Wildfire prevention fund for the Oakland, Berkeley Hills set to run out

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Nicole White/File

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The remaining funds from an expired assessment tax, which funded wildfire prevention methods in the Oakland Hills, will run out by roughly the end of the year, according to Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb.

In 1991, the Oakland and Berkeley Hills fell victim to one of the worst wildland urban fires in U.S. history. The fire destroyed 1,520 acres, took 25 lives and left 5,000 people without homes.

The Wildfire Prevention Assessment District was formed after the fire. The District collected assessments from property owners in order to supplement fire “prevention, suppression and preparedness programs” as well as other measures, according to a city of Oakland press release.

The assessment, which phased out in January 2014, was up for renewal near the end of 2013 and was narrowly voted against — lacking only 66 votes for the two-thirds majority required to pass.

Although the tax is no longer being assessed, funds still remain from when it was being assessed and collected.

“That money is supposed to be used … for helping to reduce the wildfire risk on public properties,” Kalb said. “(There is) a lot of city-owned land. … We have to make sure that we take care of the brush and make sure things don’t overgrow.”

According to a report by the Oakland City Council Public Safety Committee, the wildfire prevention assessments were put towards roadside clearance in the Oakland Hills, provided free chipping services and trained contractors to work in and around protected areas and species, among other things.

“One of the most effective things (we did) was to hire goats,” Kalb said. “We used goats to graze on the land, (a) relatively low-cost way to reduce the overgrowth in the brush. We’re going to do that this year as well.”

Kalb is concerned, however, that the wildfire prevention fund is running out. According to him, the money from the fund will be likely gone late this year, possibly making it through the beginning of 2018.

Kalb said he is hoping a new vegetation development plan will demonstrate to the public that the city is prepared to do a “thorough job” with fire prevention. The plan will spell out necessary steps for fire prevention and detail the funds needed to accomplish them.

“Whether it’s not parking on narrow streets (or) clearing brush around homes in the hills … we as the city and other public entities all have to take care of (our) property,” Kalb said.

Kalb plans to propose the reinstatement of the assessment to voters and see whether they are willing to recommit.

“We need to … make sure that all the people who live up in the hills are protected from wildfires and I’m absolutely committed to doing that,” he said.

Contact Elena Aguirre at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @eaguirreDC.

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