Two “lucky” Malibu families are about to be the first in the city to complete rebuilding their Malibu homes destroyed by the Woolsey Fire—unlucky, of course, in that their homes were wiped out by the devastating blaze. Their lives also, of course, have been upended with relocation and the arduous, costly and time-consuming process to rebuild. City officials anticipate the two residences to be completed by the end of the month.

However, there are 471 other homes in Malibu that are nowhere close to seeing a move-in date. Only roughly 10 percent of Malibu burnouts—that’s 49—have even received permits to rebuild. Another 160 homes are still in the planning or review process by city agencies.

Due to the slow movement of getting documents and rebuilding plans approved for burnout victims, and following the retirement of longtime official Craig George, the city hired Yolanda Bundy as its new environmental sustainability director/building official. Since her hiring in mid-October, rebuild permits issued have more than doubled from 21 to 49. 

“The numbers keep moving forward on the approval side,” Bundy, the former City of Ventura chief building official, said. “There are about three approvals a week. I’m hoping we’ll see more coming in the next few months. Also, the number of permits that we’ve seen submitted has increased.” 

Bundy indicated she sees the forward momentum because of “communication with the homeowners—having conversations with them one-on-one explaining to them the process.” The experienced public servant said one of her goals is to make the rebuild process more clear, and that includes revamping the city website a bit, too. 

The permitting process for rebuilding is overwhelming, but Bundy has been very receptive to the public and encouraged those going through the process who have questions to call or visit her at City Hall. 

“I recommend they come in and meet with me. I usually set up meetings with the different divisions and departments so we are all meeting trying to give the applicants—the homeowners—the information necessary for them to rebuild,” Bundy explained. “Any clarification they might need I encourage them to continue getting involved on the plan check and rebuild process.  It’s a tremendous help to the families who are rebuilding.”

There are two major steps in the rebuild process: planning and building and safety.  The planning process reflected in the city’s website shows 209 homes in the process. Details such as height, color and square footage are detailed in planning. Building and safety then authorizes construction plans.

Public Works Commissioner Paul Grisanti indicated he’s optimistic since Bundy’s hire. 

“We started out slow, but the City of Malibu was really being all-hands-on-deck when it came to figuring out a way to cut the average time for a permit from 18 months down to probably closer to six,” Grisanti explained. “That’s the current goal the city is using. They’ve done a lot of things to make it better. They haven’t been shy about spending money on paying for permits for people because they want these people to rebuild. They’ve been very aggressive when it came to hiring more people to help the permit processing go quickly and I think Yolanda who they’ve added has been a terrific change.” 

Bundy is working from 8 a.m. until late hours responding to emails and phone calls, saying, “I’m trying to make myself available to all the homeowners in Malibu so they can get the service and the information that they need.”

Outside of Malibu in unincorporated Los Angeles County, 397 homes were damaged or destroyed by Woolsey. Although rebuild numbers on the county’s website reflecting progress are a bit confusing, LA County Public Works Public Information Officer Steven Frasher explained, saying 1,189 parcels in the entire county were cleared of debris. Some of these parcels were not necessarily homes and could have been used for other purposes. Currently, more than 400 reconstruction plans are winding through the fire department, regional planning, public works and public health departments for approvals. Only 36 residences have been green-lighted for rebuilds. Three homes have been completed.

The certificates of occupancy that are about to be issued on the two Malibu homes “will give hope to the rest of the residents to show this is a doable process” according to Bundy. 

“We’re here,” she added. “We’re committed to help each one of the families rebuild. We’re taking the time to go through the process and help them through it.”

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