OWN VOICE. ~ InPerspective by Gregg Dieguez —
We’re still in a race to determine what kind of Wildfire Case Study San Mateo County will become. The parallels with Oakland Hills (1991) and Paradise (2019) with our MidCoast are well documented here: The (Wild) Fire Next Time. There was a little progress at agency meetings last night (9/23), but will it be enough, and soon enough to prevent being on the wrong side of wildfire history?
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The Good News:
- There is a consulting study (the “Scoping Study”) funded for the wildfire risks around El Granada, which is one of our state’s highest risk areas. Len Erickson advocated for this months ago, even getting MROSD to agree to fund a very small pilot project with some surplus budget, which proved inadequate to purpose but got the County and RCD in action to define and fund a more realistic $75,000 study. As established last night, this Scoping Study will be free of preconceived notions, and able to reconsider all risks and approaches. This is important, because:
The real risk is from an El Diablo wind, from the ENE, but prior county coping plans have focused on the prevailing N or W winds, which are damper, with fog, and not during the worst fire risk. As Keith Mangold and I have long written, a canopy fire is the real danger. CalFire has well established its ability to fight ground fires, even in Quarry Park – now made even more accessible with the wider trails created this year. However, the worst damage comes from wind-driven, not ground fuel-driven fires and that is the wildfire EG residents want to fight. As evidenced by…
- The 530 signatures of EG residents Mangold got on his petition of wildfire concern, and which the MCC agreed to forward to the County last night. [I’m still upset he wouldn’t let me sign, as I’m a Montara resident.] This petition was JUST El Granada people; I think we could have easily topped 1,000 had we broadened the survey area. What’s new in Keith’s materials from prior articles is confirmation that all of the winds come from the ENE during the worst part of the fire season.
- CFPD added an expanded Flammable Vegetation Abatement Program (details below). This stems in part from persistent resident concerns and from the survey Len Erickson and Matt Clark of GCSD conducted in EG, finding large numbers of eucalyptus on vacant lots.
- Parts of the medians in El Granada have been cleared of mature eucalyptus, as well as other fuel, in a $500,000 project funded by Supr. Horsley and the County. [Note that these trees are part of the original El Granada planting in the early 1900’s . The trees in Quarry Park are almost all Post 1929 fire and mostly younger than that. Presumably much, much cheaper to remove.]
- RCD got $1M in funding from the Coastal Conservancy to fund Parks’ fuel reduction efforts in Quarry Park. Note that just because Parks has an $18M 3 year PLAN, that doesn’t mean it’s FUNDED. So RCD solved part of this problem and Parks is able to advance some wildfire efforts which were previously fully specified and approved.
- CalTrans started clearing eucalyptus on Hwy 1 at Medio and Frenchman’s Creek. I might be the only one not complaining about the traffic snarl, in fact I may have helped cause it, but I view this as necessary progress.
- A County-wide Wildfire Coordinator, funded by a $175,000 grant, is being requested. It’s not done, but having Someone In Charge has been my request of the County since 10/13/20, and this will solve that issue and hopefully bring focus to all the undone issues below.
Note that Parks just doesn’t have the budget to fight wildfires. And by fight, we mean PREVENT, because that’s the proven strategy. Dir. Calderon pointed out last night that even with his wildfire funding DOUBLED thanks to Supr. Horsley, he still has only $18M over 3 years for an entire County. That’s perhaps one-eighth of what’s needed in Quarry Park alone. And after we review CFPD’s new Action Plan from last night, let’s review the other outstanding issues…
CFPD’s New Abatement Efforts:
In response to repeated local resident concerns about fuel on unattended lots, Coastside Fire Protection District (CFPD) has expanded a new Vegetation Management Action Plan by vote last night. It included a spreadsheet identifying 200+ parcels in the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone (and High FHSZ) from Montara to Miramar. The spreadsheet tracks per parcel, weeds, brush, limbing, chipping and steep terrain. CFPD is estimating on average over $12,000 per parcel for treatment based on what they have seen on these parcels.
1. They have updated and added four items to their Vegetation Management Committee Action plan
– Implement an expanded Flammable Vegetation Abatement Program to include a priority list 1 of unimproved parcels – Oct 2021 – $200,000
– Conduct a needs assessment and cost/benefit analysis for hiring additional fire prevention/marshal staff member – Oct 2021 – $ TBD
– Complete a district wide wildfire assessment – Jan 2022 – $ TBD
– Implement an expanded Flammable Vegetation Abatement Program to include a priority list 2 of unimproved parcels -June 2022 – $400,000
2. They have chosen 15 very dense parcels to start (priority list 1) and 5 of these parcels are in a very dense area along Ave. Portola (fire road).
