He was asked if the labor concerns are legitimate.
"Well, there really wasn’t that amount of work here," he said. "It was a pretty normal market, so we all have framers, but we didn’t expect this to come. It would be a legitimate concern if the expectations were to rebuild maybe 4,000 homes in two years. Then, I think, legitimately we would have a labor shortage."
Insurance companies are required to cover homeowners for living expenses and cost of replacement for only two years, though a bill has been introduced in Sacramento to change that.