Author: glenellen

September 2019 Newsletter

September 2019 Newsletter

Monthly Meeting Reminder When: Monday, September 9, 7:00 – 8:30 PM Where: Dunbar Elementary School Multi-Purpose Room Our featured speakers will be Jillian Beall, the principal of Dunbar Elementary School and Helen Sedwick, who will inform meeting attendees on how they can protect their rights regarding a potential PG&E […]

What To Do About Small Fire-related Claims Against PG&E

What To Do About Small Fire-related Claims Against PG&E Suppose your Kenwood home survived the Nuns fire, but you lost fencing and a shed. Replacing both cost $6,000, and your insurance company paid you $1,000 because you had a $5,000 deductible. Should you file a claim against PG&E for the $5,000? Do you […]

FAQs about PG&E Bankruptcy

FAQs about PG&E Bankruptcy

By Helen Sedwick

If you are still sitting on the fence about whether to make a claim, please take a moment to read the following FAQs.

Q: PG&E filed bankruptcy — doesn’t that mean they are broke?

Not at all. PG&E is far from broke. It has assets in excess of $75 Billion and $1.5 Billion per year in net profit. It has the ability to borrow billions more.

PG&E did not escape liability by filing bankruptcy. After the fires, PG&E was facing thousands of lawsuits. Litigating thousands of claims individually would be unmanageable. Bankruptcy moved the cases to a different courtroom where claims can be managed in a more uniform and efficient manner.

Last time PG&E filed bankruptcy (2002), it ended up paying all claims in full. While PG&E might not pay claims in full this time around, experts expect wildfire victims will receive a high percentage of their claims.

Q: My home survived. Do I still have a claim?

Yes, you do. If you ran out the door in the middle of the night, drove through smoke and flames, were shut out of your home for weeks, only to return a burned-out wasteland, you have a claim for emotional distress. And chances are you had damage to trees, landscaping, and other property that was not covered fully by insurance. If you were a renter, you lost personal property and were almost certainly underinsured. You have a claim.

Q: Won’t PG&E employees and customers be hurt by all these fire claims?

PG&E employees and customers may be hurt more if too many fire survivors don’t file claims. A group of edge fund managers and mega-banks is pushing a bankruptcy plan that discounts claims from the Tubbs Fire by up to 88% and all other fires by 43%. Their plan would also burden PG&E with more debt. If the hedge funds and banks outvote other creditors, then fire survivors will suffer what is called a “cram-down” —  the plan will be crammed down our throats. If history is any indication, the hedge funds will make huge profits at the expense of PG&E employees, customers, and wildfire survivors.   

Q: Why bother? Won’t my insurance company take all my recovery anyway?

No it won’t. In this state, you will get paid first and in full before your insurance company gets a dime. And, you’ll recover more than uninsured property losses. You are entitled to recover for the emotional distress of evacuation, living in a disaster zone, and/or rebuilding. Add to that lost trees and landscaping. It may be that the final Bankruptcy Plan creates one pool of funds for individual fire victims and another for our insurance company. Even under that structure, you will be entitled to a recovery that’s separate from money due to your insurer.

Q: How long before we see any money?

Right now, it looks like mid-2020.

Q: What will it cost me to file a claim?

Nothing up front. Wildfire plaintiffs’ attorneys are working on a contingency fee basis. You pay nothing during the process, not even the costs of investigation, expert witnesses, court filings, and appearances, etc.

Contingency attorneys are paid by receiving a percentage of your recovery. That percentage is negotiable. Some attorneys are charging 33%, even 40%. Others 20% to 25%. Personally, I don’t see any justification for a contingency fee higher than 20% to 25% in this matter. High fees may be justified where the attorneys are taking on a large risk, which isn’t the case in the PG&E bankruptcy. Every one of their wildfire clients will get a payment from PG&E. And so will the attorneys. As I said, I don’t see any reason to pay more than 20 to 25%.

Q: How much work is involved in preparing a claim?

Not much. You will be asked to fill out a form called a Proof of Claim, which is fairly straight-forward. It must be filed by October 21, 2019. If you are represented by an attorney, your attorney will fill out the form with you.

Don’t worry if you don’t know the exact amount of your recovery. Many of us don’t have the final cost of our rebuilds or additional living expenses, and none of us know how to put a dollar amount on lost trees and emotional distress. All that will be worked out later. As part of the final bankruptcy plan, PG&E will deposit billions of dollars into a trust fund and will appoint a professional trustee company to calculate and make distributions. At that time, your final recovery numbers will be worked out.

Q: How do I decide which attorney to hire?

