Rising From the Ashes: The Bates Family

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. This time, we followed up with Carla Bates, who was the first Malibu resident interviewed for the series. Her initial story can be found at bit.ly/2FLlSwv. 

We met Bates on her property—now covered in greenery due to the recent storms—on Cuthbert Road in Malibu.

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Although the first thing Bates did following the fire was sign up for the state’s CalRecycle Consolidated Debris Removal Program like other residents, her property is not yet cleared.

“So, as you can see, this neighbor’s been cleared,” she said, pointing to each of the houses surrounding her property. “This neighbor’s got the task force on it. This neighbor in front of us, behind those trees, is cleared. This neighbor’s cleared—but we’re not.”

The response from CalRecycle does not seem reassuring, either. When she called the agency, she said, the answer from the other side was different every time. 

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In its latest news release, the state agency reported 401 properties in Los Angeles County—which accounts for 49.5 percent of eligible properties—had undergone debris removal. According to the City of Malibu, 42 properties out of 323 opted into the state program in the city have been fully cleared of debris as of April 9.

While they wait for debris removal to occur, the Bates family is focused on weed-whacking.

“Thanks to the rain, it’s [weeds] so high. They’re not going to weed-whack for us,” Bates explained; she later pointed out the edges of her property covered in greenery and said, “We’ve got debris all over there. We want the guys to clear it. We want them to able to see it to pick it up.”

At the time of publication, Bates was looking at an April 17 debris removal date—barring further delay due to a complication such as weather. Waiting for debris removal creates a delay in the rest of the Bates’ rebuild process. 

“So, I talked to our architect yesterday and he said he can’t draw up any legitimate, substantial plans until we do the debris clearance and then redo our topographic survey,” she explained. 

A topographic survey is conducted to map the surface of a property, including information such as elevation and natural features like rocks and trees.

The delay in creating plans is not what worries Bates.

“No, what it does is, [it] pushes us toward running out of money to stay where we’re staying,” she said. “We were given a definitive amount of money to go and rent.”

Money from California FAIR Plan, the family’s insurance provider, gives the Bates family roughly 18 months since the day the Woolsey Fire burned their home to rebuild before they have to begin paying for rent out-of-pocket. Her mother-in-law, Bonnie, who lived in the main house while the rest of the family stayed in the accessory dwelling unit, is on a separate insurance plan, from Travelers Insurance.

Bates and her husband Bruce recently compiled an estimate of their Woolsey Fire losses (besides the house itself) for the Internal Revenue Service. 

“We were way over $200,000, just in our little place,” Bates described. Her husband had originally guessed somewhere around $50,000 for their belongings.

If all goes according to plan, once debris removal is finished, a number of steps will go into motion, including updating the topographic map, having a civil engineer survey the property, fixing the retaining wall, installing an augmented septic tank and starting the permitting process.

The biggest changes will include shifting the driveway to allow better fire truck access—”although, for 50 years, it’s been this way,” Bates commented. 

Additionally, the main house will be shifted to capitalize on the “killer view” from their Cuthbert Road property.

Initially, the family had planned on a possible August date to begin construction. Now, she said, a healthy estimate would be an October start date.

They also have the decision of adding an extra 10 percent to their property footprint under the City of Malibu’s guidelines, which streamline permits for rebuilds up to 10 percent larger. The cost would be out-of-pocket but, as a friend told her, she would never have that opportunity again.

She explained: “I agree that it’s a good investment but, on the other hand, it’s really nice at my age not to be stressed about money.”

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