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of illegally dumping raw sewage. A3 to kick off MLB season this week. C1


Outraged youths ‘done hiding’

MARCH FOR OUR LIVES » In “If they continue to ignore us, to only
pretend to listen, then we will take ac-
US and abroad, crowds take to tion where it counts,” Delaney Tarr, a
streets in call for gun control student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas
High School in Parkland, where a gun-
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR man killed 17 people last month, told tens
NEW YORK TIMES of thousands rallying in Washington.
“We will take action
WASHINGTON — Standing before INSIDE every day in every
vast crowds from Washington to Los An- Spirited crowd packs way until they sim-
geles to Parkland, Florida, the speakers SR’s Old Courthouse ply cannot ignore us
— nearly all of them students, some still Square for rally / A3 anymore.”
in elementary school — delivered an an- For many of the
guished and defiant message: They are young people, the Washington rally,
“done hiding” from gun violence, and called March for Our Lives, was their
will “stop at nothing” to get politicians to first act of protest and the beginning of a
finally prevent it. political awakening. But that awakening
The students, as they seized the nation’s may be a rude one — lawmakers in
attention Saturday with raised fists and Congress have largely disregarded
tear-streaked faces, vowed that their grief their pleas for action on television and
about school shootings and their frustra- social media in the five weeks since the JOSE LUIS MAGANA / ASSOCIATED PRESS
tion with adults’ inaction would power a Protesters fill Pennsylvania Avenue, visible from the Newseum, during the March for Our
new generation of political activism. TURN TO MARCH » PAGE A12 Lives rally Saturday in support of gun control in Washington, D.C.

WILDFIRE RECOVERY » Many homeowners hoping to rebuild

scrambling over coverage shortfalls with complex consequences

John Bolton
Painful insurance reality
for clash
ANALYSIS » New team,
including Bolton, wants
global leaders to blink first

WASHINGTON — The incom-

ing national security adviser
has called for the “swift take-
over” of North Korea by the
South. He and the newly nom-
inated secretary of state have
urged withdrawal from the 2015
nuclear deal with Iran. The pick
for CIA director once oversaw
harsh interrogations of terror-
ism suspects that her critics
claim were plainly torture.
And the two generals cel-
ebrated by President Donald
Trump for their reputations for
toughness are now considered
the moderates — and at risk of
falling out of his favor.
Not since the immediate af-
termath of Sept. 11, 2001, have NEW HOME AFTER FIRES: Cody Nix, 6, reads his homework aloud to his mother, Sharlene, on Wednesday at their home in Santa Rosa. The Nixes discovered that they
key national security leaders were underinsured when they filed a claim to rebuild their Larkfield-area home, which was destroyed by the Tubbs fire in October.
so publicly raised the threat of
military confrontation if for-
eign adversaries do not meet the
J inventory
United States’ demands.
But George W. Bush’s war osh Nix thought he was
Cabinet was responding to the doing everything right in
biggest direct attack on the Unit-
ed States since Pearl Harbor.
The current moment of peril
August when he renewed
the insurance policy for his
Mark West area home just east
arises from Trump’s conviction of Luther Burbank Center for By BILL SWINDELL
that the United States is being the Arts. THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

pushed around by adversaries Nix answered the questions
who need to understand that posed by his carrier, USAA, itty Loberg said she could
“America First” means they in an online form used to only devote minimal
have a brief window to negotiate determine the proper amount blocks of time to remem-
a deal, or force may follow. of coverage for his three-bed- ber all the personal items she
Now, the members of Trump’s room, three-bathroom house on lost when the October wildfires
newly constituted team are Willowgreen Place. The home, destroyed her Redwood Valley
about to face multiple, simulta- which he bought in 2013 for home.
neous tests of their past procla- $554,000, was valued at around SHOOTING HOOPS: Joshua Nix watches his son, Cody, shoot a basket outside “When your body is still in a
mations and sometimes conflict- $800,000, but the digital calcula- the family’s new home in Santa Rosa. shocked state in trying to deal
ing instincts. North Korea and tor showed that he needed only with the reality (of rebuilding)
Iran pose the most immediate $293,000 for structure coverage. cover me on a total loss.” and everything with that ... It
challenge, with Trump setting Nix decided to round it up, He would soon find out the hurts,” said Loberg. “Your mind

2018 • SECTION

negotiation deadlines that are purchasing a $300,000 policy painful truth: His insurance starts screaming at you and says,
only months away. that would go into effect on policy would not replace the AY ‘No, I just don’t want to do this.’”
Over the longer term, they Oct. 3. home he lost. Rebuilding NORTH B Here and there, Loberg
must straighten out the strate- “I answered the questions his home would cost around would compile a list of items
gic incoherence surrounding honestly,” said Nix, a 38-year- $325,000 more than his insur- lost inside her house, barn and
Trump’s approach to Russia and old husband with two young ance policy covered — and shed on her 1-acre property in
China, defining the meaning of children. With eight years of that doesn’t even include the Mendocino County.
the administration’s policy dec- active duty service in the U.S. cost of paying off the $425,000 And then she caught a break.
laration earlier this year that Coast Guard, Nix chose USAA mortgage Nix still owed on his SPECIAL SECTION: Her insurer, CSAA Insurance
“great power competition — not because it catered to service gutted home. Rebuild North Bay looks Group, stopped asking for a
terrorism — is now the primary personnel. “I believed it was a at the progress of the
product that would sufficiently TURN TO INSURANCE » PAGE A14 fire recovery effort / H1 TURN TO INVENTORY » PAGE A14

Business E1 Crossword T6 Lotto A2 Obituaries B4 TOUGH TIMES FOR DAIRIES: Farmers across SANTA ROSA ©2018
Classified E5 Forum B11 Movies D6 Smith A3 North Bay who’ve shifted to certified organic High 59, Low 35 The Press
Community B10 LeBaron T1 Nevius C1 TV T7 operations struggling as milk prices sink / E1 THE WEATHER, C8

“Most people will find themselves underinsured. Those are some breathtaking numbers.”
AMY BACH, executive director of United Policyholders, a San Francisco-based consumer group

