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Morro Bay reduces permit fees for property owners impacted by floods 

The winter storms that ravaged Morro Bay put residents like Heather Baker on their heels as the sudden storms led to massive flooding and building damage.

"On Jan. 9, [my family] went about its normal day, [then] our world was unexpectedly turned upside down," Baker said in a May letter to the Morro Bay City Council. "Our treasured 1934 adobe home flooded with 42 inches of water overflowing from the Morro and Little Morro creeks."

click to enlarge FLOODED OUT When winter storms in January and March flooded Heather Baker's Morro Bay home, she moved to rebuild the entire house—something she hopes the city will assist with as it lowers permitting fees for those in her situation. - PHOTO COURTESY OF HEATHER BAKER
  • Photo Courtesy Of Heather Baker
  • FLOODED OUT When winter storms in January and March flooded Heather Baker's Morro Bay home, she moved to rebuild the entire house—something she hopes the city will assist with as it lowers permitting fees for those in her situation.

Baker said that as friends helped her family clean up the damage, her home was flooded again on March 10, leaving the Bakers no choice but to pivot to a full-scale demolition and rebuild rather than renovate.

"Since the March flood, we have been working diligently to plan for a rebuild, meeting with city planning," Baker wrote. "Due to the destruction caused by the federally declared natural disaster, we are requesting the city to support a waiver for any building and planning-related fees."

On Aug. 22, the Morro Bay City Council voted to reduce those fees for building and planning permits by 50 percent for properties damaged by the 2023 winter storms.

The policy change is a welcome one, especially for Baker; however, she told New Times that city policy still leaves a lot to be desired as she and her husband continue to work on the plans for the house.

"I think this was a move in the right direction, but I am disappointed in the scale of it," she said. "Half of the $30,000 that is required for permitting and planning a new building on our property like this is still $15,000. That is a lot of money for any family."

As of May, Baker said her family intended to build a home of similar size to the the prior one, but elevated so that it would not be victim to similar flooding in the future.

"We are not looking to add onto the house or changing anything that would warrant some of the additional fees we have encountered like sewage and pipework," Baker said. "We just want to rebuild after how badly the house was damaged by the floods."

The water damage caused by that flooding is also a financial impact that Baker said isn't addressed by the fee reduction.

"We lost anything that was fabric or of similar material under the flood line," she said. "So not only do we need to rebuild the entire property—since the building was so damaged—but we need to refurnish it as well and replace all of those items."

Baker told New Times that she received little to no assistance from her home insurance or from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), making any help from the city all the more important.

"Because of our flood insurance, FEMA can't really offer us any type of assistance outside of small low-interest loans," she said. "The problem is, even with our flood insurance covering the damages, there is still a large amount of money left over that we will have to pay to have it rebuilt, according to the estimates our contractor gave us."

She added that these challenges aren't unique to her family and that many of the families impacted by last winter's flooding need all the help they can get.

"I truly appreciate the effort of the city, but this is the type of thing where if they can lower it even more—or find ways to work with us to find places where other fees could be lowered or waived—it would have minimal impact on the city overall," she said.

Most importantly, Baker stressed that she and many families like her are not looking for a total bypass of the system—they are looking for relief.

"We aren't looking for handouts, but we do want it to be fair," she said. "Every $1,000 we don't have to spend makes a difference for families like us." Δ

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