USA – Redding has taken the first step in what could become a broad effort to make the whole city safer from catching fire and help avoid another Carr Fire catastrophe.
But the brush-clearing and landscape maintenance work, which could start as early as next summer, would come at a price paid for by property owners.
The City Council on Tuesday night approved spending $75,000 for an engineer’s report to analyze what it would take to create a citywide Fire Fuels Management District.
Councilwoman Julie Winter made the motion to authorize the funding, noting how the Carr Fire’s devastation remains fresh in the minds of residents. On July 26, some 270 homes burned to the ground in west Redding as others were damaged in the same area.
“We know these megafires are on the increase so we need to do whatever we can as a city to not ever let this happen again,” Winter said.
Winter was among the residents in north Redding who got a scare Sunday when the Masonic Fire burned 38 acres of the dry landscape and destroyed a home.
“Having to get my stuff ready to evacuate for the second time in two months is just … I don’t want to keep doing this. We really need to reduce our fuel load,” she said.
She said fire poses some level of risk everywhere throughout the city and she hopes the city can proceed in a way that residents will support a fire-fuels district.
City Manager Barry Tippin has said the district could generate between $2.5 million and $5 million annually.
“If this district were to go forward, it would be a tax assessment on each property within the city — commercial and residential,” Tippin said. “It would provide funding that would be dedicated toward brush management, fire-fuels management in all of those areas — public and private.”
Tippin said about 20 percent of Redding’s approximately 62 square miles is open space. That open space could be creek corridors, greenbelts and other land divided among private property owners, city easements and multiple government agencies.
“We do what we can for fire-fuels management on city-owned property,” Tippin said.
In the past the city has contracted with Sugar Pine Conservation Camp crews to clear manzanita and dense brush for fire buffers. Volunteers have thinned vegetation in various community cleanups while landscape maintenance districts have reduced fire risks in subdivisions.
Tippin said the city started looking into such a citywide landscape maintenance district in June. “After the Carr Fire disaster, this effort is now at the forefront,” a staff report says.
The city will hire EFS Engineering to help with the engineer’s report, which Tippin said is required by law in order to form a district. The analysis will identify the areas that need work and the city’s staff will create the maps. The report also will give cost estimates, how each property would benefit and figure property assessments.
When the report is finished in January or February, it will be up to the council to approve it. If that happens, the city would set a public hearing before further council approval is needed to mail out ballots to every property owner in the city, likely in March or April. The process is required under Proposition 218, known as the Voter Approval Required Before Local Tax Increases Initiative, and is the same procedure used for Redding Electric Utility rate increases.
Tippin said public forums would be held on the costs and the council would have flexibility on determining final assessments.
“The idea here is we would look to a citywide district and that every property owner within the city has some special benefit to maintain and manage fire fuels across the city,” Tippin said.
Residents who stand to benefit the most are those living on the edge of an open space and in other extreme hazard zones. People who live inside the city and pay the fee would still benefit by helping to prevent large-scale fires in the city, he said.
Tippin said the rules would have to be beefed up if there are private property owners who didn’t want to participate in the district or didn’t want to grant entry rights to city employees or contractors doing the work.
Those property owners would have to do the clearing themselves or “the city would have to abate it,” he said.
Tippin said he asked an insurance agent whether a comprehensive effort to reduce natural fire hazards would improve a city’s ISO score. The Insurance Service Office score is a rating used by insurers to gauge how well a fire department protects its community. The rating goes from 10 to 1 with 1 being the best. The Redding Fire Department is an ISO Class 2.
The agent didn’t think a fire-fuels district would improve Redding’s score but it could make it easier for homeowners to buy insurance and increase the number of insurers in the Redding market.
Jack Baker of Redding was the only speaker to comment Tuesday on the proposal. He recently sued the city in an attempt to force the city to do more in reducing fire hazards.
He said he’s read negative comments on social media about the proposal.
“Already I see a lot of people saying, ‘We are not paying any more taxes. It isn’t going to happen.'”
He encouraged the city to come up with a fire-reduction cost that property owners would support.
“If you do it right, I think you can get the necessary votes. If we try to make this too big and too complicated, it’s going to get voted down,” Baker said.
In other action Tuesday night, the council gave its blessing to a grant application that would let city staff collaborate with outside planners, foresters and other experts on land-use policies that would lessen community fire risks.