Post-Disaster Checklist: Returning Home After Evacuation Order Lifted


The Valley Fire swept through the Spezza family’s rural community in Lake County in September 2015, destroying more than 1,300 homes. (Courtesy of Carolynn Spezza)

By Miranda Leitsinger and Michelle Cheng –


Returning to your home after a natural disaster can be tough — emotionally as well as practically. KQED gathered advice from FEMA, Sonoma County and Rob Goodman, who lost his home in the 2015 Valley Fire in Lake County, to help out those who have been given the OK to return to their residences.

“Some may not want to return, because of the difficulty of seeing your home and possessions in ashes. And seeing your neighbors’ homes gone as well,” Goodman said in fliers he created for survivors of natural disasters. “When we first returned to our street, we were shocked to see every home gone. Seeing our home in ashes left us feeling numb.”

“If you do decide to return I must urge great caution,” he added. “Your site will be toxic — containing everything from metals to plastics to wiring, plumbing, etc. Everything that was in your home will be melted and covered in ash.”

A Checklist From FEMA and Sonoma County:

What to Bring/Wear

☐ Sturdy shoes (steel toes and shanks are recommended)
☐ Heavy-duty mask (N95)
☐ Heavy-duty gloves
☐ Long pants and long-sleeve shirt
☐ Garden cultivator to sift through ashes
☐ 5-gallon bucket for any possessions
☐ Battery-powered radio to listen to emergency updates and news reports
☐ Battery-powered flashlight to inspect a damaged home

General Tips

  • Do not use your water if you suspect or have been told it is contaminated.
  • Keep hands clean during an emergency to help prevent the spread of germs.
  • If your tap water is not safe to use, wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected or use a large water jug that contains clean water.
  • Foods exposed to fire can be compromised (including canned goods).
  • Clean and sanitize your household after an emergency to help prevent the spread of illness and disease.
  • Hazardous chemicals and conditions may be present.
  • Inspect propane tanks for visible damage before turning on.
  • Be aware of slip, trip, fall and puncture hazards.
  • Watch out for animals, especially venomous snakes.
  • Stay off the streets. If you must go out, watch for fallen objects; downed electrical wires; and weakened walls, bridges, roads and sidewalks.

Rob Goodman’s Lake County home, which burned down in the 2015 Valley Fire. (Courtesy of Rob Goodman)

Before You Enter Your Home

Take care around the outside and check for loose power lines, gas leaks and structural damage. If you have any doubts about safety, have your residence inspected by a qualified building inspector or structural engineer before entering.

Do not enter if:

  • You smell gas.
  • Your home was damaged by fire and authorities have not declared it safe.
  • In the case of flooding, floodwaters remain around the building.

 Going Inside Your Home

When you go inside your home, there are certain things you should and should not do. Enter the home carefully and check for damage. Be aware of loose boards and slippery floors. The following items are other things to check inside your home:

  • Natural gas
  • Sparks, broken or frayed wires
  • Roof, foundation, and chimney cracks
  • Appliances
  • Water and sewage system
  • Food and other supplies
  • Basement
  • Open cabinets
  • Household chemical spills

Call your insurance agent. Take pictures of damage. Keep good records of repair and cleaning costs.

More details from FEMA and Sonoma County (Español).


Updating Your Association’s CC&Rs

governing-docs*Asked & Answered

Asked – Our documents were created in 1981 and have not been updated since that time.  I imagine that we are out of legal compliance with some of the items listed within both documents.  The HOA membership does not want to pay to have them rewritten and brought up to the codes and I am not sure what the implications are if we do nothing.

Answered – This a common question asked by many of our clients, especially those with governing documents that look like they were typed on a typewriter and digitally stored on microfiche.  However, it is important to note at the outset that just because your documents are old, does not mean that it is necessary to amend/restate them.  Nevertheless, there are several reasons why an association may want to update its documents.

The first, and most obvious, reason why an association may want to update its documents is to address particular issues affecting the community. While an association’s operating rules can easily be amended to tackle many of these issues, not all can be addressed through adopting an operating rule.  Thus, certain situations may require a CC&R or Bylaw amendment.

