Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, TransportationTags , , ,

Board of Forestry set to weaken Wildfire Safety Regulations

Daniel Barad, Sierra Club California CAPITOL VOICE

Sierra Club California’s fight for common-sense wildfire safety continues. Later this month, the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection will consider revised regulations that would drastically weaken road safety standards that have been in place for 30 years.

If adopted, these regulations would make it more difficult for communities to evacuate during wildfires and more dangerous for firefighters to access existing, substandard roads.

Sierra Club California has been a steadfast advocate for fire-safe communities at the Capitol and in state agencies. We have called for more funding for defensible space and home hardening. We have supported legislation that would require wildfire safety planning to be incorporated into cities’ general plans.

So naturally, we’ll be urging board members not to adopt these harmful regulations.

In addition to making it more dangerous to evacuate during emergencies, these harmful regulations could also make it easier to build new homes and buildings in fire-prone wildland areas — putting more families in harm’s way and increasing economic risk from future fire. To make matters worse, the board is unlikely to examine the major environmental impacts that these regulations could have under the Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Without a CEQA analysis, it is much more difficult for the state of California to plan for and avoid these environmental consequences.

California wildfires have destroyed countless homes and taken far too many lives, and the climate crisis will only make wildfires more severe in coming years. The state must take steps that make wildfire-prone communities safer. The proposed regulations would do the opposite.

Join us to fight against these dangerous regulations. Send a message to the Board of Forestry at PublicComments@BOF.ca.gov and tell members to reject the proposed road safety regulations and to complete a CEQA analysis. Click here for a sample email.

Thank you for taking action!

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , , , ,

As disasters worsen, California looks at curbing construction in risky areas

Christopher Flavelle, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The state’s insurance regulator endorsed proposals that could reshape the real estate market, the latest sign of climate shocks hitting the economy.

At the start of wildfire season, California’s insurance regulator has backed sweeping changes to discourage home building in fire-prone areas, including looking at cutting off new construction in those regions from what is often their only source of insurance — the state’s high-risk pool.

The proposals, many of which would require approval by the State Legislature, could remake the real estate market in parts of California and are the latest sign of how climate change is beginning to wreak havoc with parts of the American economy.

On Friday, the insurance commissioner, Ricardo Lara, endorsed proposals that include halting state funding for infrastructure in certain areas prone to fire, leaving vacant lots undeveloped and the expansion of more stringent building codes.

“These ideas are going to be challenging,” Mr. Lara said at the beginning of a meeting of the Climate Insurance Working Group, which he established and which recommended the changes. “We are really going into uncharted territory.”

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/04/climate/climate-California-wildfires-insurance.html?searchResultPosition=3

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‘Good fire’ revival: How controlled burns in Sonoma County aim to curb risk of catastrophic wildfires

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Such burns are an efficient, inexpensive option in many cases, compared to labor-intensive manual thinning and mechanical treatments, which can cost $2,500 to $4,000 an acre and up, depending if equipment like a wood chipper or pile burning is needed.

Che Casul, a seventh-generation Sonoma County rancher, badly wanted to see his woods on fire. With three others, he walked along the edge of a 33-acre patch of oak woodlands on his family’s Bodega Highway ranch. They carried drip torches filled with diesel fuel and gasoline. As they paced their way through the forest, they released small flaming droplets meant to coalesce into a wider curtain of flames creeping along the earthen floor — a prescribed fire.

But it was a damp December day, with light rain falling by afternoon across this corner of southwestern Sonoma County, so the flames that did spread were subdued, producing a blue smoke that hovered just above the ground, swirling around the two dozen men and women clad in yellow firefighter gear and spread throughout the woodland.

Casul, 34, had invited the firefighters onto the property, part of a controlled deployment of fire that had been in the works many months earlier — as catastrophic wildfires once again overtook California, burning a record 4.2 million acres, including more than 290,000 acres of Sonoma and Napa counties.

