Worried About Fire Insurance Coverage in California?

You’re not alone. The insurance companies are in flux themselves as they grapple with which zip codes to cover and which ones to cancel. They’re in the business of making money so offering fire insurance where wildfires have consumed the state is not smart business for them. Over the years, when insurance companies failed, homeowners were rescued by the state at the taxpayers’ expense. When you’ve paid for years (decades) of fire insurance and never had a claim, it seems unethical that the insurance companies can cancel your policies when you need them the most.

276 California homeowners have received cancellation or non-renewal notices based on their high-risk zip codes this year. Cal Fire has assessed swathes of wooded areas that pose wildfire threats and have labeled these areas accordingly. Some neighborhoods within these areas have created defensible space around their homes and Cal Fire has issued certification that some insurance companies review when considering cancelling or renewing policies. Unfortunately at this time, Cal Fire doesn’t have the manpower or time to inspect the volume of homes that would need to be assessed.

To retain fire insurance, some homeowners are required to do massive and expensive wildfire mitigation. In some cases, the demands are more extensive than local and state fire departments require. Mill Valley is proposing the most aggressive vegetation-management ordinances in California. Homeowners will be required to remove 10 types of trees and plants, and create a 3-foot noncombustible zone around their houses. Assembly Bill 1516 will require Cal Fire’s highest-risk zones to create a 5-foot noncombustible zone around their structures.

Homeowners are also required to move firewood stacks at least 30 feet from the home and to install fine metal mesh on attic and eaves vents to screen out embers. In order to provide defensible space around the house, insurance companies are also requiring homeowners to trim or remove trees so that between 30 and 60 feet of the house, there would be at least 12 feet of space between canopy tops. From 60 to 100 feet of the house, the treetop branches would need to be at least 6 feet apart.

This type of clearing can be expensive. Licensed contractors can charge from $5,000 to $30,000 to permit, cut, and chip or haul away trees and branches. Check for free chipping and clearing services from the Resource Conservation Districts, FireSafe Council, and local fire departments that may have grant funds available for homeowners to create defensible space around their homes.

Homeowners who lose fire coverage from their homeowner’s insurance companies have 2 options: (1) Surplus lines carriers (Lloyd’s of London), which sold 60% more policies in California than they did in 2016; and (2) California Fair Plan, an association of California’ licensed insurance companies, which sells fire insurance only (not water, wind, theft, or liability). Under the Fair Plan, you would need to get a wraparound policy to cover everything else. Rates are at least double existing homeowners’ insurance rates.

The message is loud and clear: create defensible space around your home to protect your family and structure, and to create the best odds for retaining your homeowner’s fire coverage.

So make a list of things you can do to create defensible space around your home. Then, block off time on your calendar to get it done. This is the first time in history that we have to do fire prevention work in order to keep our fire insurance coverage.

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Clear and Chip Your Property to Prevent Fire

We limbed lower branches on our trees, weedwhacked overgrown brush, and chipped over 30 piles of branches. Phew!

That was an intense few weeks of weekend work to get it done in time for the Resource Conversation District to send chipping contractors out to chip our branches into mulch. I organized the chipping program on my road and got to meet wonderful neighbors who share my concern about fire prevention.

This is the first time in over 30 years that we've made a concerted effort to clear our property, and I'm so glad we did. It opened up the space between the trees and the trees will be able to thrive now. It looks like a park setting instead of a jungle!

There's still time to clear 100-feet of defensible space around your homes!  Get started!

STEM Parents Leaving Careers Within 7 Years of Starting a Family

Mothers – and even fathers – are leaving STEM careers after having children. Why is this important? We need them in the science workforce and they need the income potential to raise their families. So why is this happening? Parents can’t afford child care, and the STEM professional community frowns on employees who miss work and deadlines due to family issues. Yes, this bias continues today.

According to the National Science Foundation, 43% of women and 23% of men leave STEM jobs within 7 years of having or adopting a child. What’s even more surprising is that they don’t return to their careers after their children reach school age.

This devaluation of motherhood and caregiving stems from gender discrimination that was prevalent in the 1950s.  A woman’s role was at home with the children and a father’s role was to bring home the bacon. But even today, STEM employers expect team players to work long hours and not be distracted by parenting responsibilities such as driving kids to and fro, attending sporting events, and caregiving. This twisted philosophy still infiltrates the STEM careers with unhealthy biases and prejudices.

But what if STEM parents could design the ideal preschool or after-school program for their children right in their homes? And what if they invited 3-4 other children to join the program and hired a wonderful teacher to teach the classes and help with homework? The other children’s parents would pay tuition, which would cover the costs of the teacher and materials. Then STEM parents could enjoy their careers and have more flexibility with child care – without having to pay a penny.

