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North Bay business struggling as it becomes harder to find insurance policies

Businesses feeling the pressure as getting insurance becomes a struggle
Businesses feeling the pressure as getting insurance becomes a struggle 03:24

It's no secret that insurance is becoming hard to find for a lot of homeowners, as major carriers leave the state. But it may be hitting businesses even harder, especially those in wildfire-prone areas. 

One business owner in Sonoma County said it's getting hard to pursue his dream when he spends so much time chasing after insurance policies.

It was another beautiful Memorial Day on the Russian River, and the streets of Guerneville were bustling. That should have made it a profitable weekend for Bryce Skolfield's bed-and-breakfast, but instead, it may be just enough for him to break even.

"Switching careers and going into a totally different industry and buying a property like this of course you have a lot of worries," he said. "Insurance was not on the list, to be honest with you."

Skolfield opened his Mine + Farm Inn in 2019, just days before the Kincade Fire broke out, and a few months before the pandemic shut things down. But as those obstacles passed, insurance became the biggest problem.

"We noticed right away that the prices were going up exponentially," he said. "So, we've seen, it's been a 222 percent increase, since we bought the place, in price."

While there are plenty of trees on the property and in the neighborhood, Skolfield doesn't feel like it's a particularly dangerous location. He installed a 5,000-gallon water tank, with sprinklers on the roof and all over the verdant 3-acre lot.

The land is surrounded on three sides by the Korbel winery vineyards and sits right next to a Cal Fire station. Still, he's had his insurance dropped by a number of different companies and has now joined the overburdened California FAIR plan, as the insurer of last resort.

"I don't think it's a personal thing. I think we just got caught up in this fire bureaucracy, you know, in them just wanting to pull out of the market," said Skolfield.

Insurance broker and industry analyst Karl Susman said, as bad as things may be for homeowners, it's even worse for businesses because there are fewer carriers offering that kind of coverage. But he said efforts now underway in Sacramento to reform the way insurance is priced may bring more competition back to the state market.

The plan, called the "Sustainable Insurance Strategy," would give insurers more latitude in assessing risk — and policy cost — on individual properties, instead of grouping them under a common ZIP Code. The new regulations were supposed to be finalized by the end of the year, but Governor Newsom said the state can't wait that long, and now some parts of the plan could be adopted within the next 30 to 60 days.

"The good news is, I can tell you for the first time in a really long time that in the next several months, quarters, or certainly early next year, we're going to see a dramatically different insurance market than we see right now," said Susman.

While Bryce thinks that may make insurance more available, he's skeptical that it will bring the cost down much. And though he's earned almost nothing from the business, he really doesn't have much choice. 

The dream of operating a bucolic country inn may have come true, but keeping it insured has been a rude awakening.

"You're so focused on giving a great quality product, but there's a point where you go, how much can I take of this?" he said. "How long can I stay committed to this endeavor before I start losing some of the basic principles of why I started doing this in the first place?"

It's just one man's experience, but it is a common problem for many businesses that, through no fault of their own, have the threat of wildfire hanging over them.

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