For Casul and the team of firefighters and volunteers assembled on his 213-acre spread just inland from the Sonoma Coast, conditions were less combustible, partly by design.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/good-fire-revival-how-controlled-burns-in-sonoma-county-aim-to-curb-risk/

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Op-Ed: There is no drought

Editorial Board, LOS ANGELES TIMES

The years of steady and predictable water flow are over, and there is no sign of them coming back in our lifetimes. This is it. We have to build, and grow, and legislate, and consume for the world as it is, not as we may remember it.

If ‘drought’ means a period of dry years followed by a return to the norm, California is not in drought. The current climate is the norm.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency last month in Sonoma and Mendocino counties because of severe drop-offs in the winter rains that once had been counted on to fill reservoirs in the Russian River watershed, north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Like most other California reservoirs, those human-made lakes were built in the 20th century, an unusually wet period when compared with more than a thousand years of climate records reconstructed from studies of ancient tree rings and geological evidence.

The two formerly verdant counties were among the state’s hardest-hit regions in last year’s record-setting wildfire season that included the August Complex fires, which erupted not just because of years of intensifying summer heat drying out the trees and the ground beneath them but also, ironically, because of fierce summer storms and accompanying lightning. The August Complex followed the 2019 Kincade fire, which burned much of Sonoma County, and the 2018 Mendocino Complex fires, which at the time made up the state’s largest recorded wildfire incident. Before that was the 2017 Tubbs fire, which destroyed significant portions of Santa Rosa — following California’s wettest year on record. So much rain fell that winter that the ground could not absorb it all, yet the summer was so hot that it desiccated the forests.

Average out the sporadic flood years with the succession of dry ones and the numbers will tell you that California is getting as much precipitation as ever. There is no drought — not if drought means a decrease in total rainfall.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-05-06/editorial-there-is-no-drought

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, WaterTags , , , ,

California unveils sweeping wildfire prevention plan amid record fire losses and drought

John Myers, LOS ANGELES TIMES

California Wildfire and Resilience Action Plan

After the worst fire season in California history and as drought conditions raise fears of what’s to come, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders unveiled a $536-million proposal Thursday to boost efforts at firefighting and a variety of prevention measures, including vegetation management and the construction of fire-resistant structures across the state.

The proposal, which the Legislature could send to the governor’s desk as soon as Monday, marks an early agreement by the governor and lawmakers to spend more than half of the $1 billion in wildfire funding Newsom called for in his state budget proposal in January. The gravity of the issue became clear last week after state officials reported the water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack stood at 59% of the average for early spring.

“The science is clear: Warming winter temperatures and warming summer temperatures across the American West are creating more challenging and dangerous wildfire conditions,” said Wade Crowfoot, the governor’s secretary of natural resources.

According to an outline provided by legislative staff, more than $350 million will be spent on fire prevention and suppression efforts, including prescribed fires and other projects designed to reduce the vegetation growth that has fueled California’s most devastating fires. The package also includes $25 million for fortifying older homes that weren’t built using fire-resistance methods required during construction over the last decade.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-04-08/california-wildfire-prevention-536-million-newsom-lawmakers

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Los Angeles Superior Court ruling signals officials must consider California wildfire risks

Press Release, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

In a major victory against a destructive development larger than Griffith Park, a judge has issued a ruling blocking Tejon Ranchcorp’s Centennial. The project would have put 57,000 residents on remote, fire-prone wildlands 65 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff found that the development’s environmental review failed to account for the increased wildfire risk the 12,000-acre project would pose to surrounding wildlands. The ruling sends a clear signal that elected officials across the state must consider the serious risks of building on wildfire-prone land.

Between 1964 and 2015, 31 wildfires larger than 100 acres occurred within five miles of the site, including four within the proposed project’s boundaries. Nearly all contemporary wildfires in California are caused by human sources such as power lines and electrical equipment, and development increases that threat.

“The court’s rejection of the Tejon development highlights the danger of building in high fire-risk areas,” said J.P. Rose, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The science is clear that developments like Centennial will literally be built to burn, and our elected officials can’t continue to downplay these risks through inaccurate environmental reviews. This is a wake-up call for policymakers across California.”

