A 2-hour community outreach meeting led by the California Department of Insurance on Monday night in San Andreas did little to answer a fundamental question facing many area homeowners: “What can we do now?”
A panel of CDI representatives, composed of Commissioner Ricardo Lara, Deputy Commissioner Tony Signorelli and Special Counsel Joel Laucher, presented pending legislation and took questions from frustrated Calaveras County residents during Monday’s meeting at the San Andreas Town Hall.
The panel echoed the bills recently passed or still pending in the California Legislature – Senate Bills 182, 190, 295, 240, 508 and 824 and Assembly Bills 38 and 1516 – and referenced the California FAIR Plan. Lara alluded to pushing for changes to the FAIR Plan, as well, including increasing the coverage offered, but admitted the plan wasn’t always as fair as its namesake implies because of its cost.
“That sounds great for the future, but that can’t help me now,” responded one frustrated Calaveras resident.
Many questions were focused on local’s commonly found issues with insurance companies – what to do when someone else’s property is part of the problems cited by your insurance company and who to go to when numerous agencies have turned down writing a policy for a property. In some cases, residents received non-renewal letters because of their zip code.
“There are several reasons you may be non-renewed, even unrelated to your particular home today. One of those is insurers are trying to guard against an over concentration of how many homes they’ve written in a given area,” said Laucher.
He explained that some companies review how much they have written in total property values for a given area. Based on their totals and risk to their financial standing, they choose whether or not to renew or write polices in a particular area. Laucher continued, explaining that other companies write based on a larger area that may include properties not associated with a homeowner’s property, choosing not to write policies based on their proximity to the other areas.
He added that residents facing issues with their neighbor’s property may need to contact their city council or fire department to resolve the mitigation problem. Several residents told the panel they had contacted numerous agents and were still unable to find anyone who would insure their property. Of the few that had found an agency, they stated there was no guarantee they would be able to keep the coverage or that it would be affordable by the time the process was completed.
“Those 50 companies that write coverage, you want to make sure that you’ve contacted an agent, ultimately, that has represented every single one of those companies before you settle for a FAIR plan or surplus lines policy,” said Laucher.
“We’re dancing around the question, we’re dancing around the issue,” expressed another frustrated resident. “What you don’t understand is there are no regular insurance carriers that will write fire in most of Calaveras County. Period. I don’t care how many you’ve got, 50, 200, a thousand. It makes no difference. No one wants to be the only one writing coverage in areas that are held to wildfire.”
They went on to state that California has neglected to take care of the forest lands, creating a “tinderbox” in spite of the funding earmarked for forest clean up. Additionally, meeting attendees urged the panel to get to the root of the problem instead of “dancing around” the issue. Lara admitted that California needs to do a better job managing the forest lands and stated they needed to coordinate better with local governments, the federal government and the Legislature to work toward a solution together.
However, Lara did not have any specifics on a plan moving forward to address forest management at the time of the meeting. Homeowners weren’t the only ones frustrated over the insurance industry’s present state. Business owners took to the floor, as well, asking the panel what they can do to save their businesses when companies are equally unwilling to write policies for them.
“We’ve been talking a lot about residences, homes, but what about businesses,” asked another concerned resident. “It’s amazing, it’s terrible. People cannot insure their businesses, then businesses in California are going to close. Then you guys are going to really be affected. So what do we do in the meantime?”
Lara stated that the outreach meetings were the first time CDI had come out to speak with affected communities directly to hear concerns and difficulties on the ground level. Laucher indicated