Nix is not alone. The
firestorm, which destroyed more
than 5,500 homes in the North
Bay, revealed one of the stark
realities of insurance: many
homeowners don’t have enough
coverage to replace their homes
following a disaster.
Consumers are blaming
insurance companies, saying
they were misled to believe they
had adequate coverage. Insur-
ance companies contend that
consumers are responsible for
deciding how much insurance
to buy, noting that price is a
driving factor when many home-
owners make their decisions.
Despite the ubiquitous TV
commercials where insurance
companies tout they are “on
your side” and are “like a good
neighbor,” many local residents
feel their insurers are more of
an adversary than an ally.
Almost 70 percent of local fire
victims believe they do not have
enough insurance to replace or
rebuild their homes, according
to a survey by United Policy-
holders, a San Francisco-based
consumer group.
“Nobody is looking out for
your best interest,” Nix tearfully
recounted in an interview. He ALVIN JORNADA / THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
has decided to sell his lot to a FATHER AND SON TIME: Joshua Nix, left, helps his son, Cody, 6, take in some batting practice after dinner at the family’s home in Santa Rosa. Nix realizes that his family
builder for $265,000 in a deal was fortunate to have to bought another house near Piner High School two days after the Tubbs fire, which burned down their home in the Larkfield area.
scheduled to close on Monday.
“They sold me a half a policy,” difficult to solve than other policyholders have hired public burdensome or takes too long. owners qualify for such cover-
he said of USAA. obstacles to rebuilding. While adjusters, who negotiate with Displaced homeowners have age, and only a small subset of
In a statement, USAA dis- government officials took action insurers for a fee. few options. Some will try to insurers even offer it.
agreed with Nix’s version of to speed up debris removal and “The insurance companies pay for rebuilding by scraping Policymakers became aware
events. streamline permitting, they do are lowballing,” said Eric together claims from other parts of the problem following the
“We disagree with the way not have the same power to force Keith, chief operating officer at of their insurance policy — most 1991 Oakland Hills fire — the
Mr. Nix has described how his insurers to provide more relief. Sonoma County Builders, who notably reimbursement for costliest American wildfire until
coverage was established,” the As of March 12, insurers have is ready to rebuild 10 homes in losses of personal property, such the North Bay blazes broke the
company said in a statement. paid out $4.6 billion in residen- the Fountaingrove area. Four as furniture, appliances and record last year — but many
“We provide our members tial claims in Sonoma County, of those clients are still waiting clothing. Those funds could be homeowners were not aware un-
an estimate of the minimum or two-thirds of the $6.9 billion to hear back from their insur- combined with personal savings til they were personally affected.
amount of coverage they should in insured losses left by the ance adjusters after presenting or a low-interest Small Business “In case after case, California
obtain to rebuild. Members may destruction of 4,821 homes, ac- detailed pricing information on Administration loan to rebuild. residents whose homes had been
choose to insure for an amount cording to the state Department their claims. “I could be starting Others may be forced to band damaged or destroyed explained
greater or less than the estimate of Insurance. on their house if not for that,” together with their neighbors why they had believed their
provided by USAA. We cannot The way insurers review and Keith said of the delay. to negotiate a package deal with homeowners insurance would en-
give additional coverage to those approve fire claims is playing Insurance carriers use software builders and lenders, which can able them to rebuild their dwell-
who chose to purchase less.” an integral role in the speed of programs to calculate the cost lower the price of rebuilding. ings. Once they presented their
Nix and others have been rebuilding. of rebuilding, but they haven’t Then there are those who just claim to their insurance compa-
left scrambling with insurance Contractors will not start a adjusted their models to reflect may simply eat the cost of the ny, though, these homeowners
shortfalls that can range from construction job until they are sharp increases in the cost of gap — if they can afford it. discovered that their coverage fell
as little as tens of thousands of sure there is enough money labor and materials after the All of those individual deci- well short of what they needed
dollars to more than $1 million, to complete the project. Thus, October wildfires, Keith said. As a sions will have a collective effect — sometimes by hundreds of
according to Amy Bach, exec- many are waiting for policyhold- result, they have lower estimates on the local economy. thousands of dollars — to rebuild
utive director of United Policy- ers to negotiate settlements with of what it costs to build a home “That’s the big policy conun- their homes,” the California Su-
holders. The problem is evident their carriers. today in Sonoma County, he said. drum for policymakers in Sono- preme Court stated in a January
in every neighborhood ravaged Many policyholders discover The actual cost of framing ma County,” said Robert Eyler, 2017 decision that provided state
by fire across the North Bay, al- they are underinsured when and roofing is about double the director of the Center for Region- Insurance Commissioner Dave
though the biggest shortfalls are contractors deliver ballpark esti- amount offered by insurance al Economic Analysis at Sonoma Jones more authority to regulate
centered in Fountaingrove and mates on the cost of rebuilding, companies, Keith said. To help State University, who has studied the industry.
other upscale neighborhoods. which can range from as low as some customers negotiate with the cost of rebuilding. “If people It is a lesson that more Cali-
“Most people will find them- $280 per square foot for a group their insurer, Keith has reworked start walking away en masse, fornians are learning on a more
selves underinsured,” Bach said. build in Coffey Park to as high as the carrier-provided estimates to what kind of public policy issue regular basis as wildfires have
“Those are some breathtaking $600 per square foot in Fountain- show the true cost for rebuilding. does that create?” become more destructive in
numbers.” grove, said Keith Woods, chief The end result? Many fire The problem of underin- the Golden State since the turn
The ramifications of the executive officer of the North victims will find themselves surance has been around for of the century, exacerbated by
large gap between insured and Coast Builders Exchange. without sufficient funds and will decades, making it especially drought and increased build-
uninsured losses will be sig- Even those who opt to go end up ultimately selling their frustrating for recent fire vic- ing near forested areas. They
nificant. If homeowners don’t forward can face delays. Fire lots, like Nix. tims. include such costly blazes as the
have enough money to rebuild, victims must get detailed, line- “That’s the easy button right In the past, insurers offered 2003 Cedar and 2007 Witch wild-
financial pressures could force by-line estimates for rebuilding, there,” Keith said of selling policies that guaranteed your fires in San Diego County; the
many to leave the North Bay and which can spark further wran- lots. He envisions more fire home would be rebuilt if it was 2003 Old fire in San Bernardino
delay efforts to rebuild. gling with insurance carriers victims choosing that option if destroyed in a fire. But today,
The problem is proving more and trigger more setbacks. Some the claims process becomes too only a limited number of home- TURN TO INSURANCE » PAGE A15

