Wildfire Prevention Plan Accepted by Measure R Commission

 

The wildfire prevention plan proposal presented to the Commission (the SSTOC - Supplementary Sales Tax Oversight Commission) at their July 13 meeting was approved by the Commission at their August 10th meeting.  The commission will advise the City County to contract with Dr. Radke and his team of UC researchers to commence with the study.

 

A sticking point arose after the Commission voted to recommend the plan to the City Council when City Manager David Biggs announced that he (“staff”) would oppose the plan.  Mr. Biggs was present at Dr. Radke’s original presentation on April 13, the presentation of his proposal on July 13, and at the final discussion on August 10.  He did not participate (ask any questions or make comments) at any of those meetings nor meet with Dr. Radke in the interim.  He gave no reason for his opposition.

 

Radke’s plan would use available (high-definition satellite) data on vegetation density, terrain, and wind patterns to determine the highest risk areas for vegetation reduction (the one element of fire-spread we can control) and supplement that existing data with input from individual property owners to further identify vegetation on their properties.  He has developed web-based tools to assist in this task. 

 

There has been concern by both MOFD Chief Winnacker and commissioners about the lack of participation by the community in the fire prevention (removing vegetation) effort.  One commissioner believed that this “disinterest” by members of the community would make Radke’s attempt to get detailed information futile.  But other commissioners were excited about the process of developing the new tools planned by Radke which might invigorate participation, especially tech-savvy students.

 

The result of the research would be a detailed “map” of vegetation in Orinda which would be monitored over time for reductions and increases.  This would allow residents could see the status of their property and adjacent properties giving neighbors incentive to reduce a mutual wildfire threat. Radke, who has been developing systems like this for 30 years, says Orinda would be the leader in such a system which he believes will be commonplace in the future.

 

While the cost for the project is not insignificant, $300,000 a year for the two-year study, it is small relative to the value of property at risk (well in excess of $10 billion) and to the property tax revenue Orinda and MOFD receive annually ($27 million, a $2 million increase just this year).  The Measure R sales tax, which was supposed to be focused on fire prevention, is generating close to $300,000 each month.

 

The reasons for approving the plan given by the commissioners were varied and the reasons for opposition debatable.  Even those commissioners opposing the plan made comments such as “it would give the City a wonderful tool”, “it’s really powerful”, and “it provides a rather stunning means of defining the wildfire risk in much greater detail.” A summary of the arguments and a link to the video of the meeting can be found by clicking here.