Saturday, September 29, 2007

Angora -- One man's story

unedited Tahoe Mt.News Sept story

Editor’s note: This is a monthly article about one of the hundreds of people who lost their homes in the Angora Fire.

By Kathryn Reed

“Please pass along a hello and sympathies to John Mauriello. I met John several years ago and he used to hike to Angora for a lemonade. Tell him the next pitcher is on us, and he’s welcome to play a tune on our piano (not a grand, but a decent upright Yamaha).”
The email from Judith Hildinger at Angora Lakes Resort was sent to the Tahoe Mountain News last month.
Hiking isn’t something John Mauriello has done much of this summer. The 68-year-old retiree has been spending his days since June 24 trying to pick up the pieces of his life after the Angora Fire wiped out his house on Mount Olympia Circle.
When he was read the above email he got a little choked up. It made him pause. It gave him a slight breather from the endless thoughts of contractors, architects and insurance adjusters.
Finally, on Sept. 1 he and a buddy made the climb to the resort – a first since the fire.
Hildinger was waiting with a big hug – and lemonade.
The experience was bittersweet. The scar on the forest is everywhere. Escaping his reality is nearly impossible.
“You look to the left side and it’s so damn depressing. When you are walking you are looking down at it. It’s so widespread … so depressing. All because of whoever the fool was. The act of irresponsibility,” Mauriello said of the nearly 3,100 charred acres that was a result of an illegal campfire.
Now his exercise time is spent at Lake Tahoe Community College’s gym. It’s physically and mentally rewarding. He says is makes up for the hikes he hasn’t done this summer.

Rebuilding hell

Mauriello thought he’d be further along in the rebuilding process. Now he’s not even sure he wants to rebuild.
“I won’t move out of Tahoe. If I move out of Tahoe, I’m turning my back on the people who went out of their way to help me,” Mauriello said. “What I would like is for someone to say is this is what it’s going to cost you and this is what I can do. And then I can make a decision. I need a place to live and I’m losing enthusiasm for it.”
One contractor gave him a price to rebuild and then added that he could be off by 10 percent. Ten percent of the total is not a chunk of change Mauriello is willing to gamble with.
On Aug. 16 he met with contractor Hal Cole at his excavated Mount Olympia site to discuss possibilities.
Mauriello had a 1,720-square-foot two-story modified A-frame. A-frames can’t be built anymore based on today’s codes. He has coverage to build a 2,900-square-foot home. He wants 1,800-square-feet of living space.
Cole explained that three stories, as Mauriello has first wanted, are likely out of the question because of height limitations.
The contractor threw out the idea of hydronic heating via the floors, which he said would add about $5,000 to the whole project.
They went to a house on Texas Street that Cole had built to see the cement siding that looks like cedar.
Cole cautioned against using an architect for the size house Mauriello wants, and instead suggested finding plans already approved to speed up the process and avoid additional costs and headaches.
“You aren’t thinking re-sale. You’re thinking retiring,” Cole said.
“That is what I did. I retired here,” Mauriello said.
“Unless you want a dream house, you don’t need an architect,” Cole said. “Give me a day or two to come up with a design. I will help you any way I can to get through this process.”
Despite the promise to help, as of the first week of September, Mauriello had not heard from Cole since that day in mid-August.

Insurance issues

His insurance company, Hartford through AARP, is not being as diligent as Mauriello would like. The company is not answering his question nor are representatives putting things in writing – it’s been a lot of phone calls and not much movement.
Mauriello wonders about a check he received. He wonders if he cashes it, does that signify he is OK with the amount, or is more to come. He wonders about paying off the mortgage. He wonders about keeping the lot and buying something else.
When Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who is also the former state insurance commissioner, was in town Aug. 17 for a meeting at the Elk’s Club he talked about people hitting a wall two to three months after the initial tragedy.
“You’ve got to prevent the second burn, which is the insurance process,” Garamendi said. “Expect controversies and delays. Most people won’t rebuild until they have settlements.”
Mauriello has hit that proverbial wall.
He is supposed to receive checks for living expenses – things like rent – from Hartford. He faxes the company receipts. They’ve never sent him a check for the bills.
“August has really been a disappointing month,” he said after Labor Day. “Going over my inventory (of lost items) is so depressing. It just brings everything back.”

Mixed feeling about county

El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago met with Angora neighbors informally over pizza on Aug. 14.
“She is on our side without any doubt. She is doing everything possible within her power, and I might add she is very new at this, to make sure all of us, the Angora survivors, are well taken care of,” Mauriello said the day after that encounter. “She is doing everything possible to ensure that we can restore our lives as quickly as possible.”
What he’d like is a list of names and phone numbers of people who lost their homes. Mostly so everyone is hearing the same thing – about facts, meetings and putting rumors to bed.
He’d also like Santiago to arrange for a delay in needing to file building plans by the end of the year. If he and others don’t, they will have to meet the state building codes that take effect Jan. 1.
“I don’t want to build on emotion, I want to build on intelligence,” Mauriello said. More time, he believes, would allow him to make more informed decisions about something that is so important – his home.
Tree removal is a big bugaboo with him. All the comments and paperwork right after the fire said homeowners were responsible for clearing dead trees from their property.
Mauriello did so – at a cost of about $5,000 to his insurance company.
Last month the county reversed that decision and said it would contract for tree removal.
Homeowners who already had the lumber carted off cannot get reimbursed, according to Santiago.
Even though the cash is not directly out of Mauriello’s wallet, it will affect what the insurance company gives him for landscaping when he is ready for that stage of recovery.

Saying thank you

When the Mountain News caught up with Mauriello on Aug. 20 he was handwriting thank yous. He knows he won’t reach everyone – after all, indirectly thousands of people have helped him.
He’s thankful for the meals he got at St. Theresa’s, the other churches which provided aid, all of the volunteers, the truck drivers who brought goods.
“I really want to thank everyone. Even the people who prayed,” Mauriello said.

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