By Mary-Justine Lanyon
When Yvette Page’s homeowner’s insurance more than tripled in cost, she did not take it sitting down. Rather than just getting angry – which she was – Page organized a meeting and invited folks to come armed with their questions for Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara.
Senator Mike Morrell, Assemblyman Jay Obernolte and Supervisor Janice Rutherford are working together to bring Lara to the mountain communities to address residents’ concerns about the availability and pricing of homeowner’s insurance. Although it was originally hoped this meeting would take place in October, the commissioner’s office is now projecting it will be in December.
Page arranged for her meeting to take place in the Blue Jay community room on Sept. 26. Through a series of Facebook posts, she attracted a full house of concerned folks – residents, insurance agents, real estate agents.
Some of the questions that grew out of the meeting include:
What is Mr. Lara doing to keep insurance competitive? As the elected California insurance commissioner, part of his job is to make sure that insurance companies are solvent and provide for competition for consumer choice.
What is the increased fire risk the past year compared to the past 10 years? Given the 100 percent price increases, is the risk of fire hugely worse this year than the past 10 years?
The mountains have been reducing fire load every year and now Edison will shut down power when there is wind. Is that contributing to lowering our FireLine scores? If not, why not?
How is firefighting factored into pricing?
Who is the company setting the FireLine scores? Is the company being audited?
According to insurance agents who were present at the Blue Jay meeting, a company called ISO (Insurance Services Office) sets the FireLine scores. The score takes into account fuel around the structure, the slope on which the structure is built and access to the home by firefighting equipment.
Since 1971, ISO’s website states, “ISO has been a leading source of information about property/casualty insurance risk.”
Some of the suggestions made at the meeting were to ask the U.S. Forest Service their opinion of the mountain and get recommendations from them. Local fire departments should also be involved, one attendee said.
Non-renewal of homeowner’s insurance policies is not helping anyone, said one attendee, including the insurers. They are giving up those policies and risk losing their clients’ auto policies.
On the East Coast, was one comment, they have engineered some coverages that contain the risk and makes it more addressable. Individual insurance companies can’t have that conversation because of anti-trust laws but, under the auspice of the insurance commissioner, they could do it.
Jessica Stewart, an agent with ISU Insurance Services, fielded a lot of the questions about the California Fair Plan. It’s fairly new, she said, so “agents don’t know what they’re doing. They aren’t including debris removal.”
The California Fair Plan, Stewart noted, writes the fire policy. They will, she said, allow you to add smoke and vandalism coverage. A wrap-around policy covers liability, water damage and other coverages included in a regular homeowner’s insurance policy.
Insurance broker/agent Shelli Wimmer said that she has been told by all her legislators that the most effective thing to do is to write personal letters – not send form letters or emails. Include a brief description of your experience and keep it unemotional. Write to them once a week, altering the letter a little bit each time.
“Bury them with letters,” Wimmer said. “Since 2016, I have written 496 letters. I can’t do it alone.”
After the meeting, Page – who was joined at the podium by her friend Gus Gevers – started a new Facebook page, Mountain Homeowners Insurance. Wimmer has posted the addresses to which those letters should be sent (see box).
“The bottom line,” Page said as the meeting drew to a close, “is that the reason my insurance went up was because of the fire score. Mr. Commissioner – are you auditing the company creating these scores? The chances of having a fire go through my neighborhood have gone down. Trees have been taken down. A fire hydrant has been put in.”
Page hopes to have another meeting with residents prior to the commissioner’s visit so the group can pin down the questions they would like to ask him.