3. They have included $200,000 in their budget (a requirement) for clean up of these 15 parcels if property owners do not.
4. The second priority list has 37 parcels with a date of June 2022 and $400,000 planned for cleanup.
5. Cost recovery is provided through a property tax lien and collected through the San Mateo County Tax Collector’s Assessor’s Office.
6. Board voted to approve a resolution 2021-49 declaring seasonal weeds a public nuisance.
7. Time Line for Action:
– Correction Notices sent October 1, 2021 for priority list 1.
– Objections to the removal at CFPD Board meeting October 27, 2021
– Weeds shall be removed no later than November 15, 2021
– If weeds, brush, etc are not removed by November 15, then work to be scheduled by CFPD through contractors.
- A funded project to create a fuel break in front of El Granada Blvd., where the El Diablo winds will certainly push a fire. Note that the $1M RCD/Coastal Conservancy project could NOT include this effort because it did not have full environmental approval. Concerns about slope, erosion, & landslides had been raised, and while appearing invalid to residents who researched those issues, the project still has not passed regulatory approval. Further, an early estimate of $13M for removing those eucalyptus is daunting.
- A funded project to remove eucalyptus and revegetate Quarry Park
- A fire code that targets MATURE eucalyptus and allows abatement orders, funded by property owners, to remove them on vacant lots.
- A re-vegetation program which transitions from eucalyptus and other invasive species, to a native habitat.
- A lot retirement program for vacant lots, as was called for in Connect The Coastside, and elsewhere.
- A letter of concern from the MCC to the county about our wildfire issues and priorities.
- A solution for the 30-something power lines crossing El Granada Blvd., which are a potential fire hazard.
- Zoning and enforcement which prevents more housing near Wildland Urban Interface until we have a proven wildfire (and water) capability.
- An approach to removing eucalyptus which is less costly than the efforts in the EG medians and the $150M ballpark proffered by Chief Sampson earlier this year.
- Clearing trees on Hwy 1 north of the Lantos Tunnel, which is likely a multi-jurisdictional issue, which I requested of CalTrans in July.
- Clearing eucalyptus groves on the CalTrans Martini Creek Highway Bypass in Montara/Moss Beach. Underbrush is being addressed, but in spite of MWSD joining in on the request, this fuller removal has not been done.
- The money for everything, which Supvr. Horsley hinted at might be coming from a half Billion $ bond coupled with a new sustainability tax for the Climate Crisis. Note that I worked with the Local Hazard Mitigation Planning team to get as much of these risks into the LHMP submission. However, that funding can take years. An important ingredient in getting those funds is that FEMA considers Fuel Reduction a modest priority. However a PERMANENT solution, like complete removal and revegetation, should be more fundable, and that’s what we need to pursue.
- A solution to evacuation in the 15 minutes we’ll have for warning of a canopy fire. And let’s face it, there will be no solution to evacuation, which is why everything else on this list is potentially life or death.
We’ve still got work to do, let’s start filling that glass!
 EG Blvd. Fuel Break
During Dir. Calderon’s MCC discussion last night he clarified that the portion of Project #16 that runs adjacent to EGB is still part of Project #16. Therefore, the area circled in red (at right>>) is still in the 5-year plan. This segment of Project #16 is not included in the recent $1M RCD/Parks project because a stipulation of the Coastal Conservancy grant was that projects needed to be shovel ready (including having been reviewed in accordance with CEQA). The County’s Routine Maintenance Manual, which has been reviewed and certified in accordance with CEQA, grants Parks the authority to remove understory vegetation within 100’ and hazard trees within 200’ of roads, trails, facilities and park boundaries. For this reason, Parks and RCD identified areas that they are permitted to work within and included only those areas in the grant project.
Nicholas also stated that a revised version of the 5-year plan will be uploaded to the Parks Department’s website in the next week that clarifies this.
Note that Rich Sampson of CalFire and others have stated that native species do seem to re-grow after clearing without any special handling. Nonetheless, a local residents’ group is pursuing more pro-active strategies, beginning with the recently cleared EG medians.
Mr. Dieguez is a native San Franciscan, longtime San Mateo County resident, and semi-retired entrepreneur who causes occasional controversy on the Coastside. He is a member of the MCC, but his opinions here are his own, and not those of the Council. In 2003 he co-founded MIT’s Clean Tech Program here in NorCal, which became MIT’s largest alumni speaker program. He lives in Montara. He loves a productive dialog in search of shared understanding.