to pay out at least 80 percent of
personal property claims without
itemization in the aftermath of a
lish the home was fully furnished,
Chubb releases the full written
policy limit on the personal
100 percent payouts for personal
property losses without having
to file any itemization, while oth-
CONTINUED FROM A1 Listed below in alphabetical declared state of emergency. Mc- property coverage to the client,” ers were told to inventory their
Guire’s bill, SB 897, would be ap- Samansky said in an email. specific losses.
detailed list in January. Instead,
order are the 10 largest residential
plied retroactively to July 1. “This One Allstate policyholder As part of its subsequent
it allowed Loberg to submit a
property insurers in Sonoma,
is going to be one hell of a fight,” told The Press Democrat that outreach, CSAA gave out the
summary of her property losses
Mendocino, Lake, Napa and Sola-
McGuire said of advancing his bill he received a 100 percent payout cellphone numbers of its top
from 65 different categories to
no counties. The results are based
against the insurance lobby. two weeks after Jones’ request. claims officials to more than
simplify and speed up the claims
on 2016 premiums earned.
The Press Democrat surveyed The company did not respond to 650 customers so they could
process. ■ Allstate Insurance Group the 10 largest insurance compa- repeated requests for comment. contact them directly if they
CSAA is one of almost 50 in- ■ Chubb Group nies in the North Bay and their Four insurers were paying at had any concerns about their
surers pressured by state Insur- ■ CSAA policyholders to determine how least 75 percent of a fire vic- claims, said spokeswoman Sue
ance Commissioner Dave Jones much money they were receiv- tims’ personal property claim Saito. Loberg said she called one
in December to pay North Bay ■ Farmers Insurance Group ing for personal property claims without an itemized list. State official when she had some prob-
fire victims up to 100 percent of ■ Liberty Insurance Group without itemizing their losses. Farm, The Hartford and USAA lems over payment of debris
their personal property cover- ■ Nationwide Group The 10 insurers cover 89 percent all confirmed they were paying cleanup, which he resolved to
age limits without a detailed of the homes insured in Sonoma claims at that percentage. USAA her satisfaction.
inventory. ■ State Farm Group County, according to the state has been paying that level for The Travelers did not detail
Jones required insurers to ■ The Hartford Insurance Group Department of Insurance. catastrophes since 2011, said the company’s policy on person-
show state regulators how they ■ The Travelers Insurance Group Only one carrier, Farmers In- spokesman Roger Wildermuth. al property payouts.
intended to help fire victims get surance Group, confirmed direct- Nationwide policyholders Some Travelers policyholders
bigger insurance payouts with
■ USAA Group
ly that it is paying out 100 percent told The Press Democrat they said they were especially disap-
less paperwork and stress. He Source: California Department of to its customers without itemiza- received a 75 percent payout, pointed when they discovered
publicly listed the names of in- tion. “This one-time decision was though the company did not the company would only pay out
surers that paid out more — and arrived at after taking account of provide any specific percentages 50 percent without itemization
less — than 50 percent of their with their insurance carrier. the unique conditions surround- when contacted. — the lowest rate of the top 10.
coverage limits without docu- “I think the momentum has ing the California wildfires and Many of those customers have Janet Hendrickson wrote to
mentation, enabling fire victims been building on this issue since their aftermath,” said Farmers lobbied their carriers to pay Travelers CEO Alan Schnitzer
to gauge how their company was the last major catastrophe,” spokesman Luis Shagun in a 100 percent of their personal in January to plead her case
treating customers in the wake Bach said. “On this one (issue), I statement. property claims without item- after her home was destroyed in
of the disaster. think this is really strong.” Liberty Mutual/SAFECO ization. Tubbs fire.
Loberg credits such pressure Twenty-two percent of fire would not disclose an overall State Farm spokesman Sevag “Putting together these lists
for helping her ultimately get ev- victims said they received percentage on reimbursement; Sarkissian noted that consumers and then having each item
ery penny out of her policy cov- 100 percent of their personal however, in many cases it paid who want more coverage for per- depreciated is not only time
ering personal property without property claims without being out 100 percent without an sonal property can always buy it consuming but even worse,
listing every single item she lost, required by their carrier to sub- inventory based on in-depth con- from their insurer. The company agonizing leading to feelings of
though she still had to submit mit a complete home inventory, versations between fire victims bases its prices on how much it great despair,” she wrote.
estimates of her losses broken according a survey conducted by and its claims adjusters, said anticipates actually paying in Hendrickson said she was
down into broad categories. United Policyholders. spokesman Glenn Greenberg. personal property claims, not told by a Travelers official that
“I think it was a good thing Under pressure from policy- Likewise, Chubb did not on how much it would cost the the company offered bigger
he did,” she said of Jones. “It holders and Jones, 39 carriers provide an exact percentage, company to automatically pay payouts for personal property
provided some support to help have publicly pledged to pay at but said its requirements for an out 100 percent of the value of losses than its competitors, even
on everything else.” least 50 percent of a fire victims’ inventory of personal property its customers’ policies. though some of its rivals were
Jones’ action — along with pol- personal property claim without losses were flexible. The com- “If rates were to be based on paying out claims at a higher
icyholders banding together to an itemized list. Many have pany requires customers to policy limits instead of actual threshold without requiring
pressure top industry executives agreed to pay even more, but verbally provide an overview of losses they would be significant- documentation. She eventually
— has had a significant results, Jones said he could not release the personal property lost in the ly higher for all of our custom- turned in an inventory list.
said Amy Bach, executive direc- specific payout policies because fire. An adjuster later conducts ers,” Sarkissian said in an email. “My response was Travelers
tor of the United Policyholders, their reports to regulators were an on-site inspection, said CSAA clarified its documen- determined the amount for
a San Francisco-based consumer not covered under the California spokesman Eric Samansky. tation requirements in January inventory not me. I paid for that
advocacy group. Her group has Public Records Act. “These two methods are used when customers began trading amount and as such that is what
assisted fire victims with advice State Sen. Mike McGuire, to confirm the existence of a fully stories about the way they had I should receive,” Hendrickson
on how to lobby and negotiate D-Healdsburg, wants insurers furnished home. Where we estab- been treated. Some received said in an email.

