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Supervisors Argue Insurance Companies Are Targeting Tuolumne County Unfairly

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Sonora, CA – As the average fire insurance policy costs Tuolumne County homeowners $2,500 to $3,000 a year, and some as high as $6,000 to $7,000, the board of supervisors is trying to strategize ways to lower the costs.

At Tuesday’s meeting, supervisors heard from the Tuolumne County Association of Realtors regarding the data from a survey it conducted in the county. It showed the county has the highest number of homeowners using the state’s California FAIR Plan, at 30%. That plan can be a last resort for some homeowners whose insurance costs have tripled or had increased deductibles. Some national insurance companies have also capped payouts or declined to write policies for homes in high-fire-risk areas. Local insurance company leaders were on hand to help explain the challenges homeowners are facing and provide advice to the board.

“Tuolumne County is being singled out for a variety of reasons, but mainly it’s because there is the ability for the insurance industry to fleece our community,” stated District Two Supervisor Ryan Campbell. “We have a fair amount of data now that shows Tuolumne County is being targeted. If you took any objective person who isn’t familiar with Tuolumne County and showed them how insurance is being applied here, they would say that’s not fair, and we need to be as loud about that as we possibly can.”

Campbell added that the county needs to reach out to the large insurance companies and make sure they know the steps the county has taken regarding fire protection, such as conducting fuel management. The county is also working with partners in the Forest Service, has leveraged Cal Fire resources, invested in equipment, passed new fuel management ordinances, and generally spread information for home hardening and managing properties.

Regarding all that work and compiled data, Board Chair Kathleen Haff argued, “We are in a crisis. That’s the long and short of it. Data is not winning the day…and we definitely need to take the legislative lead; that’s our best shot right away.”

That is something that the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), which represents 40 counties in the state, is working towards. The board heard from an RCRC representative, who relayed that the fire insurance issue is becoming a hot topic in Sacramento. RCRC is pushing for the state legislature to create new policies and points to a Florida bill, SB 7052, that contains various provisions intended to increase consumer protection and insurer accountability in the state regarding hurricane insurance. Click here to read the bill. Supervisor Jaron Brandon also suggested loading people on buses and heading to the capitol to get legislators’ attention on this issue.

The supervisors directed staff to work with RCRC to seek legislative change, with Campbell suggesting, “The iron is hot, and we need to strike.” Other strategies included doing a new homeowner survey to get more information regarding the crisis. County Office of Emergency Services Coordinator, Dore Bietz, suggested combining the current data with all the fuel reduction work being done in the county to create a storyboard showing how the county is being impacted by the crisis.