The ruling found that the environmental review’s conclusion that “wildfire risk impacts outside of the project site will be reduced to less than significant is not supported by any analysis.” The court’s decision on Tuesday follows a recent Center report showing how construction in high fire-risk wildlands puts more people in harm’s way and contributes to dramatic increases in fire suppression costs. The California Attorney General recently challenged several developments in fire-prone areas, including one in Guenoc Valley, where a proposed project’s footprint includes portions of the recent LNU Complex Fire.

Read more at https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/judge-blocks-massive-tejon-ranchcorp-development-in-la-county-2021-04-08/

Posted on Categories Forests, Land UseTags , , ,

Op-Ed: It’s about time California put the brakes on new housing developments in high-fire risk areas

Editorial Board, LOS ANGELES TIMES

One of the best ways to prevent wildfire destruction and death is to stop building houses in the likely path of the flames. Yet cities and counties across the state keep doing exactly that — approving sprawling new housing developments next to wildlands and marching property and people deeper into high-fire risk areas.

We know this development pattern is dangerous. Half of the buildings destroyed by wildfire in California over the last 30 years have been in developments on the urban fringe, next to wildlands (a type of geography that planners call the “wildland-urban interface”). For years, state leaders have wrung their hands over this contradiction, but demurred from taking action because local governments have control over land-use decisions.

Now, finally, someone in power has gotten off the sidelines. Among his final acts as state attorney general before becoming secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra has gone to court to try to block housing developments approved in high-fire risk areas.

In February, Becerra joined a lawsuit challenging the Guenoc Valley Project, which would put 1,400 houses, hotels, restaurants and shops on Lake County hills that have been burned by wildfires a dozen times, most recently last year. Before the project was approved, Becerra’s office had sent letters to Lake County officials warning that the project’s design would exacerbate wildfire risk and hinder evacuations during a fire.
Continue reading “Op-Ed: It’s about time California put the brakes on new housing developments in high-fire risk areas”

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , ,

Priorities for Sonoma County’s vegetation management funds

Ted Lamm, Ethan Elkind, and Katie Segal, BERKELEY LAW

How would you spend $25 million to reduce wildfire risks? Sonoma County asked CLEE for guidance to answer this precise question. In 2017, the Sonoma Complex Fires burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the county, destroyed over 5,000 structures, and took two dozen lives. After reaching a legal settlement with Pacific Gas & Electric (whose equipment sparked the fires), Sonoma County allocated $25 million of the settlement funds to vegetation management–thinning and treatment of forests and vegetation–in order to reduce future fire risk and protect ecosystems and agriculture.

The County retained CLEE to gather expert input and prepare recommendations for how to allocate these funds most efficiently and effectively. Considering the long-term and recurring nature of vegetation management, the diversity of County landscapes and ecosystems, and the scale of the need relative to the amount of funds, a range of strategies will be required to leverage the funds into long-term investments and ensure sustainable practices. CLEE convened a group of statewide experts and a group of County stakeholders to identify spending priorities.

Our report outlines these priorities and offers specific strategies for the funds to achieve them, including:

      • Governance and coordination capacity to centralize county efforts, streamline permitting, gather data, and lead outreach initiatives, such as a new multi-agency working group with long-term dedicated staff.
      • Outreach and education capacity to spearhead communication with landowners, businesses, and residents on actions private individuals can take to reduce fire risk, including dollars specifically allocated for bilingual and equity-focused outreach.
      • Immediate vegetation management projects to increase resilience in high-risk zones in advance of the 2021 and 2022 fire seasons, with priority for shovel-ready projects, local organizations with track records of success, multi-benefit work, and other criteria.
      • Data, mapping, and planning efforts that expand on the County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan and other key data-collection initiatives to inform smart decision-making throughout the county.
      • Long-term financial sustainability instruments to generate recurring funds for vegetation management, such as a countywide financing district, new parcel or sales tax, or resilience bond.
      • Workforce development initiatives, like local college training programs to support high-quality local jobs and grow expertise and capacity in Sonoma.

