Permit fees and wait times mounting for Sonoma County fire victims

- A list of fees, long lines for permits, and red tape have many families struggling to get back on their feet following the North Bay wildfires.

Sonoma County and the City of Santa Rosa has waived some costs associated with temporary housing and rebuilding, however, changing information has led to some confusion.

2 Investigates spoke with government leaders to seek clarification after getting contacted by several homeowners who were upset about high permit prices or what they claim was misinformation. 

“There’s no game plan for us so we don’t know what to do,” fire victim Steve Mizzi said. “You’re already hit with a disaster and they want to hit you with payments.”

Mizzi is upset he will have to pay for a permit to rebuild his bridge that was partially destroyed by fire. His home was also reduced to rubble along Linda Lane in Sonoma County. Most of his neighbors are also dealing with the same thing.

“It’s more money to spend when we already had our houses there so now we’re going to have to pay all these fees and do all these updates to make it current, which is going to cost us even more,” Mizzi said. “Some of us, I don’t know how we’re going to do it.”

Estimated permit fees to rebuild a home destroyed by fire range from about $10,000 to $15,000. If a new second structure is added also, total fees could be nearly $39,000 to $88,000 according to numbers provided by Sonoma County.

The county is also waiving traffic and parks development impact fees for the construction of new accessory dwelling units that are less than 750 square feet. The parks and traffic impact fees are reduced by 50 percent for accessory dwelling units between 751-1,000 square feet.

“The standard permit fees will apply but the board has adopted waiver programs for anyone who is uninsured or underinsured,” Jennifer Barrett, deputy director of planning said. “We are looking at a way to fast-track things.”

In many cases, insurance will cover all of the permit-related costs. Design review costs have also been waived by the board. The county said there are some loan programs and grants available for homeowners and victims could be eligible for transitional housing.

“A large segment of our community has been destroyed and it’s disturbing and it’s sad,” Barrett said. “We’re also overwhelmed with work.”

Fire destroyed Earl and Dot Holtz’s home of 50 years, also on Linda Lane in Sonoma County.

“We can cry or we can be sad, but that only makes you depressed,” Earl Holtz said. “We have memories but now we’re looking ahead to new times, new challenges, new home. That’s all we can do.” 

At a community meeting in November, Earl and Dot Holtz were surprised by numerous documents detailing estimated costs of permits. They had planned to live in a recreational vehicle on their property until they could rebuild, however, when they saw the list of fees they decided to change their plans. 

“The sheet we saw there was a fee for this, this, this, this and you add them up and it’s close to $500.” Earl Holtz said. “It doesn’t sound like much but it’s the idea of the thing.”

After 2 Investigates asked the planning department some questions about those permit fees, it was learned the board had approved changes recently to actually reduce some fees.

“These [documents] are old,” Barrett said. “That was updated about a week ago.”

Now, recreational vehicle or travel trailer permits are just $83 compared to the normal $158 and far from the initial $500 the Holtz’s thought they would be forced to pay.

Additionally, campgrounds are now approved for year-round residential use. The Holtz’s have been living at a campground in an motorhome since the fire.

For many, it has become hurry up and wait since the permit and planning department is often packed. There are new codes to follow, original building plans have to be pulled and permits must be obtained before work can start on rebuilding.

Sonoma County has brought in temporary modular units to specifically help fire victims and decrease wait times, while increasing organization and efficiency.

If you need the latest information related to fees, rebuilding costs, procedures and building codes visit www.sonomacountyrecovers.org

 
 
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