When I need a medical specialist, I ask my doctor friends for a referral. Same with attorneys. Ask your attorney contacts. Here’s what I looked for:

  • A firm with experience in mass tort litigation, especially where a bankruptcy is involved.
  • A reasonable fee.
  • Someone who communicates well and responds to my emails.
  • Someone who is committed from start to finish. For instance, was the firm on a steering committee prior to bankruptcy? Are they on one of the bankruptcy committees? Do they have ties to the community? Have they even been to your neighborhood? I don’t want to engage an attorney, and then find out my case has been handed off to a Texas or other out-of-town firm or to some over-worked associate who can’t keep my name straight.
  • Investment. Will the attorney be engaging an arborist, business advisor, and other experts to help me prepare and support my claim?
  • Chemistry. Do I like this person? Do I want him or her on my team? Personally, I prefer the more corporate types. I cringe at flashy, celebrity and aggressive PI attorneys.
9/3/19 update on the MAC

9/3/19 update on the MAC

September 3, 2019 update on the MAC for Glen Ellen, Eldridge, and Kenwood from Arielle Kobu-Jones of Susan Gorin’s Office Name North Valley MAC emerged as the most consensus pick. · Valley of the Moon MAC was the most popular, but there are concerns from […]

August 2019 Newsletter

August 2019 Newsletter

Next Monthly Meeting Reminder When: This Monday August 5, 7:00 – 8:30 PM Where: The former Umbria restaurant space adjacent to the Jack London Lodge/Saloon. 13740 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen. Our featured speaker will be Marty Winter, the developer of the proposed Rustic Shops and Apartments project. […]

July 2019 BoD Meeting Minutes

July 2019 BoD Meeting Minutes

Glen Ellen Forum Board of Directors Meeting

July 18, 2019 at Mayflower Hall; submitted by Jim Shere, secretary
Present were Melissa Dowling (Board President), Jim Shere (Board Secretary), Nick Brown (Chair, Steering Committee), Shannon Lee, Nancy Padian, Bettina Sechel (Board Member), Larry Davis (Community Member), Margie Foster (Board Treasurer), Rob Schermeister (Board Member), Marilyn Lewis (Glen Ellen Community Church), Alice Horowitz (SDC/Eldridge Committee member), and Angela Morgan (Board Vice President). Excused absentees were Tracy Salcedo, Poppy Darby (Secretary, Steering Committee), Laura Schermeister (Chair, Commerce and Tourism Committee), BJ Blanchard (Member, Projects Committee) and Jody Ketcham.

Melissa reported on the accomplishments of the past quarter by the various committees, including the following:
The shed project has awarded 33 sheds. The post office parking lot beautification project is underway, with a new kiosk to be completed soon; the old kiosk will then serve perhaps as a community bulletin board. There are now books in the community lending library nearby that are available for exchanges. A fire warning sign has been placed. The Earth Day cleanup was effective, and a team painted out the graffiti under the bridge.

The Commerce and Tourism Committee has distributed the new map brochure, which has been well received and seen in use by tourists; it will be discussed in more detail later. The Eldridge Visioning Session held at Hanna Boys Center Saturday morning, June 15th, was attended by about 200 people and was successful with very good feedback.

Nick reported on the three monthly Forum meetings listing the presenters, which included: representatives from the Jack London Yacht Club, the CEPAC project, Steve Lee from the Sonoma Ecology Center, representatives from Sustainable Sonoma, Stephen Sorkin, and committee heads presenting on their activities. The change of venue to the vacant restaurant next to the Jack London Saloon was noted as a pleasant though temporary location for the Forum; we will be returning to Dunbar School when it resumes in the fall. Attendance has been 50 to 60 people and Nick said he is especially proud of the community and pleased with the decorum of each meeting.

It was agreed that Melissa would speak for the board in reporting to Stephen Sorkin’s planner that his presentation was well received. The minutes of the previous board meeting had been sent out for review; Melissa moved and Angela seconded that they be approved with no corrections, and they were.

Before Margie made her treasurer’s report, Melissa noted that she had put rough numbers she found interesting into the Agenda (see attached), and Margie said they were approximately correct. Margie introduced and described the Quarterly Financial Summary for the quarter since April that is attached to these minutes. The formation of a Fund Raising Committee, and ways of encouraging donations during Forum events were discussed, including uses of sandwich boards and banners at Forum events. An annual fundraising campaign was suggested; a signup sheet will be made available at the next monthly meeting of the Forum for those willing to be on the Fund Raising Committee to pursue these suggestions. If the Forum wants to have a booth at the Glen Ellen Fair, an application will need to be submitted soon. Nick was asked to announce this also at the next monthly meeting of the Forum, and to provide a signup sheet for those willing to staff the booth.

Margie introduced the financial reports (attached), showing a current balance $10,400 in the bank, running an average of between $6,000 to $7,000 in general funds, some of which is still allocated.