      Read the report and full list of priorities here.

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Land UseTags , ,

County beginning hazard mitigation plan update

Zoe Strickland, THE HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE

Feb. 25 will mark the first in a series of public meetings being held to update Sonoma County’s hazard mitigation plan. The five-year update of the 2016 Sonoma County Local Hazard Mitigation Plan will have a more multi-jurisdictional approach.

According to Permit Sonoma’s website, the update will include Sonoma County; the cities of Santa Rosa, Cotati, Sonoma, Sebastopol, the town of Windsor; the Sonoma County Ag + Open Space District; the Timber Cove, North Sonoma Coast, Cloverdale, Sonoma County and Rancho Adobe fire districts; and both the Gold Ridge and Sonoma Resource Conservation Districts.

Hazard mitigation plans provide a profile of the community, a catalog of likely hazards — the county’s 2016 plan notes floods, fires, landslides and earthquakes — and outlines plans, goals and progress when it comes to mitigating possible hazards.

“The Hazard Mitigation Plan assesses hazard vulnerabilities and identifies mitigation actions the county will pursue in order to reduce the level of injury, property damage and community disruption that might otherwise result from such events,” according to Permit Sonoma. “In addition, adoption of the plan helps the county remain eligible for various types of pre and post disaster community assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state government.”

The plan update is being headed by a steering committee made up of community members who have emergency management knowledge. The public, however, is also encouraged to attend.

Read more at: https://www.sonomawest.com/the_healdsburg_tribune/news/county-beginning-hazard-mitigation-plan-update/article_f4b3ab02-733a-11eb-9cf5-8b9c205f2d90.html#utm_source=sonomawest.com&utm_campaign=%2Fnewsletters%2Fheadlines%2F%3F-dc%3D1614013221&utm_medium=email&utm_content=headline

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , , ,

What’s the future of Sonoma County’s fire ordinance?

Deborah Eppstein, Craig Harrison & Marylee Guinon, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Amid another extreme fire season, concerned Sonoma County residents wonder why their Board of Supervisors is fervently working to exempt new development on unsafe roads from Cal Fire safety standards.

Residents as well as the following advocacy groups submitted opposition letters: Bennett Valley Residents for Safe Development, Forests Unlimited, General Plan Update Environmental Coalition, Greenbelt Alliance, Preserve Rural Sonoma County, Save Our Sonoma Neighborhoods, Sierra Club, Sonoma County Conservation Council and Wine and Water Watch.

For the fourth time this year, the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF) has refused to certify Sonoma County’s Fire Safe Ordinance, as it does not meet safety standards. Subsequently, on November 4, the BOF unanimously adopted a moratorium on considering county certifications, having wasted untold hours and public dollars during 2020 evaluating Sonoma County’s flawed ordinances.

Cal Fire standards require new development to provide concurrent emergency vehicle access and egress of residents during a wildfire. We question why our Supervisors refuse to protect firefighters and the public in the wildland urban interface.

• What motives could justify knowingly sacrificing lives and property? Is it to promote unfettered housing and commercial development in high fire hazard locations?

• Does the County strive to eliminate all constraints to new development thereby preserving its micro-management of the approval process? Given the Supervisors have put off the General Plan indefinitely, perhaps the County lacks the strategic framework and fortitude to lead with policy?

• Or were the Supervisors woefully misinformed by County Counsel concerning the Ordinance’s lack of standards, which failed to meet Cal Fire standards?

An October 23 BOF letter (p. 2) stated BOF staff “have significant concerns” that Sonoma County’s standards do not “allow concurrent civilian evacuation.” It emphasized (p. 8) the County’s failure to cooperate, refusing even to respond to direct questions: “Sonoma County has had repeated opportunities to identify and provide citations for these standards. Sonoma County repeatedly declines to do so.”

Sonoma County finally acknowledged this fiasco and removed its request for certification from the November BOF agenda.
Continue reading “What’s the future of Sonoma County’s fire ordinance?”