Re-Building A Community: What to Expect After a Natural Disaster

By: Ryan Clow

Ventura, California, home of Fluidity Pool Designs was largely affected by the Thomas Fire in December 2017. The wildfire which burned upwards of 281,000 acres and caused more than $2.2 billion in damages displaced about 900 Ventura families, leaving a significant portion of the community with out a home. Many pools were used during this fire to help put out the flames, and then after the fire they were used for watering plants on the hillsides to help bring back growth and prevent mudslides. While the pool shells themselves remained unburned, the equipment, and everything around them were destroyed. Many pools were also destroyed when burning homes collapsed into them. As a contractor in this situation, helping to bring back a community from such devastation, you will be presented with many more challenges than you would in normal pool building circumstances.

The first challenge many people are having to face is with their insurance companies. People insured with guaranteed replacement coverage will be fully covered to rebuild their home and regain their losses, whereas people who are insured at a lower cost for a cash value or replacement cost policy will likely not be covered for all of their losses. Many people are being forced to sell their lots, because the cost to rebuild is so high, and their insurance companies will not cover it. Also, insurance companies require paperwork to prove exactly what has been done to your home and property, people are having to get their paperwork from the city, and that only covers permitted work. Insurance companies have given most residents 2 years to rebuild and turn in the costs for reimbursement, however, the permitting process is taking so much time people are fearing the time will run out.

The next challenge we have run into is working with the city and permitting. The city of Ventura is telling residents it could take up to seven months to have their plans reviewed, and that is just an estimated time frame. The city is also requiring home owners to follow all of the new building code regulations and energy efficiency standards which means a huge increase in cost. Many of the pools that went through the fire survived as far as the shell, but must also be repaired, and held to the most recent building codes. As a contractor we are forced to uphold the code standards but we also must take into consideration what is still in existence on their lots. One family we met with still had their pool fully intact minus the equipment and surrounding decks, but the permitting office notified them they must raise their elevation. This would mean the house would be 6 inches higher then it used to be causing the family to have to build a steep staircase into the back yard, or raise the pool elevation, which would make the space between the coping and the water line over 6 inches longer than it should be. We are finding that a lot of our time is being taken up going back and forth to the city to fight for our customers to keep their houses as normal as possible. We are being required to rerun soils tests, remove debris, and even having to reengineer the pools themselves.

In a situation where we are dealing with people who have been through a natural disaster and are now having to deal with such a frustrating rebuild it is our responsibility to help guide them through the process as compassionately as possible. We want to try and find them the most cost effective ways to save their pools and yards, but keep our construction within the confines of the city regulations. Going to bat for our customers with the insurance companies, and with the city departments, while being understanding of their wants and needs helps build the necessary trust in the contractor/customer relationship that will get them their dream outdoor living space back.