Berryessa fire stations proposed to curb insurance rates

2013-09-25T16:37:00Z 2014-03-11T17:39:38Z Berryessa fire stations proposed to curb insurance ratesPETER JENSEN Napa Valley Register
September 25, 2013 4:37 pm  • 

Hoping to stem or reduce the skyrocketing insurance rates some homeowners are facing at Lake Berryessa, Napa County Fire Chief Scott Upton pushed his preferred solution to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday — building two new fire stations.

Residents of the Berryessa Estates and Berryessa Highlands communities have been seeing their homeowners insurance rates jump drastically — some doubling within a year — or having their insurance dropped altogether.

The problem, according to Napa County officials, is that each community sits farther than five miles from the nearest fire station, leading to a lesser rating from a company, ISO, that rates communities for their levels of fire protection.

The Board of Supervisors directed Upton to continue pursuing new fire stations in the Estates and the Highlands, although it amounted to verbal support. The board has yet to commit any funding to the new stations.

Upton told the Board of Supervisors that in the last five years, his agency has responded to 10 structure fire calls in areas outside a 5-mile perimeter from the nearest fire station. With 16,347 total calls coming in that period, those fire calls amount to .0007 percent of the call volume, Upton said. He said the fires caused less than $250,000 damage.

Still, Upton said ISO’s fire insurance ratings are set on different standards — physical distance from the fire station and other steps the fire department takes, the availability and strength of the water supply, and the reliability of the dispatch system.

He urged the supervisors to pursue building two additional small fire stations in the Estates and the Highlands, which will require procuring land near the Estates from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and having the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation sign off. Costs for the stations would likely be covered from the county’s fire fund.

Upton said the Estates and the Highlands are served by volunteer fire departments based in Pope Valley and in Capell Valley, respectively.

“They have good fire departments but it’s just distance,” Upton said. “We should be able to meet those requirements from ISO if we decide to go that way.”

But, he cautioned that he couldn’t promise adding stations would automatically mean a change in ISO’s ratings.

“I cannot guarantee that,” Upton said. “This is a for-profit enterprise. Their business models dictate how they charge for insurance.”

Supervisor Keith Caldwell, a former fire chief in American Canyon, said governments can throw money at ISO ratings, either by adding staff and apparatus, or by hiring career firefighters versus relying on volunteers, without achieving success in improving them.

He noted that decades ago, former members of the Board of Supervisors committed county resources toward providing fire protection in the unincorporated area, and he viewed the new stations as an extension of that commitment.

With regards to the Highlands and the Estates, the county and the residents have committed to paying for upgrades to the water systems in those communities, improving their ability to fight fires at the same time.

“It’s what the residents expect,” Caldwell said. “We don’t install 6- or 8-inch mains so someone can flush their toilets. We’ve made investments on that side. We now need to make the investments to create the fire stations for that.”

Berryessa Estates residents John Hallman and Gail Bickett also encouraged the supervisors to provide funding to build the stations.

Bickett said she pays $1,000 annually for homeowners insurance, as well as $600 for water and $300 for electricity. Other residents have it worse, she told the supervisors.

One woman living in the Estates has seen her homeowners insurance jump from $1,000 each year to $2,600. Despite writing letters to the California Department of Insurance, Bickett said she’s found no help from the state government in trying to reduce those increases.

“All the letter writing I did and it was like, ‘You’ve got what you’ve got,’” Bickett said. “We do need a fire house. We do need to take the next step.”

Hallman said the Estates is a Firewise community, as is the Highlands. The Estates has received grants to do brush clearing in the areas surrounding the community, allowing it to create up to 2,000 feet of defensible space in some outlying areas, he said.

“This is a very important subject,” Hallman said. “We have no guarantees on the insurance, but we have a strong probability it will help. I think it’s a really good thing for the community.”

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(10) Comments

  1. Crosscountrykid
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    Crosscountrykid - September 25, 2013 7:07 pm
    I can sympathize for the individual homeowners, but once again all county tax payers are being asked to subsidize a year round rural housing development that should never have been allowed. There's simply too many people living too far from necessary infrastructure. This is one more of what will be several more expensive projects to maintain these areas. Never have so many spent so much to support the homes of so few.
  2. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - September 26, 2013 12:15 am
    Exactly the reason that places like Angwin should not be further developed.
  3. glenroy
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    glenroy - September 26, 2013 6:16 am
    This is crazy....the resorts use to have fire trucks which would suffice until the volunteers showed up. There are few things in government was less efficient than fire depts…they work 8 days a month and a third of that is sleeping, a third watching TV…and a third trying to keep busy.
    The county should dispatch a truck up there at the most and train the locals to use it....putting out fires isn't rocket science.
    The issue here is the county has taken millions of dollars in property and sales taxes from the Berryessa region and provided next to no service for decades.
  4. sdnapa
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    sdnapa - September 26, 2013 7:05 am
    So it's your suggestion that the people who live in these places should do what? Move & let the neighborhood become a ghost town? And pardon us for thinking our tax dollars should be used to support our community. Maybe you don't realize that homeowners up here DO pay property taxes.