INSURANCE filed complaints with his depart-

ment, though many of those
charges concerned misrepresen-
CONTINUED FROM A14 tation of a policy. The legislative
threat, however, may spur the
County; and the 2015 Valley fire carriers to make offers more
in Lake County. amenable to their clients.
A 2013 report by industry “Those insurers have the re-
analyst Marshall & Swift/Boeckh sources to pay those losses,” said
found that 60 percent of Amer- Jones, who noted that carriers
ican homes were essentially were also beneficiaries of the
underinsured by an average of federal tax cut bill passed late
17 percent. The state Department last year.
of Insurance found in a 2008 There have been successful
survey that those with so-called precedents for applying such
“extended replacement cover- pressure.
age” — policies that can pay out “The one thing that carriers
as much as 150 percent of the are very concerned about is
overall limit in some cases — still their reputation,” said Kun-
ended up paying out-of-pocket reuther of the Wharton School.
costs in 57 percent of the cases. He noted some insurers in the
So why does this keep happen- aftermath of Hurricane Andrew
ing? in 1992 initially balked at paying
The simple answer, analysts claims for homes built under
said, is that insurers try to more lax building codes, but
attract and keep customers by ultimately paid out under public
focusing marketing messages pressure. “They decided that it
on affordable annual premi- was in their best interest,” Kun-
ums, rather than the amount of ALVIN JORNADA / THE PRESS DEMOCRAT reuther said.
coverage needed for a worst-case HOMEOWNER’S DILEMMA: “Nobody is looking out for your best interest,” said Joshua Nix, who unpacks his son’s school Nix is hoping such pressure
scenario. backpack at his family’s new home Wednesday in Santa Rosa, about his discovery of his home being underinsured after the fires. — especially from policyhold-
“People view this as an er groups that formed in the
investment, not as a protective are required in new homes. “I think the other thing they perennial issues that have reap- aftermath of the fires to trade
measure,” said Howard Kun- But carriers will get pushback can’t figure in is the demand peared again with the local fires. personal stories and insurance
reuther, a professor at the Whar- from their consumers about for surge pricing,” Everson They include AB 1797 by As- strategies — may help his fami-
ton School at the University of paying more. “They are very said. “The prices are going up semblyman Marc Levine, D-San ly’s plight.
Pennsylvania, who has studied price sensitive,” Sektnan said of because of supply and demand.” Rafael, which would require After five months of dealing
the industry. “The best return consumers. Given the severity of the prob- carriers to offer a replacement with USAA, he has strong,
on a (homeowner) policy is no Indeed, agents are under pres- lem, policymakers have tried cost estimate for rebuilding at visceral feelings about insurers.
return at all.” sure to make sales. The correct to exert pressure on carriers to each annual renewal and for When an insurance commercial
The industry contends that amount of coverage can result in offer more generous settlements. new policies; and SB 1263 by Sen. comes on TV, Nix must change
it’s not in their best interest to customers taking their business For example, Jones has called on Anthony Portantino, D-Glendale, the channel. But unlike some
underinsure their customers elsewhere to another carrier carriers to provide up to 100 per- which would automatically in- other USAA policyholders, he
because that would also put because of the higher cost, said cent of personal property claims crease coverage limits to 150 per- has not filed suit against the
the carriers at risk, said Mark McKenzie Smith, a broker with without providing an inventory cent of the policy in the event company, hoping that mediation
Sektnan, vice president of the CIG Redwood Empire Insurance — which has had some success. of declared state of emergency. through the state Department of
Property Casualty Insurers As- Center in Petaluma. “I’m using every ounce of my Jones noted that past measures Insurance may be more fruitful.
sociation of America. Insurers Smith noted one customer authority and then some to help have been opposed by insurance “It’s just another cog in the
have been sued for both underin- who was about $150,000 under- fire survivors,” Jones said in an lobbyists. wheel with the stress,” he said
suring a customer and overin- insured. He urged the customer interview. “I’m hopeful, given the of the claims process.
suring a customer. They also to boost the coverage to no avail, But he only has limited enormity of the damage and He realizes that his family is
want to keep customers happy, even though it would only add a powers. Even though Jones won loss that people suffered, that lucky because he took his wife’s
given that it costs four times few hundred dollars more annu- his state Supreme Court case the Legislature will act and not advice to buy another house
more to obtain a new client than ally to the cost of his premiums. last year against the industry, be influenced by the insurance near Piner High School two days
retain an existing one. “You can only force so much,” he still did not get the authori- industry,” Jones said. after the Tubbs fire, paying for
“We try and provide a reason- Smith said. He added that he ty to require insurers to set or But industry representative it with savings and temporary
able estimate of what it costs to will drop his clients who will not recommend an insurance policy Sektnan noted that major chang- living expenses from the carrier.
rebuild. It’s impossible to predict insure to the proper amount. for a replacement home. Instead, es to coverage could make home- As a result, Nix now has more
every possible situation,” The October wildfires have the court ruling only provided owners insurance unaffordable time to spend playing with his
Sektnan said. Most carriers, for not only exposed the widespread limited power over how carriers to many Californians. kids rather than to worry about
example, increase their policy problem of underinsurance, but communicate with policyholders “You can put bells and whis- making the math add up. But,
coverage annually for inflation. also exacerbated it by driving and how they calculate policies tles on it, but they may not be still, he would rather have the
He added that carriers offer up construction costs. With so for replacement coverage if they able to afford (it),” he said. funds to rebuild on his old lot.
additional products to ensure many people seeking to rebuild, prepare estimates for a customer. Legislative action may not “No amount of money is
clients will have sufficient the combined costs for construc- “The Legislature has not given help local fire victims who find worth the amount of stress this
coverage in event of a natural tion labor and materials have me the authority to have them themselves facing a significant process has ensued,” Nix said.
disaster. They include extended increased about 30 percent since (carriers) pay more than what’s gap between their insurance
replacement cost coverage and Jan. 1, said Matt Everson, a in the contract,” Jones said. payout and the cost of rebuild- You can reach Staff Writer Bill
policies for building code up- former financial planner who is Lawmakers have helped apply ing. Jones said his office has Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.
grades, which will pay for items assisting fire victims in compil- pressure as well, unveiling a helped recover $43.5 million for
such as sprinkler systems that ing detailed rebuild estimates. series of bills intended to address local policyholders who have On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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U R D AY, A P R IL 2 1 , 2 0 18


