Tax Committee, City Council Discuss Wildfire and Measure R Revenue

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(Andrea Madison, Photographer)
In a late June meeting, members of the Orinda City Council and the City’s Supplemental Sales Tax Oversight Commission (SSTOC) discussed both recent and future progress in using Measure R funds to further wildfire prevention in the area.

    The City of Orinda and its Supplemental Sales Tax Oversight Committee (SSTOC) continue to address the urgent issue of wildfire prevention within the hilly region.
    In a June 21 City Council meeting, the SSTOC subcommittee, comprised of nine citizen volunteers, presented a report which stated its objective of “quickly and effectively” utilizing the Measure R funds to protect citizens and property from wildfire.
    “Our goal, based on looking at what other communities are doing and what’s working here, is focusing on a grassroots-based type of program that’s education-focused,” said SSTOC Commissioner Paula Reinman. She added that the committee’s recommendations are based on “science-based best practices,” and that driving voluntary compliance from those in Orinda is another goal of the SSTOC.
    CAL FIRE, the Orinda Firewise Council and the National Fire Protection Association are among the organizations the subcommittee consulted to create is recommendations.
    Commissioner Reinman also highlighted the SSTOC’s goals for the fiscal year 2022 to ’23 and beyond, which included increasing the number of Orinda homes in Firewise neighborhoods from 28% to 85% by end of 2024.
    A Firewise community, according to the organization’s website, is one that has taken appropriate measures to become more resistant to wildfire structural damage. [Further,] communities that are recognized under the Firewise USA™ Program “have followed a systematic approach to organizing and implementing a Firewise mitigation plan in their neighborhood.”
    Previous uses of Measure R funds included providing a chipper and truck for year-round service for residents and budgeting for direct mailings promoting the chipper service and local fire district requirements.
    A detailed evacuation analysis for the city is also currently underway, according to a summary of recent and future City of Orinda actions.
    “Wildfire protection and prevention is the highest priority for our city, and keeping our citizens up-to-date is very important,” Orinda Mayor Dennis Fay expressed via email on July 8.
    Expanded parking restrictions in the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones in the city, many of which cover the areas northwest of Highway 24, is another wildfire-related action the city council approved in early June. These restrictions apply to all evacuation routes within these fire zones on Red Flag Days.
    The City Council also acted on other suggestions from the SSTOC during the June 21 meeting. Those included the addition of a limited-term Outreach & Education staff position focusing on fire prevention and emergency preparedness in the FY 2022- ’23 budget and a gridded program for the continuing chipper service, which would dedicate the service to certain parts of the city on scheduled 
days.
    Additional developments were addressed at June and July two-by-two committee meetings, formed to ensure Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD) and the city will move on parallel tracks.
    Areas of mutual interest concerned forming a grant/incentive program that would encourage homeowners to prepare for wildfires and exploring the possibility of a “boots on the ground” homeowner compliance effort through the MOFD’s fire fuels inspection program. A recent action sought to align evacuation routes within both Moraga and Orinda.
    The July two-by-two committee meeting between MOFD and the City was to provide an opportunity for the discussion of future actions and possible additional recommendations for the use of the add-on tax revenue to advance wildfire protection, a cause that “early use of Measure R funds is heavily weighted to,” according to the city. The meeting will involve the discussion of possible incentives and a reviewing of fire modeling.
    Other uses for the voter-approved sales tax, as listed on the City of Orinda SSTOC page, include “disaster planning and emergency response, critical public storm drainage infrastructure and long-term road repair and maintenance.”
    In an April 6 document outlining the SSTOC’s recommendations, the committee provides an overview of the situation at hand: “Wildfire is a clear and present danger for our community. We must act effectively and with a sense of urgency.
    “The City of Orinda must step forward with strategic, focused programming that will lead residents toward the necessary culture change required to become wildfire-adapted and to support the community groups and individuals who are already doing the work.”
    Fay commented on the SSTOC’s accomplishments to date: “The patient and thoughtful work of our Measure R oversight commission is beginning to bear fruit, and I expect more to come through. Our volunteers on this commission have put in many hours in service of our city. They are to be commended.”

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

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