    Yes, the county has had to step in with the water/sewer situation but that's only because the county itself mismanaged it for 30 flipping years! Had they been doing their job, maintenance would have taken place over the years & it would not have gotten in such dire straights. BTW we have all been assessed quite heavily on our property tax for the repairs, it's not free to us by any means. This just proves how lame the government is: the BOR threw out the previous owner of Steele Park, who was committed to pay for upgrades needed; the BOR forced that owner to tear down and throw away everything there & now the BOR & County are making it impossible to rebuild because they fear some ant might be misplaced.
  5. Normbc9
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    Normbc9 - September 26, 2013 8:31 am
    Good sound proposal by Chief Upton. The existing Volunteer firefighters from Capell and Pope Valley that now serve the area tell me there is nothing more disheartening than to arrive at a totally involved structure fire as the house collapses. They know time is of the essence. Thank you Chief for your proactive stance for this area. If accomplished this would be a big contribution to the already hard working Napa County Fire Department.
  6. VNYD DUC
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    VNYD DUC - September 26, 2013 10:42 am
    I don't usually agree with the "kid" but in this case I do. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to continue to hear residents of the Estates speak like they are somehow entitled to cheaper services. Look where you live!!! Of course you're going to have higher service fees. You're in the middle of nowhere surrounded by tinder ready to go at any moment. Probably one of your unmuffled dirt bikes will cause the spark that lights the whole place up. Dollars to donuts the very residents of the Estates that want the government's help are also probably repub/tea party supporters that want less gov't intrusion, except for when it comes to saving their behinds!
    I pay for my own well water, I pay for my hi-tech septic system with annual monitoring. I'm not out crying to the Board that they should bring water and sewer lines to my house. Live within your means, if you can't afford the high cost of living so far from infrastructure, then MOVE!
  7. sdnapa
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    sdnapa - September 26, 2013 12:47 pm
    You can't un-develop a community & you can't ask people to pay taxes & then not give them anything in return. According to you, we should all just roll over & pay double home owners insurance because the county can't equip us with a fire truck even though, as glenroy points out, most of them just sit there unused a lot of the time? We shouldn't be looking for solutions? And we should pay 50X what city folks pay for water because the county mismanaged the district for years & the BOR essentially ruined the project by kicking out a business that was willing to fork out 4 million to do the repairs? The BOR, a government agency, makes a bad decision that costs everyone & you're accusing the residents of looking for a bailout? People do expect to pay more for services in rural areas, but double/triple in 3 years time due to circumstances beyond our control? That seems a bit harsh and kind of cruel in my opinion. Maybe we SHOULD just leave & leave our mortgage companies holding the bag?
  8. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - September 26, 2013 1:41 pm
    Something to keep in mind here: As services are brought into rural areas, to play catch up to resources deficiencies that were ignored after the development was constructed (typical developer "build it and then abandons it" situation), these services should NOT BE FOLLOWED BY MORE GROWTH.

    That's the typical reaction and we must protect ourselves from further development burden in rural areas. No more zoning changes to higher density in rural areas.

    Btw, I also have my own well and septic and I clear brush back regularly. It doesn't take a genius or any special skill to clear brush back and yet I find many homeowners who just don't do it. Many of them are landlords and they just don't care about the community. I've seen weeds six feet tall right alongside the wall of houses in rural areas. These homeowners are the same ones who complain loudest of all when their house burns down, that the fire department wasn't as attentive to their property as the one whose land was cleared.
  9. VNYD DUC
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    VNYD DUC - September 26, 2013 2:53 pm
    What I'm saying is, you get the government you deserve. The County mismanaged your subdivision for 30 years? And where were the residents for those 30 years???? I will tell you where they weren't. They weren't coming down the mountain to attend meetings and hold their Board accountable. Read your post, you blame the government. It's certainly not the BOR's fault, nor the County's fault, that you chose to purchase a home that wasn't near a fire station and that had septic problems. You can't blame other people for that. And you can't blame LBRID for your sanitary problems. The Estates is a failed subdivision and the whole thing should be condemned.
  10. sdnapa
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    sdnapa - September 26, 2013 3:39 pm
    First of all, I live in the Highlands, which is the NBRID not to be confused with Estates which is the LBRID. Second of all, everything WAS voted on and in place to fix the water/sewer in 2007, so YES I CAN BLAME THE BOR because they're the ones that made the bad decision to kick Sean Buckely and his 4 million bucks out of Steele Park. Maybe you don't recall the outrage of the community trying to keep the BOR from doing exactly what they did? Don't get on your high horse & decide that the residents are to blame for this! Third of all, were YOU at the meetings? Do you personally know that people didn't attend the meetings in ATTEMPT to hold the Board accountable for the failing management? When the government is in charge, they are responsible for the decisions & the consequences thereof.
    Yes, I purchased a home in the mountains & I expected to pay more. I honestly don't understand why a community seeking solutions to maintain what they have is met with such hatred.
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