Operation Recovery gets down to business


Fire survivors start telephone tree and learn how to maximize insurance settlements. Future meetings will highlight rebuilding process, agencies offering money and comprehensive fire safety plan.

By Vicky Shere / Special to the Malibu Times

About 40 Malibu residents filled a Pepperdine University classroom last Thursday to learn how to recover from the recent wildfires.

The occasion was the first formal meeting of Operation Recovery 2007, a support group for those impacted by the October and November wildfires in Malibu and Corral canyons.

Based on the model created by The Malibu Times publishers Karen and Arnold York after the 1993 wildfires and spearheaded by Corral Canyon resident Beverly Taki, Operation Recovery 2007 seeks to help fire survivors network and gain professional assistance with the rebuilding process.

To those ends, Taki had people sign a fire/emergency phone tree form and had two state-licensed public insurance adjusters, Michael Vaughan of Malibu and Robb Greenspan of Encino, speak on maximizing insurance settlements.

A long-term goal of the group is developing a comprehensive fire safety plan by taking stock of what was learned, Taki said. She introduced Andrea Jacobs, who told the group that she will put phone tree information into a database so there will be improved communication in neighborhoods.

“We hope the Corral Canyon Safety Committee formula will be used by other neighborhoods,” Taki said.

Christine Rodgerson, who is liaising with Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s senior field deputy, Susan Nissman, on Fire Department response, asked people to contact her with information on how long it took firefighters to arrive.

Although 15-year El Nido resident Bill Brown talked passionately about action against the City of Malibu for allowing a section of Corral Canyon at Pacific Coast Highway to be reduced to one lane, which he claimed hindered Fire Department response, the goal of the group was gathering information.

“My prime concern is learning about immediate relief,” said 18-year resident Christopher Hudson, a neighbor of Brown’s, just before the insurance adjusters spoke. “I’m worried about making ends meet, minimizing losses and maximizing recovery. Why put our energy into a lawsuit against a city that might not have the money to pay.”

Greenspan, the adjuster from Encino, emphasized several themes in maximizing insurance settlements.

Documentation is the key to putting a claim together, Greenspan said. You should describe losses in “exhaustive detail” (for example, a “pine, 10-shelf, two drawer, carved bookcase,” and include contents of all drawers. For rebuilding costs you would specify crown molding and the color of paint).

Price everything at today’s cost, include acquisition costs such as shipping, handling and time it takes to shop, and tell insurers where you shop for the items, Greenspan said.

Don’t stop with policy limits, he added. You want to show the Federal Emergency Management Agency that you are underinsured at today’s costs.

Don’t settle too quickly, and request a one-year extension of time to file claims, Greenspan noted.

All communication with the insurance company should be documented in writing, Greenspan emphasized.

When Ted Beason, a Malibu contractor, asked about loss of use, Greenspan said insurees are entitled to living expenses and loss of rental value for two years, and people should be careful how they spend their money.

Vaughan, the insurance adjuster from Malibu, said that with new building codes in effect this year, all property must be upgraded if more than 50 percent is damaged. If the cost to rebuild in Malibu is too expensive, you have the option to rebuild somewhere else. Vaughan urged people to get at least10 bids on rebuilding costs from local contractors and noted that insurers cannot depreciate the cost of labor.

Errol Coughlan, another Malibu contractor, said people can reopen a claim if one finds hidden costs when rebuilding.

Taki said she plans to compile a list of reputable contractors, engineers, architects and other professionals involved in rebuilding.

Future meetings will address interfacing with governmental agencies, building permits and codes, and agencies offering money, grants and loans, Taki said.

Marissa Coughlan, a Malibu planning, permit and construction consultant, answered questions after the meeting ended.

“I want to share information on what to expect,” Coughlan said. “You are dealing with personal tragedy along with a nightmare of bureaucratic procedure. Hopefully, government will allow homeowners to rebuild without having to supply major studies.”

Taki also said she is in contact with the deputy district attorney prosecuting the men charged with causing the Nov. 24 Corral Canyon fire, if anyone wanted to provide information on the case.

Operation Recovery’s next meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 at Room 301 of Malibu High School, 30215 Morning View Dr. More information can be obtained by contacting Beverly Taki at 310.456.4843 or by e-mail at operationrecovery@charter.net. To report your experience with Fire Department response, contact Christine Rodgerson at 31.317.9313 or crodgerson@coldwellbanker.com

Wednesday deadline to request government assistance

Victims of the recent fires have until 6 p.m. this week on Wednesday to register for federal and state assistance.

FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Mike Hall said victims must get their names “and other information into the FEMA system before 6 p.m. [on Wednesday].”

Telephone registrants may call 800.621.FEMA or TTY 800.462.7585 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Individuals and business owners may register online at www.FEMA.gov until midnight on Wednesday.

The Wednesday deadline also applies to applications for low-interest disaster loans from the SBA. In addition, completion of the SBA loan application is a pre-condition to qualify for grants from FEMA and the state of California. An exception to the SBA deadline is for economic injury disaster loans, which may be made until July 24. The SBA can be reached at 800.659.2955 or online at www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance