City Council/MOFD Address Orinda’s Need for Wildfire Prevention Plan

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    The Orinda Supplemental Sales Tax Oversight Commission (SSTOC), which was established by the City Council in 2021 to provide advice on Measure R funds, published the first draft of its annual report in early March.
    Issues named within the report as priorities include the threat of wildfire for the City, reduction of fire fuels from public and private properties, disaster planning and emergency response. Measure R was approved by voters November, 2020, increasing the existing add-on sales tax in Orinda from ½ cent to one cent. It’s set to run for 20 years.
    The Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD), named as a “particularly critical” organization in the annual report, carries the responsibility to control hazardous vegetation and reduce wildfire fuels.
    MOFD is an independent special district and, according to the SSTOC report, also carries responsibility for the enforcement of both California’s and its own Fire Codes. MOFD’s “Exterior Hazard Control Ordinance” sees the district working alongside private landowners, the East Bay Regional Park District, the City of Orinda and other public agencies and fire districts to mitigate wildfire risk in the area.
    The SSTOC report states that a significant fraction of Orinda is rated as a “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone,” highlighting the importance of a strong prevention plan.
    “A lot of focus has been on fire prevention,” City Manager David Biggs said on March 9. “We’ve also been doing a lot of communication to educate people. The expenditure side of it is only a small slice of the overall picture of fire prevention and emergency preparedness.”
    But is enough being done to reduce the risk of devastating wildfires in Orinda?
    Resident Steve Cohn is concerned the City Council and MOFD are not adequately addressing the need for a wildfire prevention program in the city.
    “Unless you have a program to keep the forest down, it’s going to grow again,” said Cohn. “You need an ongoing program.”
    The topic was on the table during a March 9 SSTOC Zoom meeting.
    “We have a real opportunity here to make a difference with Measure R funds,” SSTOC Commissioner Paula Reinman said, encouraging the commission to “think about this a little differently.”
    She spoke about the possibility of holding a workshop with Firewise USA, a nationally recognized program helping community members reduce the risk of wildfires affecting their homes and community.
    “I do think that we want to be efficient, we want to be judicious, and we want to be effective in how this money is spent and that requires some long-term planning, as well as short-term,” Commissioner Latika Malkani said during the meeting, speaking of the need for a strategic plan overall.
    Malkani said a science-based approach to the wildfire prevention issue, which would be presented to the SSTOC by UC Berkeley’s John Radke, could “shed light” on the plan.
    “It’s basically using science to build a very dynamic strategy to mitigate [and] reduce the intensity of fire in Orinda,” Radke, Professor of City & Regional Planning and Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning, said during the meeting.
    It’s not about responding to a fire, he said, it’s about a long-term mitigation strategy that lives on in the community.
    In the SSTOC annual report, recent wildfire prevention and preparedness efforts made by the City are listed and include the adoption of a disallowed plant list and the addition of a MOFD-staffed woodchipper and new truck for year-round service to Orinda residents.
    A guide available on the MOFD website, focusing on wildfire preparedness and evacuation in the Lamorinda area, dedicates two pages to tips that reduce the risk for homeowners.
    At a joint meeting held virtually on March 16, the Orinda City Council and MOFD recognized the City’s need for both a collaborative effort between the two entities and resident participation regarding fire fuel mitigation and prevention.
    Mayor Dennis Fay spoke of the creation of a separate committee to handle the pressing issue, while MOFD Fire Chief Dave Winnacker acknowledged that, in terms of fire fuel mitigation on the ground, “We are far from taken care of.”
    “I do want to be careful about how far we step into the role of where the fire department should be, and I think that is some of the hesitancy that the City Council has,” said SSTOC Commissioner Rachelle Latimer.
    “I just want to be sure we are being careful about how we are using the money,” she added. “And making sure the fire department is meeting us equally in their obligations to get out there and do the community outreach and really work on this in partnership with us.”

Andrea Madison can be reached at drea.madison.05@gmail.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. Regarding the statements “The Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD), named as a “particularly critical” organization in the annual report, carries the responsibility to control hazardous vegetation and reduce wildfire fuels” and ““I do want to be careful about how far we step into the role of where the fire department should be”: MOFD does virtually no fuel reduction despite the fact they have a $30 million a year budget, $19 million from Orinda taxpayers’ property taxes, while providing less than $16 million in services to Orinda. All they do is write ordinances telling residents what they must do. What if the Orinda wrote traffic laws but never put up a single stop sign or traffic light? Or told us that our streets need to be in a certain condition but never did any work? We are paying a lot of money to MOFD and should expect them to do more than be ready to put out a fire once it starts. Paradise and Santa Rosa know that once these fires start, fanned by high winds, you don’t put them out until hundreds and thousands of homes burn and people die.

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