Rising From the Ashes

Carla Bates holds a doll belonging to her mother-in-law, Bonnie. The piece is one of several odds and ends pulled from the property so far.

In a new series, The Malibu Times follows the recovery and rebuild process of locals who lost their homes in the Woolsey Fire. This week, we spoke to Carla Bates—an artist and art teacher (and Malibu Times designer), who lost her home on Cuthbert Road in western Malibu. On Jan. 21, we joined her as she met with a structural engineer at her property—the house number freshly painted on a board stuck in the ground out front. 


For Bates and her family, the post-Woolsey Fire rebuild process began immediately.

“The first thing we did was sign up for the debris removal and then we went to all those meetings,” she said.

Her hillside property, which included both a one-story home and an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), was home to Carla; her husband, Bruce; their children, Jade and Declan; and her mother-in-law, Bonnie. The only parts left standing are a chimney from the main house and the damaged retaining wall.

The family finally received records of their property from the city—“and that’s about as much progress as we’ve made,” Bates said. 

“I feel like we go to all the meetings, which are valuable because we’ve learned something every time,” she said, “[but] then again … One thing we found out is no one wants to do anything for us until we have a site plan going.

“And that would come from our architect, but our architect can’t start drawing until she knows what’s gonna go on with [the retaining wall],” she explained. The Bates’ architect, Lisa Niles-Gutierrez, also lost her home in the fire.

The structural engineer, Jim Douglass of Alpha Structural, Inc., said the retaining wall had most likely become compromised due to the fire, based off the initial inspection, but that further study would be necessary. Fully replacing the wall could delay the rebuild, but they would be able to better waterproof the new build.

If everything went according to plan, they would break ground in August. But more realistically, she said it would begin after the new year in 2020. 

If the retaining wall and debris are taken care of, the family has tentative plans to build a prefabricated home where the ADU used to stand. Though it would eventually serve as an art studio, it could potentially be a living solution while construction continues on the property.

“We’re in a hurry because we only have enough money to keep us where we are for 18 months and then, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Bates described. Currently, the family is renting a home in Paradise Cove.

“One of the things that keeps running through my head since the first day is that we were erased. The Bates have been erased,” she explained.

Still, all the family members are determined to come back and move forward. For now, Jade helps as her assistant while Declan and Bruce clear up what they can on weekends spent on the property.

As her husband begins documenting property loss, Bates described all the collectibles Bonnie had stored in the attic.    

“Her father had one of the first camera photography stores in Berkeley,” she recalled, describing “reels and reels of film” her mother-in-law had kept, documenting moments such as the building of the Golden Gate Bridge.

While the reels did burn, a special cast iron dog bank—found last weekend—did not. According to Bates, the bank previously made it through the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

This time around, Bates said she is excited to rebuild the home—already, she joked about spending some time on the popular creative website Pinterest.

On the rebuild, she said: “We have to deal with the bureaucracy and, you know, a government agency, which is scary. And I’m sure we’re going to have all kinds of roadblocks, therefore. But, on the other hand, they do this all the time and, you know, I know they’re going to do it the right way so that we can get through permitting better—more easily.”


The Malibu Times is still looking for locals to be part of this series. If this sounds like something you or someone you know may be interested in, please email editorial@malibutimes.com or call 310.456.5507 ext. 105 for details.