I actually created a preschool program for my 2 daughters while I worked fulltime.  My girls loved the program, made friends, and learned to read at age 3.  The teacher even prepared dinners, cleaned the house, and did our laundry.  That way, when I wasn’t working, I had time to thoroughly enjoy my family.  I had my cake and ate it too! I wrote The Millennial’s Guide to Free Child Care in Your Home to help parents create a solution for the high cost of child care and to improve family time together.


Everything We Buy is Packaged in Plastic

Everything we buy is packaged in large plastic clamshells. Even small printer ink cartridges are packaged in plastic 4 times larger than the item itself. Salads, sandwiches, and meat are sold in plastic containers. Consumerism dictates that goods need to be presented in big, flashy plastic packaging. And as a result, the average American throws away around 185 pounds of plastic per year; that’s 60 million pounds per year.

We don’t recycle plastic in the US; instead, we ship it to Asia where they’re supposed to recycle it.  While they recycle about 5% of our plastic waste, the rest of it is illegally burned at midnight to hide from law enforcement.  Burning plastic emits dioxins that are potentially cancerous and pollute the air. The fumes singe their sinuses and leaves a sickly film in their throats. They don’t exercise or go outdoors anymore.

Now that China will not take our plastic waste, Malaysia has become the new dumping ground for US plastic scrap. Most of this plastic is from America, and a majority of the plastic is for food packaging. What doesn’t get recycled is dumped illegally, burned at night, loaded in waterways, and piled into open fields. Fish and mammals mistake plastic for food and their bodies are filled with plastic.  The food we eat contains plastic and our bodies are not designed to digest plastic waste.

Malaysia is sending a message to America: “America, the way you dump your waste on us … it is very hypocritical. Stop sending your rubbish to other countries and start managing it yourself.” Shame on us!

We need to stop our addiction to plastic that is fueled by the petroleum companies and our need for convenient packaging. Cities in California now ban plastic grocery bags and plastic straws. Consumers need to demand that grocery and retail stores stop selling prepackaged goods in clamshells. Everyone needs to drink fluids in reusable containers. Buy cooking ingredients like flour, nuts, and seeds in bulk using your reusable glass containers instead of single-use plastic containers.  And shampoos, conditioners, dish soap and laundry detergent can be purchased in bulk using your own containers. Check online to see where you can purchase items from zero waste or health food stores.

I am making a video showing how you can stop using single-use plastic containers and I’ll share it with you next week.  If we don’t drastically reduce the amount of plastic we use, plastic waste will consume and kill us.


The Lorax Truffula Tree Falls

The tree that inspired Dr. Seuss’s children’s book “The Lorax” has fallen. It was between 80-100 years old and according to Dr. Seuss, it represented the last truffula tree that had survived the Once-ler’s greedy goal to profit from the sale of the truffula forests.

Back in 1991, our kids performed The Lorax as part of our Summer Enrichment Program.  Wonderful memories of the girls and their introduction to theater!


Guess Who Gets Extra Time on the SAT?

25% of rich students who attend wealthy high schools get extra time to take the SAT. Yup.  But only 1% of low-income students get the same privilege. That is because affluent parents have the financial means to test their children for learning disabilities through private testing companies or through their private high schools or public high schools in high-income areas. Students with disabilities are entitled to 50-100% more time to take the SAT.

Another reason that low-income students don’t get tested for learning disabilities is that their parents may not understand their rights. With overworked classroom and special education teachers and administrators, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the testing. So parents who may not speak English or need to work during schools hours don’t have the opportunity to request that their children be tested for learning disabilities. They also don’t know how to game the system the way that some wealthy parents do – Hint: college admissions scandal! I wonder how many students receive accommodations because their parents bribe a psychiatrist or testing agency.


Limb Your Trees to Help Prevent Wildland Fires!

When the fire chief recommended 100 feet of defensible space around my house to help prevent wildland fires, I pulled out my pole saw (mini chainsaw on a pole) and got to work! It’s invigorating to cut through the 2”-to-3” diameter branches so quickly, but when I got to the 4-6” branches, I needed an industrial strength chainsaw. I rented a big electric chainsaw to limb up my oaks, redwoods, and pine trees on my 2+ acres.

With the help of 9 strong helpers, we cleared all of the fallen branches in 14 hours last weekend. The Resource Conservation District landed a grant to chip all of our branches for free! Homeowners need to put in the work to do the limbing, but if they can prove they've done that, they can get chipping done for free, which saves a lot of money and helps prevent the spread of wildland fires. Want to learn how to prevent wildland fires? Check out my “Disaster” page on my American Mothers California website.

