Critic questions $300,000 Marin vegetation consultant

  Critic questions $300,000 Marin vegetation consultant

24 March 2009

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CA, USA — A $300,000 consultant will develop a “vegetation and biodiversity management plan” to curb fire danger, non-native plants and exotic species on 15,500 acres of Marin County Open Space District lands.

County supervisors, accepting staff arguments that no one on the Civic Center payroll could handle the job, hired Environmental Science Associates Tuesday after rejecting protests from a civic watchdog who called the expense a waste of money.

“I think there’s a serious infectious virus loose in this building called the hire-a-consultant virus,” declared Ron Marinoff of Upper Lucas Valley, a longtime North San Rafael civic activist who argued that fire officials across Marin, as well as any number of city, county and special district staffers, could do the job.

“We would like to see a moratorium on all consultant contracts,” he added, saying money instead should be allocated to fix local roads.

But Supervisor Susan Adams noted that Open Space District funding cannot be shifted for use fixing roads.

“I did have concerns about the price tag É and whether we could handle this in-house,” Adams said, adding she was persuaded by staff that a consultant was required.

Supervisor Judy Arnold, noting the county is cutting back spending, called allocation of funds for wildland fire prevention a priority.

Supervisor Hal Brown, mocking the notion that the county is on a “drunken orgy” of contract spending, lashed out at critics resting in “lounge chairs” while the county faces fire danger.

“Take a ride up Rock Road in Kentfield and see what a fire could do,” Brown said, his voice rising. “This is the simplest vote I’ve made in years. I really take exception to lumping this in with contracts.”

Marinoff, who retired as a battalion chief for the Marinwood Fire Department, and has served on the Marinwood Fire Commission for 30 years, made no apologies, saying later county spending on consultants is out of control. “I don’t need any lectures on fire safety” from Brown, the veteran fire commissioner added.

Elise Holland, hired last year as planning and resources chief in the Department of Parks and Open Space, said Marin lags behind other counties in developing plans to manage its land. The Open Space District, formed more than three decades ago, “doesn’t have a management plan É for our land,” she said.

And because only a couple staffers have been assigned to resource management, “in order to step back and look at 35 preserves and 15,000 acres at the same time, there is no way we can do that,” she said.

Kent Julin, a forester for the county fire department, and other fire officials urged support for the study.

“This is something we need,” Julin said. “If we’re going to save homes and people’s lives, this is the way to do that.”

A parade of others also boosted the program, including former Mill Valley councilman John Leonard.

“What is the value of this amount relative to the value of a home burning?” he asked.

The $300,000 program, which formed the core of an $850,000 “demonstration project” shelved last year when plans for a fire and open space tax were put on ice, will enable officials to make decisions about reducing wildland fire hazards, controlling non-native plants and protecting “special status” species, according to Ronald Miska, deputy director of the Parks and Open Space Department.

The study, he said, will enable development of strategies for fuel reduction and fuel breaks, priorities for vegetation management, performance measures for evaluating county efforts, “strengthened partnerships with fire agencies,” and increased community awareness.

“Environmental review is not included in this agreement and would require a subsequent agreement and associated budget,” he reported.

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