The second common reason why an association may want to update its CC&Rs is to remove developer-specific provisions. When an association is formed, the developer’s attorney prepares the governing documents, including the CC&Rs. And while the California Bureau of Real Estate exercises some oversight, many of the provisions are drafted to benefit the Developer and not necessarily the individual homeowners. Accordingly, it may be worthwhile to remove these provisions and reallocate the rights and responsibilities to the Association and its members.

Other reasons why an association may want to update its documents is to reduce quorum and membership approval requirements, and to address changes in the law. For example, a recent change to the Civil Code further defined the maintenance and repair responsibilities of the association and owners concerning Exclusive Use Common Area (“EUCA”) components. For condominium associations that have traditionally held owners responsible for EUCA repairs, changes in the law may require them to change that position if the provisions in their CC&Rs fail to address the issue.

California HOA lawyers Board members should be aware that amending an association’s governing documents can be an expensive endeavor. The expense is often exacerbated by the difficulty experienced in obtaining membership approval, either because of the unpopularity of the proposed amendments, or membership apathy. The foregoing is meant to underscore the importance of discussing potential updates with the association’s legal counsel to determine if they are necessary and/or advisable.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Matthew T. Plaxton, Esq.

At Least 31 Dead, 3,500 Structures Destroyed in Northern California Fires


Authorities say some of the most destructive wildfires in California’s history have killed at least 31 people. Seventeen people have died in Sonoma County, eight in Mendocino County, two in Napa County and four in Yuba County.

The Sonoma County Coroner’s Office has positively identified the following decedents and their next of kin have been advised:

• Carol Collins-Swasey, 76 years old from Santa Rosa
• Lynne Anderson Powell, 72 years old from Santa Rosa
• Arthur Tasman Grant, 95 years old from Santa Rosa
• Suiko Grant, 75 years old from Santa Rosa
• Donna Mae Halbur, 80 years old from Larkfield (Santa Rosa)
• Leroy Peter Halbur, 80 years old from Larkfield (Santa Rosa)
• Valerie Lynn Evans, 75 years old from Santa Rosa
• Carmen Caldentey Berriz, 75 years old from Apple Valley
• Michael John Dornbach, 57 years old from Calistoga
• Veronica Elizabeth McCombs, 67 years old from Santa Rosa

They join Charles (100) and Sara Rippey (98) of Napa who were identified earlier this week.

Firefighters gained some ground on the blazes but face another tough day with low humidity and high winds expected to return Friday night through Saturday night, leading to a red flag warning in the North and East Bay.

But Cal Fire’s Daniel Berlant says the agency wants to be as aggressive as possible on the fires Friday.

“Today we have a little bit of a window of opportunity as the winds are going to be relatively light throughout much of the day,” Berlant said. “We’re going to bring in some fresh crews and we’re going to be doubling up on some of the containment lines on the southern portion of these fires because the north winds are expected to pick back up late tonight.”

National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Rowe says winds will start to pick up late in the day.

“Right now we are most concerned about the North Bay mountains as well as the East Bay hills for the threat of strong and gusty off-shore winds and low relative humidity values,” Rowe said.

In those areas wind gusts out of the north and north east are expected to hit 20 to 30 mph and could reach 40 to 50 miles an hour.

Meteorologists say there’s a chance the area could see isolated gusts reaching 60 mph at the highest ridges and peaks.

High winds have created power outages in the North Bay, and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said 34,000 customers are without electricity — most of them are in Sonoma and Napa counties.

The Atlas Fire burning in Napa and Solano counties has scorched 48,228 acres and is 27 percent contained.

The Tubbs Fire near Calistoga and Santa Rosa has burned 34,770 acres and is 25 contained.

Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said in a press conference Thursday afternoon that 2,834 homes had been destroyed by fires in the city alone.

Thousands of firefighters are battling at least 17 fires spanning more than 200,000 acres (about 300 square miles), according to Cal Fire.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Wednesday for the entire city of Calistoga, and residents are being told to leave immediately and shelter at American Canyon High School, 30 miles to the south between Napa and Vallejo. About 2,500 residents have evacuated their homes in Solano County because of the spreading Atlas Fire, which began in neighboring Napa County. The fire has destroyed two homes and 11 other structures and is still threatening 400 other homes in the county, according to Solano County Sheriff Tom Ferrera.

Geyserville and surrounding communities in Sonoma County were also put under evacuation Thursday.

