Housing crisis on horizon, mountain residents point to high insurance rates and forest management

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SHAVER LAKE, Calif. (KGPE) – Residents in the mountains have seen insurance rates skyrocket over the past one to three years. They are voicing their concerns with CBS47 and are pointing to forest management as the underlying issue.

Residents and insurance companies alike agree forest management is the cause of insurance rates raising 300 to 900% in recent years.

It’s a high risk for insurance companies to insure in certain zip codes because they know if a fire took place, the company would suffer a huge loss.

The solution, they say, is to lower the risk in high risk areas.

“They didn’t want to cut down our forests and if you don’t do it then it burns,” Tim Elming, Pine Ridge resident, said. “it’s just waiting to burn and that’s how you get this problem.

Elming has always lived in the mountains. He even spent years in the logging industry.

He says times have changed and regulations now rule the mountains.

He doesn’t blame the environmentalists but says it’s time to recognize the system in place isn’t working and move forward.

“I doubt that anyone thought that by trying to protect the forest, how could you potentially look down the road and think that by doing this, it’s going to create something devastating and destroy communities and put people out of their homes and financially ruin them.”

He says it begins with education and then policy change.

“As far as forestry education, they need to rethink the ramifications of neglect,” Tim Elming said. “This isn’t working, so rethink it.”

Elming lost the home he built in the Creek Fire. Jesalyn Harper lost her cabin that’s been in her family for generations. She is echoing the same concerns of Elming.

“There are preventative measures that could have been done,” Harper said. “There are things to be done to minimize it and nothing have been done. People are done. They are tired of it.”

Local activists are putting forth ideas to create change.

The solution in place right now is the California FAIR Plan. It was made to give homeowners an option when insurance companies drop your policy and other companies refuse to insure you.

Local homeowners say this isn’t the solution and it has it’s own problems.

“It’s limited in coverage,” Peter Leinau, Oakhurst resident, said. “The FAIR plan does not cover what my old plan used to cover.”

“The FAIR plan is only fire,” Meegan Kliever, Tollhouse resident, said. “The FAIR plan was still $3,400 plus an $800 policy to cover theft and everything else, so it’s still just as high.”

The FAIR plan is limited in coverage and people on the plan pay for several policies. Residents say this isn’t a fix to the jumping insurance rates.

Community activists like Leinau say if a solution isn’t found soon, a housing crisis is on the horizon.

“The way the insurance companies were moving out of the state, and pushing people to these more expensive policies, it seemed like a tidal wave coming,” Leinau said. “We will see another housing collapse as we saw before in California because of people walking away. They can’t afford those payments.”

Meegan Kliever, frustrated with the position the state is in, says change is needed before bad change happens.

“If nothing is done then we will be forced to move out of California.”

Leinau has been pushing for change for years. He has written to the governor and state policy makers. He has resolutions ready for action. He has his local officials on board.

“It’s so frustrating that we can’t get legislation to work for the people, I mean it’s really hard,” Tom Wheeler, Madera County Board of Directors, said.

Wheeler is as far as a lobbyist for this issue. He says it’s becoming more and more prevalent each year.

Insurance companies, are urging residents to join the fight for change. Reminding homeowners, change starts in Sacramento.

“Help support people out there trying to create change,” Liz Winterton, Foster and Parker Insurance, said. “See if we can start working on a solution. We can’t do it, but you can.”

Liz Winterton gave us this bulleted list of advice for homeowners:

1) HARDEN YOUR HOME!
a. Maintain a defensible space
b. Maintain an adequate water supply
c. Utilize non-combustible construction and less-flammable vegetation when possible
2) BE FIRE SAFE!
a. Avoid accidentally starting a fire on your own property (mowing, uncontrolled burn
piles, BBQ’s, gunfire)
b. Never park a hot car on dry grass
c. Campfires only in specified and permitted areas as fire conditions permit
3) GET INVOLVED!
a. Help your community develop a plan to mitigate wildfire exposure
b. Reach out to your elected officials to see how they can help or how you can help
i. County Supervisors, State Assemblyman, Governor, etc.
c. Volunteer in your community for wildfire mitigation projects
d. Start a FIREWISE community in your neighborhood

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