honorary committee support of the Evening
707-933-2555 • lpete
We are thankful for the Or go online: hannacen
rary Committee and
with the All-Stars Hono mission
nce in fulfilling Hanna’s
appreciate their influe
ul fundraising event.
and creating a successf
Squire and Suzy Fride
Superviso r Su san Go rin
Jim and Sharon Lynch
Manuel R. Merjil
Gary and Marcia Nelso
Ste ve Pa ge SONOMA, CA
Jon Parker and Kathy
Mi ke Th ompson


The Thompson family, clockwise from

upper left, John, Lauren, Jack, 9, and
Will, 5, lost their Mark West Estates
home in the Tubbs fire and are now
confronting the reality that their
homeowners insurance will not cover
the full cost of replacing their home
and personal belongings.


ive months ago, wildfires irrevocably transformed our communities in ways we could
witness, but perhaps not immediately grasp. For thousands of homeowners, the di-
saster raised a wrenching question: Rebuild or relocate for good?
Insurance coverage has proved a pivotal factor in that answer. With labor and
material costs soaring, homeowners are finding their payouts fall far short of what it would
take to rebuild. That gap also is shaping what becomes of burned neighborhoods, where
more for sale signs went up in March than new foundations and walls. Here, we collect the
stories that this month shaped our scarred region.



Questions linger about the neighborhood’s A Southern California builder arranges Property owners are finding that their
water system, parts of which have been to construct nearly 80 homes in Mark West policies may not cover the full value
contaminated with benzene. Estates with first move-ins by this fall. of homes and possessions.
Page H4 Page H6 Page H10


INSURANCE STRUGGLE » Fire victims discover they may not be covered for full rebuild cost

Homeowners coming up short

By GLEN MARTIN to fire victims who had been
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT covered by other companies,

and they had received the full
or Lauren and John amount of their contents poli-
Thompson, catastrophe cies with no questions asked.”
barged in last year as it It turns out a lot of other fire
did for thousands of others that victims covered by State Farm
night: with the smell of smoke. felt the same way — at least
The thick scent roused the 144 of them, in fact. The group,
Wikiup homeowners from their including the Thompsons, sent
sleep, and they ran out to the an open letter to State Farm
street to investigate. All seemed CEO Michael Tipsord and the
normal, except for the strong firm’s board of directors urging
wind and the sharp tang of immediate and full payouts
burning wood that it carried. on property coverage without
“So we went back inside and delay, noting such action “would
went on Facebook, and all the be relieving to so many of us
messages we were seeing were with one of our many burdens,
pretty frightening,” said Lauren while creating positive public
Thompson. “We went outside relations and good will.”
again, and this time we could California Insurance Com-
see this deep orange glow from missioner Dave Jones in Jan-
the direction of Petrified Forest uary urged insurers to waive
Road. It was incredibly omi- the inventory requirement,
nous.” requesting they provide up to
While they stood transfixed, 100 percent of personal prop-
a car sped up the street. The erty coverage for fire survivors
driver yelled that a fire was ALVIN JORNADA / THE PRESS DEMOCRAT without having to compile the
coming over the hill, and that Lauren and John Thompson examine original blueprints of their Mark West Estates home that burned down detailed list of lost belongings.
everyone had to evacuate. The during the Tubbs fire. It’s unclear if the Thompsons’ State Farm insurance policies will cover their full loss. A State Farm representative
Thompsons needed no further said that while the company was
prompting. They packed a bag not waiving “any contract pro-
with essentials, roused their two kids, make sure they got to school on time, age for cleanup costs, and we went with visions,” policy holders can receive and
jumped in their own vehicle, and left. and that they were picked up on time. FEMA to do that job. But we probably keep an advance on up to three-quar-
By then all the streets in and out of the That really helped us keep our priori- won’t get that bill for a couple of years, ters of their contents policy without the
Wikiup area were clogged, and some ties straight.” and it’s not at all clear that $60,000 will inventory.
buildings at Cardinal Newman High Also anchoring the couple was their cover it, so we’ll have to put that money “For those customers seeking addi-
School were aflame. determination to rebuild. They never aside. I lost a week of work during the tional amounts beyond the 75 percent,
“There was so much traffic that it had any real doubt on that score. They fires, and my husband is an internal State Farm is available to support them
took an hour and a half to get from our loved the Wikiup area, and they figured investigator with the state Department in completing the contents inventory
house to Highway 101,” Lauren Thom- they were sufficiently insured. of Corrections. We’re working people, process,” said Sevag A. Sarkissian,
son said. “But even though we knew it “I called my insurance agent at State we’re not independently wealthy. We a company spokesman. “Customers
was a serious wildfire, we didn’t think Farm, and basically just said, ‘What do have two kids, and the bills keep coming do not have to wait until their entire
we’d lose our home, let alone our entire we do?” Lauren Thompson said. “They in. We don’t have a lot of options.” inventory is completed to submit to
neighborhood. We just thought there read us our coverage, and it came to So when State Farm told the Thomp- their claim. We encourage submitting
was no way everything could burn.” $750,000. Our home had been appraised sons that the company could only inventories by rooms to make it easier
The next day, the Thompsons learned at $715,000, so we figured we were OK.” cover 75 percent of the contents policy for our customers to compile. We also
that it was all gone: their home, all the They weren’t. Being in the real estate without an itemized list, she became, as recommend grouping items of similar
houses on their street, the entire neigh- business, Thompson already knew she put it with considerable understate- quality/price/age.”
borhood. there was a housing shortage in Santa ment, “extremely upset.” The burden Thompson is feeling somewhat more
“In one sense, we were lucky,” said Rosa, and that labor and materials were of meticulously itemizing each and sanguine these days because she and
Lauren Thomson, a marketing director at a premium as a consequence. But every piece of household property was her husband recently received a check
for a real estate firm. “We were able when she and her husband started pen- more than difficult — it was practically from State Farm for $784,000 for con-
to find a rental home in Windsor just ciling out numbers for reconstruction impossible, and she strongly suspected struction costs. But they still need the
a couple of exits north on the freeway costs, she discovered the situation was State Farm knew that. payment from their contents policy, and
from Wikiup. But for the first couple of worse than she had thought. “You spend hundreds of hours deal- it remains unclear how much money
weeks, I found myself getting incredibly “For the house we had — four bed- ing with the aftermath of a catastrophe they’ll receive, and when they’ll receive
frustrated, angry, even. This wasn’t my room, 2,900 square feet — it was going like this, and then you’re told you have it.
home. This wasn’t my store where I to cost between $850,000 to $900,000 to to do more and more needless work just “In any contact with them, you just
shop for groceries. We felt disconnect- rebuild,” Thompson said. to get the full amount of money owed feel this pressure to settle, and at the
ed.” The Thompsons felt they could still to you. It’s too much,” Thompson said. lowest possible cost,” said Thompson.
The couple’s kids, however, served go ahead, but they’d have to use all or “We were already upset with an initial “It’s unrelenting. We’re negotiating
to center them, bring them back to a most of the money from their contents lowball offer of $630,000 for construc- in good faith. We’ve always paid our
tolerable emotional baseline. coverage — the ancillary policy cover- tion costs, and then delays by adjusters premiums. People who lost their homes
“We had to make sure things felt ing household goods — to do it. that they attributed to the holidays, here are suffering PTSD. This just adds
normal for them, that they were com- “And even then it could be tight,” so this just put us over the edge. We more and stress to a situation that has
fortable,” Thompson said. “We had to said Thompson. “We had $60,000 cover- became even angrier when we talked already put us all at the limit.”

Disputes with insurer stall settlement

By GLEN MARTIN me or my children the way my mom Their first child, a son, was born one of the casualties, then the desper-
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT had been treated,” Craw-Molinaro said. shortly after they graduated. Within a ate efforts to find shelter.

“Second, I would never be homeless few years, they had three children. The “We were in a hotel for 38 days
eunee Craw-Molinaro’s childhood like that again. I would work hard to family lived modestly: no cellphones, no before we found a place to rent,” said
was tough, particularly during her put myself through college and make a cable TV, one car. They were able to save Craw-Molinaro. “I found myself in the
high school years. Raised by a single great life for myself.” enough money for a down payment on one place I swore I’d never go back to —
mom, she was the oldest of four Craw, as she was known before she a Rohnert Park condominium. They re- living in a hotel with my family, with no
children. The family lived with her was married, had an ally in the pursuit modeled it with a minimum of cash and permanent home.”
mother’s boyfriend. There were inces- of those goals: her boyfriend, Lance a lot of sweat equity, sold it, and finally Still, Craw-Molinaro and her hus-
sant arguments between the two adults, Molinaro. They had met her junior were able to fulfill their lifelong dream: band were not passive in the face of
and during Craw-Molinaro’s senior year in high school, and were wholly their own house. It was in a leafy, tran- catastrophe.
year, her mother took the kids and committed to each other. After gradu- quil neighborhood of Coffey Park. “We allowed ourselves one day to
moved out of the house. ation, Craw moved to New York to live “It was our forever home,” Craw-Mo- grieve,” said Craw-Molinaro, “and the
“She had decided she’d had enough, with her father, saving money while linaro said. next day I got on the phone to my in-
but we had no place to go,” said Molinaro went to college. They main- They lived in it for four years, until surance broker to file a claim. We were
Craw-Molinaro. tained close contact, and she moved the night of Oct. 8, 2017 — the night determined to rebuild.”
“We stayed with friends. Often (the back to California within a year to pur- both their house and their dreams That began the second phase of the
children) were split up, and we even sue her own education. They married went up in flames. What followed was a family’s ordeal. Though her broker was
spent a couple of nights in our car. We when Craw was 20 and Molinaro was narrative that became only too familiar solicitous and helpful, their subsequent
ended up in a hotel we couldn’t afford.” 21. in Sonoma County: initial panic, hours dealings with their insurance com-
Craw-Molinaro came away from that “We both worked full-time jobs while of uncertainty spent driving aimlessly pany, Safeco, felt almost Kafkaesque.
experience with two resolutions. we went to school,” she said. “After through the darkness and smoke, grief
“First, I would never let a man treat college, we started our family.” on the discovery that their home was TURN TO DISPUTES » PAGE H11


