City’s Draft Safety Element, Vulnerability Assessment Focuses on Wildfire Risk, Climate Stressors

(Andrea Madison, Photographer)
A drafted update to Orinda’s safety element, as well as a vulnerability assessment focusing on evacuation route analysis within the city, were released for public review in early June. An informational guide sent out by the City divides Orinda into numbered evacuation zones and lists Camino Pablo to Hwy 24 as a major wildfire evacuation route from the north.

    A draft of Orinda’s latest safety element and vulnerability assessment was released for public review June 7, marking the first comprehensive update to this section of the City’s General Plan since 1987.
    According to the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, a local government’s general plan serves as a blueprint for meeting the community’s long-term vision for the future and requires the inclusion of a safety element that protects residents from unreasonable risks due to seismic events, landslides, flooding, urban and wildfires. The issue of evacuation routes within Orinda is another issue addressed by the draft safety element.
    Orinda’s vulnerability assessment, required under California’s Senate Bill 379 calling for all cities and counties in the state to address climate change in their safety element, will aid the City in responding to climate change hazards and identifying which climate stressors, both primary and secondary, face the community.
    Changes in air temperature or precipitation levels in Orinda are primary climate stressors named by the draft assessment that could potentially trigger secondary climate stressors or hazards, such as property damage or fatalities.
    Orinda will be updating its safety element as part of its housing element, following the recent update in state legislation introduced by SB 1035. SB 1035 builds off SB 379 and requires the review and update of a jurisdiction’s safety element to align with their housing element or Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP) revision, with the review and update mandated at least once every eight years.
    Recent bill, SB 1241, has increased requirements for the flood and wildfire portions of safety elements for California jurisdictions.
    Approved by the Orinda City Council in March, a contract amendment with California-based planning, design and environmental firm PlaceWorks focuses on additional evacuation route analysis as a part of the updated safety element.
    California Assembly Bill 747 requires cities and counties in the state to “identify evacuation routes and their capacity, safety and viability under a range of emergency scenarios.” The AB 747 evacuation analysis is funded through the City’s Measure R add-on tax.
    PlaceWorks also prepared the draft of Orinda’s safety element, which, along with detailing the dangers of seismic events and hazardous waste and materials, states climate change is expected to impact precipitation in the area, with more years that could see extreme weather systems causing flooding or landslides. The destabilization of hillsides from wildfire can also contribute to landslide and mudslide.
    The risk of wildfire in Orinda, “a hazard of very high concern” for the City, is addressed in the draft safety element, which notes that the hotter, drier weather and extended wildfire season brought on by climate change is “expected to lead to an increase in wildfires in the surrounding area and across Contra Costa County.”
    “Wildfire could result in evacuation of the entire community,” City Manager David Biggs said. Regarding evacuation routes, fire is the main focus, Biggs said, calling the current draft of the safety element “fairly robust.”
    The results of the City’s vulnerability assessment, as shown in a table within the draft safety element, scores the vulnerability of city populations and assets to various climate-related hazards such as extreme heat and severe storms. The scores, ranging from zero for no vulnerability to V5 for severe vulnerability, represent the severity of the impact that each hazard could inflict as well as the ability of a population or asset to resist and recover from the hazard, according to the table.
    Seniors living alone in Orinda are determined to be highly vulnerable to climate-related hazards, as is the population of people experiencing homelessness.
    The Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD), which protects approximately 38,500 residents in a 42-square mile area, has a Moraga-Orinda Wildfire Action Plan/ Moraga-Orinda Fire District Community Wildfire Protection Plan (MOFD CWPP) that serves as an appendix to the 2019 Contra Costa County wide Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).
    The goal of the county wide plan, according to its description in the safety element, is to reduce wildfire hazards through increased information and education about wildfires and mitigation strategies.
    MOFD’s CWPP offers more detailed evaluation and recommendations that apply to the areas the district serves. The multi-year document aims to enhance long-standing collaboration between local agencies and organizations, as well as existing wildfire protection plans, to “create a coordinated effort to determine appropriate wildfire management actions.”
    Regarding the safety element, MOFD Fire Chief Dave Winnacker said, “We appreciate the work the City of Orinda is undertaking on this important project and look forward to continued collaboration in areas where our shared responsibilities for public safety intersect.”
    The safety element is “an important issue for the community,” said Biggs. “We’re hopeful that residents will spend some time looking at the safety element online.”

Andrea Madison can be reached at

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