After months of lobbying efforts, several property owners who lost homes in the Chimney Fire were relieved to learn Tuesday that they will be allow to rebuild their cabins on Lake Nacimiento even though the sites are below the reservoir's flood line.
"It's been super-stressful ... just to have to fight to get back what we had," said Ronelle Wilson, whose family lake house at the Cal-Shasta Club was one of seven burned homes that San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties said couldn't be rebuilt because they were below a 825-foot flood line.
It was a flip in policy for Monterey County, where the Water Resources Agency had been adamant that it wouldn't allow homes to be rebuilt in a flood easement that it owns around the perimeter of the lake.
The position was concerning to more than just those seven in the easement who lost their homes to flames in August 2016: More than 100 other structures are located below the official flood line, and some wondered whether they also would be prevented from rebuilding if something happened to their homes in the future.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"These are real families, real people, and we empathize with that," Monterey County Supervisor Simon Salinas told The Tribune. The board voted unanimously to draft a policy to help the fire victims, and noted that it should be done quickly.
Indication that the tide was shifting first came Tuesday morning in San Luis Obispo County when supervisors voted unanimously to amend the General Plan to allow the families to rebuild — but only if Monterey County also allowed it.
Scott Bruhn — whose burned cabin had been in the family for three generations — asked, "Why are us seven people being held hostage?"
Later that afternoon, Monterey County supervisors, acting against the recommendation of the Water Resources Agency, decided to convene a committee to draft a policy that would allow the homes in question to be rebuilt, and would allow homes in the future to be grandfathered in, Salinas said.
"We are really, really happy," said Steve Demsher, president of Cal-Shasta Club. "It's good, or better than we could hope for."
Monterey County supervisors are scheduled to return May 8 to hear back from the committee, which will include Salinas, San Luis Obispo County Supervisor John Peschong, and representatives of the Cal-Shasta Club and others.