Letter: Please Fund FireSafe Council of Santa Cruz County to Help Reduce Rural Fire Risks
Dear County Board of Supervisors,
I am writing to ask that you direct the County Administrative Officer to allocate substantial revenues in the 2021-2022 Santa Cruz County Budget to provide funding for the FireSafe Council of Santa Cruz County. Your Board established the Council in 2016 but has stopped funding it.
Two-thirds of Santa Cruz County lies within the Wildland Urban Interface, (WUI), putting a large percentage of our population, housing, economy, wildlife, and environment at risk from catastrophic fire, such as the CZU Lightning Complex Fire in 2020.
I ask that you once again allocate money for this volunteer group that achieved 501-c-3 status in 2016, and functions under the administrative umbrella of the Santa Cruz County Resource Conservation District (RCD). The Council is intended to work directly with rural property owners to provide free chipping services for vegetation management projects that greatly improve fire defensible space and public safety.
However, because your Board stopped funding the Council in 2018, they can do nothing other than direct interested property owners to the educational materials on their website. Free chipping services available for defensible space and shaded fuel break projects are contingent upon grant funding with the RCD, and is unpredictable.
During recent CalFire CZU Fire Town Hall meetings (March 15 and 16), both Chief Larkin and Chief Armstrong stated that rural property owners must do more work to reduce fuel ladders and create shaded fuelbreaks in order to reduce wildfire risk in their area, and urged the audiences to work with the FireSafe Council to accomplish that work.
This is an unrealistic suggestion because the FireSafe Council of Santa Cruz County has no funding and is currently forced to turn property owners and neighborhood leaders away when they ask for help, because there simply is no money available.
Furthermore, current California State Board of Forestry actions to adopt new Fire Safe Regualtions will require rural property owners to comply with new stringent fire defensible space and ember-resistant zone requirements as well as access clearances. These new requirements, while reducing fire risk, will impose great financial burden on property owners.
At the direction of CalFire, these people will likely seek help of the FireSafe Councils in order to comply. Without your help to fund the FireSafe Santa Cruz County and other FireSafe Councils in Bonny Doon and South Skyline, these people will be turned away, and in many cases, the risk reduction work will be financially unattainable by many.
The FireSafe Santa Cruz County Council works extremely hard to do all that they can, and recently sought grants on their own to provide an extensive series of free home hardening workshops throughout the County, with local and national experts participating. Individual Council members have also donated substantial funds to enable printing “Prepared, Not Scared” evacuation literature for the public, free of charge.
Please direct the CAO to allocate substantial funding in the 2021-2022 Santa Cruz County budget for all FireSafe Councils in Santa Cruz County. Your Board set this precedent in 2014 by providing $5,000 to each of the Soquel, Bonny Doon, South Skyline, and Santa Clara FireSafe Councils.
I respectfully request that you again fund the FireSafe Councils, in particular the FireSafe Santa Cruz County Council that your Board directed to be organized, but do so now with greater funding levels, because of the new, more intense fire behaviors and the shocking increase in fire insurance policy cancellations throughout the County.
Thank you very much for stewardship of actions to protect public health and safety. Please respond.
Photo from FireSafe Santa Cruz County