A helicopter drops water on flames in Calistoga on October 11, 2017.A helicopter drops water on flames in Calistoga on Oct. 11, 2017. (JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)Most schools in Napa and Sonoma counties are closed through the end of the week, in addition to schools in Solano, Marin and Contra Costa counties, which have closed due to poor air quality from smoke from the fires.Investigators Look Into Downed Power Lines, Exploding Transformers as Possible Cause of FiresCal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said Wednesday that Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and Washington are sending firefighters and the U.S. Forest Service is sending fire engines, bulldozers and hand crews. Some 14,000 members of the California National Guard are on notice and could join members already assisting in firefighting efforts.“We have had big fires in the past. This is one of the biggest, most serious, and it’s not over,” Gov. Jerry Brown said at a news conference on Wednesday.Burned cars in the devastated Coffey Park subdivision in Santa Rosa. ” data-medium-file=”×527.jpg” data-large-file=”×672.jpg” class=”size-medium wp-image-11622855″ src=”×527.jpg” alt=”Burned cars in the devastated Coffey Park subdivision in Santa Rosa.” width=”800″ height=”527″ srcset=”×527.jpg 800w,×105.jpg 160w,×672.jpg 1020w,×777.jpg 1180w,×632.jpg 960w,×158.jpg 240w,×247.jpg 375w,×342.jpg 520w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” style=”box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; max-width: 100%; height: auto; display: inline-block; vertical-align: middle; width: 800px;”>Burned cars in the devastated Coffey Park subdivision in Santa Rosa. (Sheraz Sadiq/KQED)The blazes have burned approximately 200,000 acres in 21 fires across Northern California, according to Cal Fire. Sonoma County officials said Wednesday that 600 people have been reported missing during the fires and that more than 315 have been located safely. People can call 707-565-3856 to report missing persons.Napa County is not releasing information on missing person reports.Video: Santa Rosa Reeling From Devastating Tubbs FireGiordano said Wednesday afternoon that people should not expect to go home until Monday at the earliest.Multiple fires broke out Sunday night as strong winds buffeted the area. Emergency lines were inundated with callers reporting smoke in the area.Cal Fire is investigating whether falling power lines and exploding electrical transformers may have caused some of the wildfires that started in the North Bay Sunday night. The Bay Area News Group reported Wednesday that Sonoma County dispatchers sent fire crews out to at least 10 locations over a 90-minute period, starting around 9:20 p.m. on Sunday, to respond to calls about electrical problems.The pool at Journey’s End Mobile Home Park in Santa Rosa, which has been completely destroyed. “

What are Diablo Winds?

by Melissa Breyer 

Diablo winds

CC BY 2.0 California Highway Patrol

The winds fanning the catastrophic Northern California fires are borne out of a complicated mash-up of meteorology, physics, geography, and topography.

Sonoma and Napa counties are thick in the midst of what some are expecting to be California’s worst set of fires ever. Those in the Golden State know to expect massive fires in the wilderness, but this particular firestorm has broken normal convention and is devouring whole neighborhoods at a terrifying rate. It’s as if a giant flamethrower has been aimed at blocks and blocks of tidy homes, leaving little more than charred rubble punctuated by the eerie pillars of fireplace chimneys. So far, 160,000 acres have burned, 2,000 homes and businesses have been destroyed – and much more is threatened.

There have been so many stories of people waking up to the smell of smoke and seeing flames in the distance, only to see those flames charging towards them at a furious rate. So rapacious have these fires been that many have reported fleeing their homes in only robes and slippers, leaving everything from their wallets to their pets in order to get out in time.

To anyone who hasn’t experienced California’s surreal hot winds – the Santa Anas in the south and the Diablo Winds (AKA the Diablos or El Diablo) in the north – it may be hard to fathom how a fire could devour a football-field sized parcel of land in three seconds. But if you know these winds, it is all too sadly comprehensible.

Basically, imagine a gigantic blow drier on its hottest setting, being turned up to high in random gusts – and when I say high, I mean hurricane force. This wind is hot and dry and strong; and if it weren’t for its diabolical relationship with wildfires, it might be kind of a sexy thing. But no, at this point it’s just dreadful.

