North Bay Fire victims may have to foot bill for damaged sidewalks

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- If you appreciate jigsaw puzzles, then you may feel right at home along sidewalks in the North Bay Firestorm zone. They're a patchwork of blacktop, with cracks like canyons, with weeds popping through.

For anyone with a mess like this in front of their once burned home, they're also the stuff of headaches.

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"It's just one more thing," said Lahna Fish.

"It's just another expense we weren't anticipating," added Pam Roby.

"I didn't know I was on the hook for the sidewalk," said Herb Fish.

Lahna, Herb, and Pam are three Santa Rosa firestorm homeowners among many who could be on the hook for a combined $1-million in sidewalks because a city ordinance says they own them, even after FEMA's debris removal crews ruined those sidewalks during the clean-up phase.

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FEMA has denied claims for the damage, so far. Jason Nutt, who runs the Public Works department has appealed once and is doing so again.

"They were in a hurry. In some cases they were careful. In others, not so careful. We never anticipated this ordinance would result in denials from a federal disaster declaration."

In the Upper Hidden Valley neighborhood, new sidewalks will cost about $6,000 per house. It's money that Pam and Don Roby don't feel they should have to spend and that Lahna and Herb Fish would need to pull from their retirement fund. And they're already massively underinsured.

"Blaming is hard," said Lahna. "We have a reality here. That's how I look at it."

There are options. If the city wins this second appeal to FEMA, they will ask homeowners for photographic proof that FEMA caused the damage.

"We documented the heavy equipment going over our sidewalk," noted Herb.

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"We need a picture before and after. We don't have that," said Don Roby.

The city may, however-- It documented damage at home sites, and could also use pictures from Google Earth.

"It's complicated," said Nutt. "We didn't think it would turn out this way on the federal level."

If homeowners have any unused funds for lot clean-up, the city says they may apply that money to sidewalk repairs.
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