When the Rice Canyon Fire swept through Fallbrook, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit was Valley Oaks Mobile Home Park.
Charred, twisted metal and piles of ash sadly represented 106 mobile homes destroyed in the firestorm. Photographs of the destruction will be imprinted on the minds of many community members forever.
Many people described the site as “what Hiroshima looked like after the bombing,” said Cathie Majors, office manager of Valley Oaks. “When you looked at the front of the park you only saw devastation, but as you drove further into the middle of the park it was hard to tell that anything had happened.”
At the time, with so much destruction and despair, it was hard for many to imagine that Valley Oaks could ever return to its lovely park-like setting. But with hard work and unwavering diligence, it is.
“The organizing mission of management was to get folks back into their homes and, with this said, there was a wave of community sentiment,” said Richard Grossman, managing partner of Valley Oaks. “The fact that everyone shared that mission made things go a lot better.”
Progress began in a relatively short amount of time. The mission became known to insurance companies, local and county officials and contractors.
Having people return back home was terribly important to the whole Valley Oaks community, said Grossman.
The recovery that Valley Oaks is making has been primarily credited to California Capital Insurance Group.
“Our insurance company did a great job meeting their commitments to us and we are very thankful to them,” said Grossman. It was this money that helped the park move forward with determination.
At the helm of the restoration effort was project manager Dick Williams.
“He did an extraordinary job,” said Grossman. “He was very careful about our budget and looked after the monies as if it was his own; he had enormous tact when working with people.”
Grossman also said he and the other managing partners were grateful to the onsite management staff: “We could not have gotten the restoration done without Cathie and Gary Majors or Susan Koga.”
Currently, Valley Oaks has 29 residents who have either returned home or are in the midst of returning.
According to office records, they have eight spaces occupied by new residents since the fire and have manufactured home dealers who are renting spaces to build new homes which will be offered for sale in the near future.
Seventy-six vacant spaces still remain.
Looking back, Grossman admits there were many challenges, one being with state and local regulations. Having officials align themselves with the Valley Oaks mission was critical to Grossman and timing was everything.
“We had to get the job done quickly, while there was still political sensitivity for the great loss that people suffered,” he said. “And we did get that political cooperation.”
Grossman pays tribute to Greg Holdridge of North County Fire Protection District for his assistance.
Holdridge stepped in between the Housing and Community Development (HCD) agency and Valley Oaks regarding the installation of a new plumbing system for some fire sprinklers.
The park was facing a cost of up to $1 million to meet this requirement and it was money they did not have.
“Greg interceded and told HCD that the fire district had the only authority for this and the fire department had determined that our plumbing was adequate for the sprinklers,” said Grossman.
Repairs to its current plumbing system were made to meet those requirements without breaking the bank. “Imagine the relief we felt; Greg went out of his way to help us,” Grossman said.
However, the challenges for the managing partners/owners continue.
Throughout the recovery project, the owners have not taken any income distributions from the park. Not one penny.
“We have been saving all the insurance money for the restoration project and reserving other monies for any crisis in the future,” explained Grossman.
The five owners, three of whom are retired, are facing another year or more of trying to repopulate the park to the point where they can again receive income distributions from it.
“And we are trying to repopulate during an economic crisis when credit standards are being redefined and it’s harder to get people qualified to buy properties,” Grossman pointed out. “We will be swimming upstream against a difficult economy to try and get back to the point where this valuable property is producing any income for us.”
Despite the challenges the owners continue to face, the large strides toward recovery that Valley Oaks has made over the past year gives Grossman satisfaction. Residents now have a place to call home again.
“We could not have survived without the support we received,” Grossman said.
Editor’s Note: Valley Oaks Mobile Home Park would like to sincerely thank the following people and organizations who helped in the recovery and restoration effort: the churches of Fallbrook and the surrounding areas, led by Art Blodgett of Community Baptist Church; Chaplin Ron Ritter and the Red Cross; Samaritan’s Purse; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Seventh Day Adventist Church; Tzu Chi Foundation USA; the Salvation Army; Charlene Sharp of Mostly Windows; members of the Opera Co. of San Diego for the gala that took place last December; Rhonda Reinke; Legacy Endowment and the community’s donations to the fund they established; Macys; Color Spot; Living Spaces; Fallbrook Trading Company; James Helms, DDS; the Wildfire Recovery Project counselors; the Fallbrook Fire Recovery Center; Bobbi Best; Linda Bannerman; Foremost Insurance; San Diego County; Time Warner Cable; Amtec and Subsurface; Borden Construction.
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