The Union shows it is clueless about the home insurance business

The Union writes: “MISS: To insurance companies dropping home insurance policies — or no longer writing them — in Nevada County. No doubt millions in claims will soon come out of the ashes all across Northern California, but millions more have been paid by homeowners for the very insurance support now being sought by victims of fire.

“Fewer companies writing policies also means homeowners, along with prospective homeowners, have more trouble insuring a property — and trouble buying and selling homes, a negative impact on our economy.”

First of all, The Union is way behind in its reporting, as usual. This has been an ongoing problem — long before the recent fires. You wonder about The Union’s sourcing and experience.

Second, homeowners have to share the blame with insurance companies when it comes to digging in their heels about creating “defensible space” with arguments of “property rights” and so on. This is an ongoing issue here, with the right wing nuts showing up at government meetings objecting to tighter regulations about clearing brush.

To be sure, we recently had a “come to Jesus” discussion with our insurer (you can ask him), reminding him about all the money we spend to create defensible space. Tree trimming and brush clearing is expensive. A recent bill for us topped $1,000, just to be proactive.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for some homeowners that Nevada County is a risky place to insure, but the simplistic argument of bashing “big business,” as The Union has, reflects a podunk and ignorant mindset. It is counterproductive.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

15 thoughts on “The Union shows it is clueless about the home insurance business”

  1. Over the last two years our homeowners group (Friends Of Banner Mountain ) have been having meeting after meeting about fire, insurance, bark beetle, and land clearing. Zip about insurance from this paper, and it’s as HOT an issue as anything else in the foothills

    1. How is it that real estate agents still sell houses here that can’t be insured? Is there a mortgage company out there that lends a 30 mortgage with no fire insurance? Anywhere?

    2. No kidding! If The Union ever wants to “grow up,” it needs to start digging into the issues that matter to the locals. It also needs to connect the dots when it comes to CABPRO “property rights” politics (their readers) and the unwillingness to create more defensible spaces around homes. Of all the papers, I notice the L.A. Times does a good job on the pragmatic business issues (fire insurance, health insurance, etc.)

  2. Three years ago our insurance carrier gave a new bill for the coming year and the premium cost jumped 300%. When we called them and asked why, the customer service agent said it is our whole zip code and we did nothing wrong. We are on a city lot with a fire hydrant in the front yard and NID ditch out back, it is just minutes from a fire station, so there is no concern about fire fighting capabilities for this parcel, but none of that matters. The fact is we are in both a high fire severity zone and a high fire threat zone, according to CalFire FRAP data and the insurance companies know it very well.

    I can only imagine what homeowners insurance is going to cost in a few more years after the devastating fires in 2017. One way or another, we are all going to pay for the events we have seen locally, over in Sonoma and Napa counties and the other parts of our state that have had big burns and loss of homes. You can have all the defensive space you want and if the weather conditions are right this area will burn, and the insurance companies know it.

    1. Watching the NC Planning Commission struggle with homeless activism and the real need to shelter folks with limited resources on both sides and no clear workable plan either.
      Looks like there will be a new wave of homeless people after the latest fires here.
      The rains start tonight, winter is well on its way.
      Wondering how the swelling homeless population will affect us all.

    2. Steve,
      What you’re describing about insurance underwriting is unavoidable until Cal Fire has more legal clout in enforcing defensible space. There’s a silver lining in the cloud you are painting, however, that works for me: a home with lots of defensible space and a fire hydrant in the front yard can save your home, even if other homes in your neighborhood burn to the ground. Just ask a Cal Fire person. We did for our place in Tahoe. And in that instance, we were told point blank that the fire truck is going to be camping out in our driveway, tapping the fire hydrant and trying to save the rest of the neighborhood with hoses across our lawns. Other homes without defensible space may never get the chance. The glass can be “half full.”

      1. The firefighters can use whatever they want at our house. If there is a wind driven fire coming up out of the Deer Creek drainage and heading towards Hughes and Ridge Road, I would be more than glad to open up the gates and they can drive a truck right in the side yard to the back and get water from the NID ditch also. Not many homes along this street can do that. If there is a north wind and the trees and juniper behind us start burning it could be bad news for this neighborhood.

  3. Chance of a fire truck to park in front of your home 1 in 1,000,000 –
    If you have only so many fire trucks to begin with ( seriously at station 86 on Banner there is one) how in the world do you think that one will pick your house out of the other 10,000 homes in the county to save??

    1. Chip,
      This is not Banner Mountain or Nevada City. It is a small neighborhood (a few dozen homes) on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, and the only fire hydrant is right next to our house. As I said, Cal Fire / North Tahoe Fire has discussed this with us. More fire trucks per home too.

