From neutral observer: Notes from Board of Forestry appeal hearing for Fire Safe Roads
Thank you for your interest in the Board of Forestry’s (BOF) consideration to certify the Sonoma County fire ordinance at the September 22-23 BOF meeting. A brief summary:
The Chair of BOF, Keith Gilless, acknowledged and praised the detailed analysis by key stakeholders, as well as our letters. Board Members Sue Husari (National Park Service Fire professional), Darcy Wheeles (policy consultant), Marc Los Huertos (professor and environmental scientist) and Mike Jani (Registered Professional Forester) asked very pointed questions about the flawed Sonoma County ordinance, demonstrating their familiarity with the SRA Regulations and deep concerns about whether the ordinance and Administrative Policy meet or exceed the SRA regulations.
Sonoma County showed up with a strong presence: Supes Hopkins and Gorin gave speeches claiming the ordinance is better than any in the state and exceeds the SRA regulations without providing any factual basis. This theme was carried through with speeches from our Fire Marshal, county staff and county counsel – Sonoma County is the model county! Citizens from the agriculture community spoke on behalf of Sonoma Co, by repeating another false narrative: that the SRA Regs will force Ag roads to comply with state regs, and that Sonoma County is fighting to exempt or grandfather Ag roads. This was corrected by the BOF stating that exclusive Ag roads have always been exempt from the SRA Fire Safe Regs. After the comment period was closed, Board Members carefully deliberated and then asked that BOF staff summarize members’ specific questions about the ordinance, and evaluate a number of pointed questions about the ordinance. County counsel did not help her cause when she repeatedly interrupted members. We believe the BOF will ask county counsel to take the modified ordinance back to our BOS after necessary changes are made. The next BOF meeting is November 3-4. We hope BOF will stick to this requirement, but you can be certain the pressure is on BOF to certify the ordinance without a return to the BOS.
Key issues in the October process and the early November BOF meeting with be:
Require our BOS to vote again on a to-be-revised ordinance, and the bigger question posed by BOF Board Members: does the Administrative Policy that provides for a 12-foot path of travel on private roads, and removes all other requirements such as turnouts, turnarounds, and limits on dead-end roads, meet or exceed the Intent and Purpose of the SRA Regs? The County is allowed to provide an alternative road standard if it “meets or exceeds” the SRA Regs with the “same practical effect.” Members are focused on Intent language as to how a 12-foot road “shall provide for safe access for emergency wildfire equipment and civilian evacuation concurrently, and shall provide unobstructed traffic circulation during a wildfire emergency consistent with 14 CCR §§ 1273.00 through 1273.09”, which includes road width standards. It seems so simple. Our analyses and conversations have paid off and the BOF is informed and focused.
We will keep you posted and anticipate a repeat of this meeting in early November. Thank you again for you interest and efforts.