Donations to the Forum through purchases using an eScrip card at the Glen Ellen Village Market was discussed at length. We have received $11 in donations so far, which is far less than we would expect from current purchases. It is understood that 1% of sales under $600 per month at the market would be donated to the Forum, and sales over $600 per month would result in a 3% donation. Melissa will research this problem; she asked people to estimate their eScrip usage and report their findings to her.

Margie reported on the $5,000 we received from the RiseUp grant titled “Together We Can” from Rebuild North Bay. This enabled the purchase of the remaining sheds needed for distribution and landscaping needs of local fire victims. She is now researching local nurseries for sourcing $3,200 worth of landscaping materials. Margie has contacted several nurseries including Urban Tree Farm, where 15-gallon trees are $65 and 5-gallon shrubs are from $18 to $25. Margie is also reaching out to Paul Martinez of Sonoma Valley Wholesale for quotes. Nancy will contact the Sonoma Ecology Center to see if they can be a source for landscaping. Angela will also help Margie in this project.

Melissa introduced a new attractive, wooden donation box, built by Paul Goguen. Margie announced she has filed all our taxes in a timely manner.

There will be no reporting requirements for grants given out by the Jack London Yacht Club, which will be announced at the end of August.

Nick spoke about upcoming speakers at the monthly public meetings, which will include Marty Winter and D’mitra Smith (vice-chair of Sonoma County Commission in Human Rights); Shannon will provide a synopsis of her survey, Jillian Beall (principal at Dunbar School) and Jason Mills (Fuel Management specialist from Sonoma Ecology Center) were also listed as future speakers. Rob suggested that a speaker about local wineries could appear; it was also suggested that people who run sheep and cattle for fuel management on properties vulnerable to wildfires be invited to speak. Nick concluded with appreciative remarks about the friendly and attentive nature of recent Forum meetings.

Jody Ketcham of the Projects Committee is beginning to develop historic signage for various significant places in Glen Ellen. This involves an inventory of locations, developing a design, gathering cost estimates, and soliciting historians to provide 50-75 words for each sign. They will appear on the future version of the map being designed. It was decided to have text only on the signs, and not include QR codes. Town signs will be decided upon after funding is secured, perhaps spearheaded by Jim Burch, whose company makes such signs.

Public water fountains were discussed, or perhaps water bottle filling stations, but there is as yet not any feasibility study on this project. The post office parking lot beautification project, funded by the Sonoma County tourism impact funds, has placed one trash can there, and another is to be placed there in the near future. An organization called Becoming Independent has been contracted to empty the trash cans weekly, funded for six months by the grant.

Christmas lights on the Jim Berkland Bridge has cost $9,000 the past two years; they were paid for by PG&E in the past, but will not this year. The Projects Committee is in discussion with the Visitors Bureau regarding this project. Paul Goguen has now joined the Projects Committee.

Nick of the Traffic & Safety Committee reported two possible additional members, Bill Olsen and Chuck Gillet.

Rob of the Commerce & Tourism Committee reported on the maps featuring Glen Ellen businesses that have been distributed and have proved successful. The second printing will incorporate corrections and changes and will be subsidized by McCormick’s Mercantile. The passport project, involving a booklet advertising local businesses for distribution at no cost to the Forum, is moving along well. Like all other committee meetings, the Commerce & Tourism Committee meetings are open to the public; the next meeting is Wednesday 24th at Schermeister tasting room at 5:30 pm. From 12 to 20 business owners attend; Karen and Chris Kennedy of the Glen Ellen Inn have joined, and have donated $70 to the Forum.

Alice reported on the SDC/Eldridge Committee, filling us in on the current situation since the general meeting at Hanna Boys Center on June 15th. Nothing further can happen now until the end of August, when the county will have hired one of three competing consulting companies that have submitted proposals for the Specific Plan, as was described in a recent article in the Press Democrat (at https:// Milan Nevajda (see, as Deputy Director for the Planning Division of Permit Sonoma, will coordinate the county input process regarding the future of Eldridge. Affordable housing was discussed as a potential part of the Specific Plan for Eldridge, as promoted by Sustainable Sonoma, a local organization; their website is at The Land Art Generator Initiative, which promotes an international competition for esthetic renewable energy installations (see has selected Eldridge as a location for their next competition with the county’s support, pending state approval. Alice also announced that the Community Foundation of Sonoma County has awarded a $700,000 grant to the Sonoma Land Trust for preserving the open space at Eldridge. Melissa announced a two-hour walk the Grandmother Tree at Eldridge, at 9:00 am the following Tuesday morning. It was suggested that this become an annual or weekly pilgrimage.