  4. A positive note in is discussion is that the tribes all over California are offering education about their ancient forest practices.
    If you could transport pre-contact Nisenan people to the present, they would be astonished at what they would behold in these parts, an unrecognizable landscape.
    It might be interesting to host some, “Trash Basket”, talks. Trash baskets were made from leftover basket materials, very rough, not like the beauty baskets. The children made them or were given them to run around and clean up the campoodie, because the Nisenan were clean and tidy people.
    The homeless folks who foul the woods and create extra costs for toxic clean-up, could learn a thing or two about camping from the Indians, who contentedly survived very severe winter weather in their little “Hu’us”, riding out the storms, telling stories, wrapped in rabbit skin blankets and furs, munching down on jerky, duck, dried salmon and berries, acorn mush and lots of other stores the women put up. All without fouling their surroundings.
    The indigenous people groomed the forests constantly and knew the trees the way we know people, like individuals.
    They didn’t have metal saws or axes but if a tree were sick or dead and had to come down to clear space or build a big roundhouse, well, they didn’t call our ancestors, “diggers”, for nothing
    The ancients were masters of defensible space and proper stewardship of the forests, because they had little else to do but form a loving, respectful, symbiotic relationship with their environment.
    Our local heritage tribe still has much of that knowledge through their families’ collective oral histories, and they are sharing it with the protection groups that have formed to safeguard our rivers and lands.
    It’s a good thing and a glimmer of proactive hope in these troubling times.

  5. I am helping a friend who went through Rough and Ready fire. He is on Meadow View and was saved. But everything around his house looks like a burnt kitchen match— the folks I am helping had 60 seconds to get their dog, get into their truck, and leave. Their neighbor, whose house was already on fire, woke them up at 3:20 am-The fire crews knocked down the fire on most of their house, so there was little damage, but the garage and all outbuildings were burnt to the foundation with absolutely nothing left but ash. 60 seconds- so much for lists and plastic tubs ready to load with all your stuff- All other houses on his street are gone. When you look at the entire neighborhoods in Santa Rosa that were wiped out (no forest in sight where these folks lived), forget thinking some fire truck will pick your street. Not going to happen with winds at 50 to 70 miles an hour. Run for it-.

    1. Chip,
      I think we’re talking past each other. There is one fire hydrant in a small neighborhood off of Hwy. 89 on the West Shore. One street. One fire hydrant. If the fire crews hope to save any homes in this small neighborhood, they are going to have to tap into that fire hydrant. There is a water pump house for the neighborhood there too. That’s why the fire people visited us, to make sure the property around this had sufficient defensible space. Of course, they could ignore the neighborhood all together and let it burn to the ground — and defend the fire from the next neighborhood instead. It all depends on the scenario. The one I’m describing obviously involves more preparation time than 60 seconds. It is a likely scenario, however. A fire burning to the south from Blackwood Canyon, and the fire trucks trying to protect the small neighborhoods that dot the West Shore. One thing that happens much less in Lake Tahoe than here: Not as many “property rights”/CABPRO yahoos undermining fire safety plans, and also a huge effort to clear out brush and dying trees from Blackwood Canyon was just completed. That’s because of proactive neighbors and fire officials. The Angora fire in South Lake Tahoe was a learning experience.

      1. As we are surrounded by old, dry trees on our property, we have a pump that is used to access swimming pool or pond water for fire suppression.
        I have heard the Fire trucks carry such pumps also, but I don’t know for sure.
        If we have a fire, sorry Jeff, no cannonball.

  6. Thanks Jeff- When you see it ( like in Tahoe) and the devastation left, it’s one of those things you can’t “un-see”.
    The expense of clearing has been the major impedement to defensible space on Banner Mountain.
    What would seem a small price to pay to save your home, for many it has become overwhelming.
    If it were up to all who have given us advice, the only thing that would do it would be to thin the forest around large areas near the most populated . Fire officials who addressed our group can only relate how quckly this place will go up, plead that people provide defensible space, and then suggest evacuation routes.

  7. One of the problems is some people’s unwillingness to budget for living in a forest. I do not begrudge insurance companies for charging people $1,000 a year and then assuming all the risk if your house burns down. I do not begrudge governments for fire taxes. I do not begrudge those who charge the “going rate” for brush clearance. You have to take all of this into account if you decide to live in a forest. On the other hand, it’s a nicer place to live that a “concrete jungle.” I do begrudge the selfish “property rights” activists who cannot think past the end of their own noses. We have a disproportionate amount of those around here.

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