The winds originate in the Great Basin, which you can see in the map below.

great basin mapWikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Dr. Marshall Shepherd, a leading international expert in weather and climate, describes it like this:

If an area of high pressure is situated over that region [the great Basin], winds blow from the central Great Basin toward the Pacific coast. In the northern hemisphere, winds flow clockwise around high pressure and that creates the aforementioned flow.

With such a flow regime, the winds are forced over and descend down the elevated terrain and mountains on the western edge of the basin and in California. Since Mt. Diablo is in the region east of the Bay Area, these particular winds get the name Diablo Winds. Here is where the physics comes in. As these winds descend, they are compressed and warmed. These winds can reach tropical storm (39 mph) to hurricane force (74 mph).

(He then goes into the nitty gritty of adiabatic compression and the First Law of Thermodynamics – and much, much more, all of which you can read over at Forbes.)

For this particular perfect storm, fuels were at or approaching an all-time record for dryness, according to analyses by land management agencies. The weather service described an abundance of grasses produced by “record winter rains combined with heavier vegetation stressed by years of extreme drought and disease.” Mix that with a bit of wind from the devil and the result is a burned barren landscape, ravaged and grim.

In iconic Californian writer Raymond Chandler’s short story, “Red Wind,” the state’s oven-hot winds are such a prominent component of the narrative they practically become a character on their own. The story opens with a telling description:

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.

And the same goes for the red wind’s devilish relative in the north. Anything can happen when the Diablo Wind starts fanning the mayhem. Now if only some Angel Rain would come in and save the day.

Forget the condo in Boca or the anonymous, singles-only, low-rise golf-course abodes on the edge of town that you may have associated with condos if you’re not from San Francisco or New York. In urban areas like ours, condominiums comprise a huge and expensive part of the real estate inventory in the City. Just as the rest of the city’s inventory, variation in this sector is enormous. From a Twin Peaks economy 1970s model for $300,000 to the gleaming South Beach/FiDi Penthouse in the sky for $20,000,000, you will see almost every type of condo in the City proper. Here are a few items you should know about condos, the laws, documents and entities that govern them. Most HOAs in large buildings will be assisted by property management companies; management will be more procedural and formal. For smaller associations (let’s say 2–4 units) matters are handled more informally where personal relationships and politicking is the norm. Both approaches have detractors and benefits. It’s just a matter of which is right for your needs. 

When you purchase a condo, you’re buying a three dimensional space within the condo complex/building while the homeowner association ‘owns’ the rest in common and has obligation to maintain these ‘common areas.’ Parking spaces are usually exclusive use common areas attached to a given condominium. 

Relevant condo maps will define how a property is divided into units or lots, parking, and common areas. These maps are recorded and are connected to every deed and mortgage on every unit or lot within the property. Changing the map or plan is next to impossible without every other owner agreeing to do so. Your unit is defined by these documents and the title of your property is defined in relation to the relevant map.

Therefore, common areas generally consist of the parts of the property apart from the units and any other privately deeded properties. Easements and use restrictions or allowances may be part the rights and interests granted to a particular owner.

All the rights defining which parts of the condo development/subdivision belong to who, rules and allowed uses are contained in a series of documents called most commonly known as the “CC&Rs” — Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions. The CC&Rs describe  the rights and obligations of the homeowners’ association and of each owner. CC&Rs vary widely in content and length and usually cover the following topics:

  • the demarcation between private and common areas;
  • budgets, reserves, assessments and dues;
  • usage restrictions like pet regulations, leasing rights and alteration controls;
  • maintenance responsibilities of the association and the individual owners;
  • how operating costs are shared among the owners, and the mechanism for collecting owner payments;
  • dispute resolution procedures;
  • HOA Board or Member enforcement powers; and,
  • mortgagor rights.

CC&Rs are required for all condominiums and planned developments and are prepared by lawyers as they do have to conform with various parts of state law.


How Energy-Efficient Is Your Community?

Use this self-scoring tool to compare initiatives and operations with peers


This sample result from the Self-Scoring Tool demonstrates how the user’s scores stack up against the median results for larger cities in the annual City Scorecard. The tool also generates a detailed table that allows users to see where their community performs best and where more improvement is needed.

Do your community’s energy efficiency efforts measure up to those of its peers? A new tool by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) can help you find out.

The Local Energy Efficiency Self-Scoring Tool consists of seven Excel spreadsheets that let you evaluate local government operations, community-wide initiatives, buildings-related policies, energy and water utilities, and transportation policies.

