Help with all that money

I was talking the other day to a friend of mine who works at a local bank. We were catching up after not having seen each other in a while and, naturally, the Camp Fire came up. Neither of us lost our homes, thankfully, but one thing he mentioned caught my attention: He’s noticed people coming in to his bank and, rather than depositing their insurance checks, cashing them.

“One guy called in advance to make sure we had $70,000 in cash at our branch,” he said. I was surprised to say the least, but worried as well. Aside from the obvious dangers in carrying around that much money—even if it’s just from the door to your car—there’s the ease with which cash can be spent frivolously. My friend shared that concern, that many people could well spend their entire insurance settlement and then not have that money left to rebuild.

I reached out to Emily Rogan, chief operating officer at United Policyholders (UP), a San Francisco-based nonprofit that formed in the wake of the Oakland Hills Fire in 1991 that destroyed nearly 3,500 homes. Its mission is to help people navigate insurance claims to ensure they’re getting what they’re entitled to, and also to offer help with financial planning.

“Our guidance starts with recommending people not make big financial decisions in the first few months,” Rogan told me. “We recommend opening a different bank account so you know where that insurance money is.”

Another piece of advice: “Even if you have insurance, file with FEMA and apply for SBA loans right away, because those things have deadlines. If you get denied, you can appeal down the road.” The deadline to apply for both is Jan. 31. According to Chico Mall General Manager Natasha Shelton, the disaster recovery center in the former Sears space is set to close Feb. 15.

UP held its first workshop for Camp Fire victims last week at Chico State; more are in the works, with a second planned for later this month. For more on the nonprofit, go to

Foodie news The fire has dominated much of my brain power lately, but do not fear—I’m still keeping up with other local business happenings. I learned last week that Southern Zen Barbecue is back at it and will be taking up residence every Monday and Tuesday at Secret Trail Brewing Co. The menu includes gumbo!

RIP Just before Christmas, a sign went up at Cocina Cortes, on Dayton Road, announcing its permanent closure. Its Facebook page clarified that the owner, Rodolfo Cortes Martinez, had fallen ill. I’m sad to report that he passed on Dec. 29. Every time I went in, he was in the kitchen, working hard to make people happy through food. His obituary says he helped pioneer the sale of chicharrones (pork rinds) in Los Angeles before moving to Chico, where he opened the first taco truck, wowing locals with his famous chimichangas. He will be missed.