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DISPUTES ried the payment she receives won’t

cover the expense of rebuilding the
family’s new home. As with many
CONTINUED FROM H10 fire victims, she’s finding her cover-
age won’t meet the region’s rapidly
Disputes were almost immediate, escalating construction costs.
including issues over household “We’re going to have to find loans
property. The family had $180,000 to make up the difference,” she says.
in coverage for personal property, “Meanwhile, the expenses keep ac-
Craw-Molinaro said, but rather cumulating. Lance has a good job as
than cutting a check for the full a chemist, I’m a preschool teacher,
amount, her adjuster offered two but it’s a struggle. We have a lot of
options: agree to a payout that credit card debt that we had to take
would amount to about half the on since the fires — and of course,
coverage, or submit a detailed and we have to keep paying our home in-
itemized list of all the losses. The surance premiums, which somehow
first option would result in a check seems a little ironic.”
in two to three months, the adjuster Glenn Greenberg, a spokesman
said, while the second would yield for Safeco, said he couldn’t speak
a sum closer to full coverage, but directly to Craw-Molinaro’s case
could take more than year to issue. due to company policies concerning
Rather than choose, the family customer privacy.
hired a public adjuster at their own “We do provide initial payments
expense to arbitrate on their behalf. on content policies without an
An agreement has yet to be final- exhaustive inventory, and then offer
ized. in-depth interviews to customers,”
“It’s just so frustrating,” said said Greenberg. “Many times these
Craw-Molinaro. “I’ve talked to other conversations result in payments
people whose companies paid out that can actually exceed coverage.
the full amount for personal prop- Sometimes they don’t, and then
erty coverage, and they did it right (customers) can provide an itemized
away and without an itemized list.” inventory.”
Meanwhile, the family has been Craw-Molinaro said she isn’t
working with a contractor to rebuild singling out her own insurance
their home. That portion of their company as a rogue player. The
claim seemed to be going satisfacto- problem, she maintains, is endemic
rily, with Craw-Molinaro’s adjuster throughout the industry.
serving as an intermediary with “I’m finding that poor service or
Safeco. slow or inadequate payment seems
But then the family learned the pretty widespread across all insur-
company had hired a consultant ance companies,” she said. “It seems
to assess and process the claim. it’s not so much a matter of the com-
Craw-Molinaro talked to the con- pany, but the adjuster you end up
sultant, and immediately felt things with. It’s more a matter of luck than
were going sideways. anything else.”
“He said something to the effect, None of this, however, is suffi-
‘Oh, we just want to make sure you ciently daunting to divert the family
get the money for your claim.’ And from their goal: getting back into
I responded, ‘Well, just pay me, their “forever” home. On a recent
then — my contractor’s ready to late winter day, the family explored
go and we want to rebuild.’ And he their old homesite at Coffey Park,
said, ‘Well, we just want to help you now cleaned of ash and debris.
figure out ways to cut costs. Like, Her husband, Lance, sighed, and
if you wait for a year to rebuild the Craw-Molinaro laughed.
cost would be a lot less, because “Ever since the fire, we both have
right now prices for materials and that sigh,” she said. “Sometimes we
wages are so overinflated.’ It was sigh together, and just look at each
just more of a runaround, and I got other and shake our heads. People
angry.” tell you that you’ll get over some- Trinity, from left, 9, Phoenix, 12, Draven, 14, Jeunee Craw-Molinaro and Lance Molinaro gather at
So angry that she posted her story thing like this, but I’m not sure you the site of their Coffey Park home, where they hope to rebuild.
in vivid terms on Facebook. Her ever really do. Somehow, it’s always
insurance broker and hired adjuster
got involved, Safeco’s consultant
with you.”
Lance looked around at the blast- “I’m finding that poor service or
“has backed off,” and the family is ed landscape that had once been a
now anticipating, or at least hoping,
for a satisfactory resolution.
thriving neighborhood.
“Whenever I smell smoke, no mat-
slow or inadequate payment seems
Still, Craw-Molinaro feels she
must remain vigilant at every step
ter how faint, it brings it all back,”
he said. “Just the slightest whiff will
pretty widespread across all
to ensure she won’t be lowballed —
or simply not paid. And ultimately,
do it.”
This time Craw-Molinaro sighed. insurance companies.”
even in the best scenario, she’s wor- “For me, it’s the wind,” she said. JEUNEE CRAW-MOLINARO, Coffey Park fire victim

from the North Bay Fires

Redwood Valley and Santa Rosa Community Recovery Fund

Whether counting the blessings of the Our company was started with the idea that • We will match dollar for dollar
Season or considering tax advantaged we can manage our forestlands and manu- the first $400,000.
charitable giving, please remember the facturing operations with high standards of • The funds will be distributed in
long-term needs of our community by environmental stewardship and operate a Mendocino and Sonoma Counties.
making a donation today to the Redwood successful business, providing family-wage
Valley and Santa Rosa Community jobs, making sustainable, beautiful products • The funds will be directed to youth,
Recovery Fund. and improving forest health. elder, educators, emergency workers,
and animals displaced by the Nuns,
More than homes and buildings were Growing a renewable resource business Redwood Valley, and Tubbs Fires.
lost. Our community lost gathering places, takes time and our planning reaches out • Beginning in 2018, the funds will be
community centers, ball parks, elder care 100 years. When we think about the North distributed by the Community Foundation
centers, schools, and places to enjoy with Bay Fires we think about the long-term of Mendocino County via an independent
our children and families. Among our needs of our community. committee and a regular report of
community members that lost their homes distributions will be provided on our
and all their belongings are teachers and To that end, we support the Redwood Valley website until the fund is exhausted.
emergency workers. Community space, and Santa Rosa Community Recovery Fund
• The independent committee consists of
youth and elderly, teachers and public safety with a MATCHING CHALLENGE. Every dollar
three local citizens – Carmel J. Angelo,
are the critical threads in the fabric of any you contribute, we will put in a matching dollar.
Mendocino County resident, Buck Ganter,
community. The rebuilding of this fabric
Mendocino County resident, Marty
will take time and resources beyond the
Olhiser, Sonoma County resident.
near-term rush of support.


Make checks payable to: The Community Foundation of Mendocino County
Memo: Redwood Valley and Santa Rosa Community Recovery Fund
Mail to: The Community Foundation of Mendocino County
204 S Oak Street • Ukiah, CA 95482
IRS Tax ID 68-0330462, a 501(c)(3) tax deductible contribution

COVERAGE CHECKUP » Why you should read the fine print in your policy

What’s in your insurance?

