COVID-19 construction lockdown spares Sonoma County

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- There is one place, and industry, where the COVID-19 lockdown felt less like a financial hit, and more like a ding. Those would be the construction trades in Sonoma County.

When you see all of the construction work going on there, it begs a question: How did they get going so fast after Governor Gavin Newsom allowed construction to resume?

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The answer may surprise you.

"We started the week that Sonoma County got shut down," said contractor Walter Schnepper.

We found him hard at work on a project in Sebastopol. He has been working through the lockdown because the county deemed this Additional Housing Unit as essential.

"I've been lucky."

In one way, Sonoma County may be the luckiest in California, a state where the lockdown cost some 11,600 construction jobs.

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However, that luck came at a steep price in a place like Coffey Park, flattened by the Tubbs Fire in 2017. In the midst of a pandemic, the tragedy has played to their advantage.

"This is a fire rebuild zone," said Carrie Chilla with Oakmont Construction. Her company has put up some 130 homes since the Tubbs roared through.

Being in a fire rebuild zone allowed the county to deem Coffey Park as a place essential for construction, so on it went.

"I think the first three days I was home, and that was it," said electrician Derrick Carpenter.

Contractors and workmen estimate they may have seen a short-term drop of ten percent, mostly from construction projects in non-fire zones.

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Contractor Michael Williams told us there was also a lot of looking the other way as some work continued.

"People have to pay their bills and to this day I have not received a stimulus check or a payment protection program aid package. So the bills don't stop coming."

As to the future in this uncertain economy, that remains byproduct of this virus no one can predict. Until then, construction workers in Sonoma County will their work a board at a time, a day at a time, and deal with whatever comes next.

"The implications will be years down the road from this," said Walter Schnepper. That comes from a man with 30 years in the county, who thought he had seen it all.

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