Melissa, Poppy Darby, and Leslie Vaughn had met informally to discuss reconvening the Engagement Committee as an event planning committee. In the past, this committee had provided community meals and small living room gatherings. Four future events were suggested. One is a family fun day at Moran Goodman Park in an outreach to families, including the Hispanic community; Emily Robledo is taking the lead on this. (This event has since been changed to Morton’s Warm Springs, and will be held on September 29th.) Somewhere around Thanksgiving, a community meal is suggested at the Valley of the Moon Winery, the Kenwood School, or the Kenwood Depot, perhaps in combination with the Kenwood Rotary. (It’s a little known fact that Kenwood falls within the Glen Ellen Township.) A Winter Gala was suggested as a high-end fundraising event with a lottery for reduced price tickets, featuring entertainment such as aerialists and belly dancers. An Artists and Writers (and perhaps Music) Festival were also discussed, with booths for Glen Ellen artists and authors to reach out to the public in a grand weekend, perhaps at the Jack London Village. The Engagement Committee has not yet formally formed and there is no chair, but these suggestions will be informally pursued as that committee evolves.

The Communications Committee is evolving, and several ways of getting information were outlined. Future events such as meetings are announced on our website (as facilitated by Melissa) at, and Shannon’s work managing our Facebook page at is also an important source of information. At least once a month a newsletter is sent out to the email list, with links to relevant events on the website. There is also a link to subscribe to an RSS feed ( ) on the website at the bottom of the calendar at that will keep people informed. Having a Facebook account and following the Glen Ellen Forum will automatically send a notification of new events by email. It is emphasized that the committee chairs
should send any information they want publicly announced to Nancy and Rob volunteered to serve on the Fund Raising Committee. Melissa will calendar a brainstorming session with them in preparation for the formation of that committee.

Jim spoke about the report he had sent out regarding the naming of the Jim Berkland Bridge, which is attached. The county is willing to place signage on the bridge at the cost of $2,196.94. This will include supplies and labor, while the original signs designed by Archie Horton will be used. It is not certain that the county will also charge us for signage upon entering Glen Ellen in the future. Sources for funding will be discussed by the Glen Ellen Historical Society at their next board meeting July 19.

Melissa and Shannon have discussed rewriting a section of the Manual of Policies & Procedures to clarify the structure of the Forum monthly meetings. In particular, this should specify updates from committees, followed by speakers, followed by public question and comment. It was moved and seconded that a revision of the Manual will clarify the language describing a standard agenda that will separate the official business of the Forum from vetted speakers and public input; the motion passed.

Shannon presented the attached survey that had been distributed and collected at the past three monthly meetings of the Forum, which provided interesting and useful demographics regarding those attending. Discussion included significant changes in the community and the need for outreach to underrepresented groups. There is a deadline in October for submissions to the Impact 100 Community Grant for 2020, so we must begin thinking about our application. It’s a highly competitive grant of $5,000 to $20,000. Landscaping to replace wildfire damage was suggested as a reasonable purpose, but other purposes should be explored soon. Larry presented the attached outline of a course he has designed to help educate members of the community in how to effectively participate in future development at Eldridge and in Glen Ellen. His focus is upon teaching how to analyze the arcane elements of the planning process and how it is traditionally framed, so that an informed public may exert real influence rather than be guided into decisions made by professionals.

He explained that the County lacks the funds to do a county-wide General Plan at this time and so it is being postponed for eighteen months, although it is already eight years out of compliance with state law. The State has funded 3.5 or 4.5 million dollars to the County, to do a General Plan of sorts called a Specific Plan for SDC, but the Specific Plan is supposed to follow the General Plan. The Specific Plan will drive the General Plan instead, which Milan Nevajda (Deputy Director for the Planning Division of Permit Sonoma) says is tricky but can be done.

His course is intended to help perhaps twenty-five people understand the nature of planning in time to take an effective part in what is about to take place, teaching twelve people at a time in twelve sessions of two hours each, perhaps three times a week. Larry emphasizes the course assumes self-directed learners willing to invest $15 for the books and an hour at least of preparation each week. About a dozen people have already shown interest in taking the course.

Larry plans to produce the material for his course, and provide the facilitation and the place; he asks the Forum to promote his course. The board is interested in doing this, but it was suggested that describing the course as an exhaustive program may dissuade potential attendance and that an open-ended first meeting to introduce the subject may be more effective.

March 2019 Meeting Notes

March 2019 Meeting Notes

Monday, March 4th, 2019 Garden Court Café 7:00pm COMMITTEE UPDATES (50 minutes) (1) ENGAGEMENT – No events currently on Calendar (1) TRAFFIC & SAFETY – Fire Safe Councils and other items Working on Fire Safe Council Program. It is a State-wide program, encouraged by the […]

Sharing your story

Sharing your story

Some believe that in order to heal you need to share your story, in your own words, so that you feel heard and your experience appreciated or understood as well as it can be, without having had to endure it. So many our neighbors in […]