By STEPHEN NETT they include and what they exclude, Coverage can usually be added to and pay for them. For example, home-
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT and shop around for coverage, she says. cover more valuable items, but you have owners policies that cover fire damage

Keeping policies up to date is equally to ask for it. may or may not cover damage from
magine ordering a full-course crucial, as many disaster victims are Replacement cost policies usually mudslides after the fire.
dinner at your favorite restaurant. now learning. have a maximum dollar amount they’ll Most people tend to undervalue what
You’re having a pleasant time. Then While nothing can prepare people pay out, and that can mean you’ll come it would actually cost to replace their
your waitperson brings the meal, and for the tragedy of events like wildfires, up short if costs rise. For example, new personal belongings, experts at the
plops it all straight onto the table in or fully restore their personal losses, county building codes can add unex- department of insurance say. Because
front of you without a plate. You might insurance can be an important and pected expense. The price of building homeowners and rental insurance
be surprised. Everyone expects a plate essential aid to recovery. Both groups materials and labor also can soar when policies include a limit, there can be a
to come with the meal, even though provide extensive help and guidance be- there’s sudden, huge demand after a substantial gap in coverage when peo-
there’s nothing on the menu to say it fore, during and after disasters. Here’s disaster, like in Sonoma County today. ple try to replace essential household
does. the main things they say consumers Consider an extended replacement cost items at today’s prices.
We’re generally safe assuming those need to know. policy: these can add 20 to 50 percent It’s also nearly impossible in the emo-
important little extras, like silverware, additional protection to cover such un- tional aftermath of a disaster to try and
cups and napkins, will automatically be Make sure you’ve got foreseen increases. And shop around, create an inventory of every lost item
included, even if we haven’t specifically the correct insurance coverage because the amount of extended from memory for the insurance claim.
ordered and paid for them. Buying a policy based on the price coverage you get varies from company Some insurance companies now offer
Insurance for homeowners and you paid for your home –– or even to company. assistance with preparing inventories
renters, on the other hand, doesn’t work its market value –– may not provide ahead of time.
that way. If the coverage is not actually enough money to replace it if it’s dam- Renters aren’t covered by And since nearly everyone carries a
written into your policy, you won’t be aged or destroyed. The cost of rebuild- their landlord’s policies smartphone, at the very least homeown-
getting it. ing your home may be much higher Renters need their own protection, ers should make a video record of their
And the wrong time to learn what’s today than the purchase price. because the landlord is not responsible belongings throughout the house and
missing is after you’ve been served. The average cost to rebuild a home, for the loss of tenants’ contents. Some room to room, opening closet doors and
That’s the message from insurance usually stated as dollars per square apartments now require tenants to cupboards, drawers and so on.
experts working to help residents deal foot, is something a reputable local carry insurance, and experts say it’s Keep in mind that expensive items like
with insurance claims after the recent builder can help estimate. It pays to stay sensible to consider buying a policy for jewelry, artwork, wine collections and
wildfires. current on that cost, and make sure personal contents, since it’s relatively other valuables may not be covered in
According to Nancy Kincaid, press it’s reflected in the coverage you buy, inexpensive. The market is competitive, standard policies. Individual items can
secretary for the California Department because it can change over time. (For so it also pays to shop around. Rental be separately insured, and policy holders
of Insurance, studies suggest as many current estimates on rebuilding costs policies today also offer options such can buy coverage with higher limits.
as 60 percent of the state’s homeowners in Sonoma County see story on insur- as coverage for living expenses in the
are underinsured and don’t know it ance on p. A1). event of a catastrophe. Get help, ask questions, review
because they haven’t read or updated Keep in mind that the costs of your policy, update coverage
their policy. upgrades like granite countertops and The best price isn’t necessarily Ruiz and Kincaid both recommend
For example, she said, many peo- custom cabinetry will not be included always the best deal consumers sit down with their agents
ple were surprised to learn that cars in the average cost per square foot –– Insurance polices are not all created as soon as possible, request a full copy
destroyed by fire in their garage weren’t it’s just for an average home. Janet Ruiz equal. What they cover, and what they of their policies and learn what’s in
covered by their homeowners insur- notes that two homes next door to each don’t, can depend on the company them. Ask questions and seek addition-
ance policies. You need comprehensive other may be very different to replace. and what you ask for. Premiums and al assistance if needed. Both groups
auto insurance for that, and many peo- An additional consideration is that limits can vary widely. For help finding provide consumer assistance online, by
ple drop that coverage for older cars. typical homeowners policies cover the competitive rates, the CDI provides phone and even in person.
The California Department of dwelling and other structures on the comparisons online of over 90 percent Ruiz also notes that filing and
Insurance (CDI), the state’s largest property separately, and the amount of of California’s homeowners and renters settling claims is a negotiation, and
consumer protection agency, oversees coverage for other structures is usually insurance market offerings or through consumers should be prepared to
more than 1,300 insurance companies, capped at around 10 percent of the the CDI Hotline at 800-927-HELP (4657). engage in that process. Consumer
handles insurance complaints and dwelling limit. What perils does the policy cover? information, agencies like CDI and
provides consumer information and That means detached garages, man Back when Benjamin Franklin intro- consumer insurance advocacy groups
hotlines. caves, she-sheds, granny units and duced the first home insurance cover- are also available to provide guidance
Janet Ruiz, the California Repre- barns may not be covered at their re- age in America, the policy just covered and assistance.
sentative for a nationwide insurance placement value unless you’ve obtained fires, and you could buy fire service Since no one can predict the future,
industry group, the Insurance Informa- extra coverage. –– private firefighters who would come everyone makes the same recommenda-
tion Institute, says that consumers don’t Most homeowners policies include and put the fire out. tion: it’s better to be prepared now than
often fully appreciate that insurance some standard coverage for landscap- Today, fire protection is a public try to deal with surprises after the event.
policies are contracts. While it’s under- ing –– an amount per tree or shrub, for service, and insurance policies are
standable people may not want to spend example –– but don’t expect it to cover available that include coverage for Stephen Nett is a Bodega Bay-based
the time to read them carefully, it’s your koi pond, extensive patios or exotic calamities such as floods, earthquakes writer and speaker. Contact him at
well worth the effort to discover what plants. and other risks –– but only if you ask

MORE HELP: The Insurance Information Institute, • The California Department of Insurance,

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