Respond to the questions in each of the five analysis areas to score your community, then turn to the last page to view your community’s cumulative score and compare it against median scores from the organization’s 2017 City Scorecard.

The tool is intended mainly for small and medium-size localities, as the largest U.S. cities are already accounted for in the annual City Scorecard. The comparisons help users put community energy efficiency into better perspective, measure progress over time as new policies are implemented and inform future decisions.

The Local Energy Efficiency Self-Scoring Tool is available at

Should I Buy An Investment Property In A Flood Zone?

Through late August and into early September, Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4, devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana. Next, it was Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, that hit numerous islands off the coast of the Southeastern United States, eventually making landfall in Florida. That same week, Hurricane Jose grazed several Caribbean islands, stalled in the Atlantic Ocean, then began making its way to the East Coast. It’s possible that the U.S. will be affected by three catastrophic hurricanes in a period of less than a month.

The damage incurred by the first two hurricanes was apocalyptic. With over 80 deaths from Harvey, more than 60 deaths from Irma and hundreds of thousands of displaced families and businesses, the aftermath will remain significant for years to come. Certainly, our thoughts are with those who were affected by the hurricane.

The economic losses caused by the hurricanes are also shocking. Preliminary estimates for Harvey and Irma damages are in the hundreds of billions. And to make matters worse, a large portion of the economic damage is on properties without flood insurance.

Therefore, as real estate investors, we must take the possibility of flood damage into account when considering an investment. A property located in a flood zone by no means automatically disqualifies a potential investment. However, it will require additional upfront due diligence on your part so that if a hurricane or flooding occurs, you have your bases covered and your investment isn’t negatively affected.

Should I buy flood insurance? 

For a property that is in an area designated a high risk for flooding and will be purchased with a mortgage, it is required by federal law to have flood insurance.

However, with Hurricane Harvey, neighborhoods not considered flood zones were impacted. Since flood insurance wasn’t required, many families will have to bear the tremendous financial burden themselves. According to FEMA, more than 20% of flood claims come from properties not located in high-risk flood zones. Therefore, if an investment property is on the border of a flood plane, you may still want to consider buying flood insurance.

For information on flood hazards and official flood maps, use the FEMA Flood Map Service Center. This tool allows you to enter an address or area to obtain the most up-to-date flood map. And when in doubt, contact a local insurance agent to determine if the property is at risk for flooding.

How much does flood insurance cost?

Compared to the economic burden placed on those without flood insurance, it’s relatively inexpensive. A study conducted by FEMA found that just one inch of interior flooding can result in nearly $27,000 in damage. The amount reaches over six figures if the flooding is a few feet or more.

Contrast that to the typical cost of flood insurance. According to Cincinnati Insurance board director Ron Eveligh, a flood policy with $250,000 in coverage will run you about $500 a year for a residential building. So, to determine if a property in a flood zone is a good investment, it is vital to account for the cost of flood insurance during the underwriting process.

If the addition of the monthly expense results in a financial return that’s outside your investment goals, you need to pass up on the deal or investigate ways to increase income or decrease expenses elsewhere. In other words, plan for flood insurance the same way you do for other expenses, like maintenance, property taxes, and vacancy.

How do I buy flood insurance?

Damage from flooding is not covered under your basic homeowners’ or renters’ insurance. It must be purchased separately, and you can only buy flood insurance through an insurance agent. If a property is in a high-risk flood zone, it will require flood insurance before a lender will close on the loan. So, the purchasing of flood insurance will need to be taken care of prior to close in that case.

If a property is not in a high-risk flood zone, but it’s either in a moderate to low-risk flood zone or just outside the border of a flood zone and you want a quote for how much insurance will cost, it’s a good idea to reach out to your local insurance agent for a quote. If your insurance agent doesn’t offer flood insurance, you can request an agent referral from the National Flood Insurance Program Referral Call Center by calling 1-800-427-4661.

In general, owning investment property requires proper planning. With underwriting, lender communications, inspections, etc., your list of duties fills up quickly. However, do not neglect to determine if the property is at risk of flooding.

Taking the time to figure out if a property needs flood insurance, how much it costs and the process of obtaining it upfront can save you tens of thousands of dollars and a huge headache should disaster strike.