USA – We are halfway through wildfire season and, luckily, no major wildfires have occurred in Marin.
However, the most deadly wildfire months still remain, so we can’t relax. Fortunately, the county’s elected officials and fire chiefs understand our vulnerability and have introduced a sensible wildfire preparedness proposal.
Last spring, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury, alarmed by the inevitability of devastating local wildfires, released a report entitled “Wildfire Preparedness: A New Approach.”
The report made recommendations including: Creating a countywide joint powers authority to oversee wildfire preparedness and establishing an independent funding source for the JPA dedicated solely for Marin’s benefit.
Marin’s fire chiefs, officials, and Board of Supervisors are proposing the formation of the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority and developing a plan to address wildfire preparedness in the county. A draft of the plan will be outlined in presentations throughout the county over the next several months to familiarize the public with the plan and to obtain feedback.
To ensure that the best preparedness measures are implemented, some concerned citizens formed the Marin Citizens for Wildfire Preparedness. CWP examined the plan and found some areas for recommended improvements:
1. Public input. Workshops should be held, so the public can give input.
2. Citizen oversight. To ensure public accountability, the JPA should include a citizens oversight committee with members who are independent of political jurisdictions. The committee should have authority to audit all JPA operations including, but not limited to, all financial activities.
3. Project lists. Of the $21 million that the tax will generate, 60% will be spent on countywide projects addressing vegetation, education and evacuations. The specific projects to be executed with these funds should be listed. The JPA’s governing documents should require that all expenditures will be for the listed projects. This list should be presented at all public meetings to show taxpayers how their taxes will be spent.
4. Criteria for funds. The remaining 40% of the tax money is to be divided into two 20% buckets. The first 20% is designated for defensible space inspections, which may be conducted with local staff. The other 20% is to be used for unique needs of local jurisdictions. To ensure that these funds are used for wildfire protection, the plan should include specific criteria for disbursing the funds. Expenditures of funds should only be permitted through an annual grant application approval process. A review board, with public membership, should be created to approve all distributions.
5. Evacuation. The plan must include a detailed and wide-scale evacuation program. Residents should be informed where to go and how to get there. Provisions must be made for state-of-the-art alert systems and evacuation routes must be kept clear and unimpeded.
6. Limited duration. Any tax measure funding this new agency should be for a limited duration — no more than 20 years. A review of the JPA’s performance should be required every five years to address any necessary changes.
7. Funding. The jurisdictions should more fully explore more funding options including a quarter-cent sales tax in combination with a parcel tax on commercial property. FireWise communities organize and teach citizens how to prepare for wildfires. We strongly support the plan’s inclusion of adequate funding for FireSafe Marin, the organization that promotes and supports FireWise communities.
The CWP believes that the plan, with CWP’s recommendations added, is a good proposal. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the Plan or our recommendations, please contact CWP at MarinCWP.org. Be sure to attend the workshops in your community that will explain the plan, and add your input.
Finally, consider joining CWP by signing up on the website. There is no cost to join. Our goal is to have members in each of the municipal and fire jurisdictions in Marin to speak up at all district meetings to promote the creation of the Marine Wildfire Prevention Authority.
Ron Arlas is former mayor of Larkspur and a member of Marin Citizens for Wildfire Preparedness