Fire Reverberations and a Quick Contrast to the Lone Star State, Part I

Fire Reverberations and a Quick Contrast to the Lone Star State, Part I

After all these years since the Nuns and Tubbs fires in 2017, smoke still lingers on our minds in Sonoma County. Every time we smell smoke, or a windy day heats up, our anxiety levels creep up on us. We feel it at GreenLynx, and we can tell our community feels it. For some, the lingering is not just anxiety, but a sense of lost place and peace of mind; yet for others, they are still without their home. During both the aftermath of the fires, people would come into GreenLynx in a daze, happy to be somewhere they felt comfortable, away from the crowds, losing themselves in the history of old things, or the feelings of place that they drummed up inside. We were happy to serve as a respite for them, but even today we are disturbed by the reverberations we continue to see that keep people from proper housing.

We recently salvaged components of a stunning home touched by the Tubbs Fire. It remains mostly intact, its terra cotta roof tiles a testament to the wise design choices of the homeowner who had finally built the home of her dreams. At first glance, the stucco exterior walls look pristine against the bright blue sky, appearing as if on a Tuscan hillside. But even this fortified beauty suffered damage due to the intensity of the fire. The owners have been out of this dream home since the fire, living in a rental all this time. Our work was the start of what will be a massive remodel and repair project after seven years of fighting, and finally settling, with the insurance company. 

There are likely thousands more stories such as this one, and we do hear of a few positive ones from time to time when customers come in to find a piece of history that resembles something from their lost home. Like the woman who had moved into a new condo after losing her house in the same fire in Santa Rosa. She purchased a petite 12 pane antique wood window to place in her bathroom to remind her of her past house, and break up some of the monotony of her white modern walls. Or the couple who came in to buy an old growth fir mantle in an attempt to evoke feelings of nature to remind them of the older trees that they had lost. Neither divulged their stories with insurance, but appeared to have had their cases resolved and a place to call home.

The most memorable was a woman and her friend “the carpenter” who were building a semi-underground tiny house made using stone from her property. She had lost everything in the fire, and insurance did not cover enough for her to rebuild anything in our modern era of permit fees, material inflation, and contractor rates exaggerated by excessive state taxes, insurance, and a burdensome state code all of which make housing more unaffordable in California. She bought most of her windows and doors from GreenLynx, and kept returning to show us photos and give us updates on her progress.  

Earlier this year, Texas suffered the worst fire in their history as well. The Smokehouse Creek Fire consumed more than 1 million acres in the northern panhandle of Texas. Last week I visited Texas where I experienced two extreme weather events: a massive lightning and thunderstorm in Waco while under tornado watch; followed a few days later by a hail storm near San Antonio so strong we had to pull under a highway overpass to wait until it passed. Both of these events made me happy that I live in California. I was there for a graduation at Baylor (Sic em Zani!) and visited my cousin who served as a State Legislator and runs an insurance company. During that harrowing drive to San Antonio, my cousin explained that Texas was also suffering from losses due to climate change, and it is changing their insurance landscape rapidly.  

One thing he did say, however, is that Texas is fairly lax when it comes to building permits, and outside of tech areas like Austin, affordability is king due to Texan's commitment to their independence. I did a quick search of building fees in Texas, and he wasn’t foolin’. Check out the building permit fees in San Antonio - they are either shockingly low or our fees (check out Santa Rosa) are truly high.

  • A simple 5 minute search on window replacement resulted in an answer of $150 permit fee in the River City. Not only are they low, they are also transparent!
  • To determine costs in Santa Rosa, I had to apply for a permit online and wait for an email back. This morning I was pleasantly surprised by a staff member I’ll call Lori who quoted me $354 for the permit. Not bad, but 2x the cost of San Antonio.
This dive into insurance related to climate change, permit fees and housing costs, and comparing our 2 states has led to more questions from both myself and Stephanie, leading this post to become Part 1 of likely 2 more to come. 

Check back next week for Part 2.
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Thanks for your question Monica! Permit fees should cover the cost to review your application and plans by plan checkers to ensure the building plans meet code. Some departments are smart and reduce costs by making sure you meet certain requirements before you submit to prevent wasting their time and your money with major mistakes that should be visible with a quick 10 minute look. Once your plans are approved, the permit fees cover a certain number of necessary inspections to ensure the building is built to plan (choose a good Contractor to avoid having to pay for additional inspections!). They should really be there to support the contractor, but unfortunately they often can hold up projects even longer if they are not customer service focused. We have a long way to go – especially in California, to make sure buildings are built quickly, efficiently, correctly and green. It does help to have a Licensed Contractor who has worked with local inspectors. Inspectors are human and do need to be treated decently – and if they don’t show respect – it is important to speak up and go to their Supervisors. A friendly face (and cookies!) never hurts in a relationship.


This is a terrific piece. For us know nothings, what are the permit fees supposed to be covering in theory? What is the reason for having them?


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