Bookshop Santa Cruz Now Carries My Book "The Millennial's Guide to Free Child Care In Your Home"

My local bookstore Bookshop Santa Cruz now carries my book The Millennial’s Guide to Free Child Care in Your Home. If you're in the area, stop by and check out the Local Authors’ Section! 

Love to support brick and mortar bookstores, and hope you do too!  You can buy the book directly from Bookshop Santa Cruz by going here:

A Public/Private Partnership To Reduce Gun Violence

This is a guest post by Laina Farhat-Holzman. Laina is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at or  This article first appeared in The Pajaronian on Aug 9, 2019.

A short letter to the San Francisco Chronicle proposed a brilliant solution to our national plague of gun violence. The writer proposed that we nation-wide mandate liability insurance for all gun owners, as we now do for automobiles, Both are capable of human injury, death and property damage. 

All that is needed is for our Congress to mandate liability insurance for all gun owners. The private enterprise insurance companies might like this mandate (lucrative for them) and such policies could be priced according to the potential damage these weapons can cause.

Anybody who owns a military-style rifle, an instrument capable, as we have recently seen, of murdering hordes of people in less than one minute, would have to buy a very expensive policy, unlike a handgun owner who can only kill one person at a time. How many assault weapon owners who are law abiding would want to assume this expense? We give them a choice.

In addition, an insurer could increase the premium for anyone who used a gun in committing a crime, a convicted spousal abuser, or someone mentally unstable, as identified by family or coworkers. If we cannot get a Congress with enough decency to enact a real gun control law, we could at least make it so expensive that it might be out of reach of anyone but criminal cartels (who need to be pursued another way). Insurance can do what our feckless lawmakers cannot do, and this method does not run afoul of the 2nd amendment, an outdated law that should be cashiered by our legislators if they had the guts. Personal lethal armories are not the same as “a well-regulated militia.”

Our lawmakers do not seem to be able to defy the National Rifle Association, even though we now know from the Mueller Report that this organization has received Russian financing. Putin is delighted to have Americans killing each other with such ease, something not possible in his own authoritarian state. There, only the State can kill peaceful demonstrators, not armed White Nationalists.

Some sensible bipartisan legislation has already been passed by the House of Representatives. These bills have been passed on to the Senate, where Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to bring these bills up for a vote! Mr. McConnell has earned his new nickname of “Moscow Mitch.”

I cannot imagine why Congress (both House, Senate) and the President would oppose such a capitalistic solution that could be immediately enacted as mandating insurance coverage for all gun owners. Nobody is taking their weapon away. Nobody is weighing in on the comparative dangerousness of weapons. We would only demand the same sort of responsibility of lethal weapon owners as we do for automobile drivers.

If we need to wait for legislation requiring military-automatic weapons to be surrendered to the authorities (nobody needs one for hunting or self-defense), it will take decades. If we try buying back such weapons as Australia and New Zealand have done, it will again take decades. But if we levy insurance on such weapons, the number of owners will rapidly decline. This can work as a pocketbook issue.

The non-system we have now faces another problem that nobody seems to be recognizing. Who pays for the hospitalization, property damage, and funerals of gun-violence victims now? Can you imagine being shot, taken to a hospital, and then being billed for the care? Our current non-system depends on Internet money-raising, iffy at best.

If we leave this to the Insurance industry to sort out, we give them a chance to redeem themselves for their unsatisfactory public service in healthcare. People in the midst of chemotherapy for Cancer often have to fight Insurance Companies to pay for drugs that they need. People injured in highway accidents are sometimes faced by unexpected draconian bills if they need helicopter transport or are taken to an “out of network” hospital in an emergency. Not acceptable.

Hospitals, Insurance Companies, and those injured by uninsured drivers, along with the hundreds of victims of automatic rifle slaughters, could instead benefit from government-mandated insurance coverage that nobody is getting now.

Agree? Send this column around. 686 words Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law. You may contact her at or

The Merit Planner can be the Key to Success at School!

Do your children have difficulty allocating enough time to do a good job on projects or prepare for tests? Does it seem like they're juggling too many deadlines and responsibilities, and not working to their potential? 

The Merit Planner may be the solution. Other planners just don’t cut it because there isn't enough space to block off time to do tasks and most don't have equal space for evenings and weekends. 

The Merit Academic Planner is more powerful. It breaks down days into 30-minute intervals (from 6:00 am to midnight) so they can block off just the right amount of time for classes, homework, studying, eating, and extracurriculars. Since we need our evenings and weekends to complete many tasks, our planner is divided into 7 equal days. 

Merit College Advisors guide students as they enter deadlines for tests and projects as well as college application deadlines. By entering when they'll do each facet of the tasks required to meet due dates, the students no longer face 11-hour crises because they understand what needs to be done and how to reach their goals.