The Malibu Times follows the recovery and rebuild process of locals who lost their homes due to the Woolsey Fire in the “Rising from the Ashes” series. In our third round of interviews, we followed up with Carla and Bruce Bates, the first family interviewed for the series, before a quick catch-up with the other families.
When we last talked to Carla in May, it had been a joyous occasion: The state-sponsored debris removal officials finally reached her property on Cuthbert Road in western Malibu for debris clearance.
We spoke to the couple over the phone on Nov. 11, two days after the one-year anniversary of the Woolsey Fire.
“When they did the debris removal, everything on the property had to go,” Bruce said. “And when they left, they left the foundation and the old retaining wall.”
Waiting for the state-sponsored debris removal could cause further delay, so he’s waiting to hear from the engineer for grading to see whether it has to be removed, or if it could be buried.
This, Bruce said, is only “one of the headaches we’re managing.”
He took a week off from work to make the trip to city hall everyday in hopes of securing a preliminary plan check for four buildings—main house, guest house, art studio and garage—on his property. Three of the four have been approved, save the last.
Due to a “small setback” with the garage, Bruce went through the whole process again for plan check approval.
“It’s really stressful for him,” Carla said, talking about her husband. Bruce, a deputy probation officer with Los Angeles County, previously worked at Campus Kilpatrick, a youth detention camp. The fire affected the facility, forcing him to now travel to Palmdale for work—though arguably, coming back to Malibu and building a home day to day is a second job itself.
The Bates went with a modular home, after being assured that it was the fastest to build. The problem now lies partially with the subcontractors, and shortages due to the increased building and demand for goods. The Weisbergs, the last family we interviewed in the series, ran into a similar issue during their rebuild process.
“I just don’t picture us moving in before September 1,” Carla said.
“We’re into that rebuild stage where the contractors are turning down work, they’ve got so much,” she said, joking that with all the rebuilds, she pitied the average person seeking to build a home outright.
“Everybody’s moving pretty much at the same pace,” Bruce said of his neighbors. “None of them have gotten permits that I know of ... The big hold up was getting the debris removal; [it] put everyone back four to five months.”
Insurance will cover two years, but Bruce argued that it should cover three years—which is more accurate to the amount of time rebuilding takes after debris removal, permitting and construction are factored in. He expects to hit the two-year mark at the very least.
For now, the couple, their two kids and Bruce’s mother reside in Paradise Cove. The space is theirs until June and, after that, Bruce said the family will try moving back onto the property.
Of the project, he said: “It’s insanely expensive. We’re probably going to be $600 per square foot.”
Unknown costs, like getting rid of burned trees, which ran about $8,000-$9,000, are what worry the family.
“We’re just rolling the dice, hoping we’ll be OK,” he later added. “We might have to have $200,000 out of pocket.”
Despite the dire news, they have hope.
Carla spoke to the community’s help in moving forward after the Woolsey Fire.
“I was lifted by the way my community reached out to us. For me, it was a humbling experience.
“My community was what started the healing, and we’re still healing,” she said.
The Weisberg family
The final family we spoke to for the series—the Weisbergs—were the first to complete the rebuild of their home, which was brand new as of July 2018. The rebuilt property, which sits on a little more than 5,000 square feet located on the Ventura side of the county line, was officially completed this August, to the immense relief of Linda and Michael Weisberg.
To celebrate, the Weisbergs invited their family, friends and those involved in the construction, around 85 people, to an afternoon event on Saturday, Nov. 9.
“It was a touching moment,” Michael said. The party started at 2 p.m.; at that time last year, the Weisbergs were evacuating. By 3 p.m. last year, the house was already gone.
“I’m very appreciative of all the people that were there, through donations of clothing to people who helped rebuild the house,” Weisberg said.
“It’s been a long journey,” he later added. “A lot’s gone on in the year.”
The Lupo family
Dr. John Lupo is sticking to what he told The Malibu Times the last time we spoke: to take things day by day.
“The situation is about the same,” he said. “We’ve been trying to find a larger rental and/or possibly looking into buying a lot to build on. We’re just in the process of trying to decide which way to go.”
The problem for the Lupos is prices are still high, and their insurance and FEMA haven’t been much help—especially given that the family was renting their property.“The real estate market [in Malibu] is at the top of the market just in general,” he said, calling it “just a difficult time to buy.”
As for his business, the Malibu Veterinary Clinic, Lupo said things are looking up.
“We’ve been having kind of a steady resurgence in that our revenue has been slowly getting back to where we were pre-fire.”
As the year has gone by, he reflected on the community as other families in the series have done.
“One thing that we’ve seen, even in just the one-year anniversary—I guess—after the fire, has been a real strong community coming together to remember and reflect,” he said. “The resilience of the community is just really encouraging to us.”