Disaster and Fire Safety Commission meeting addresses hills fire, Measure GG

Ketki Samel/Staff

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The city’s Disaster and Fire Safety Commission held its regular meeting Wednesday to discuss Measure GG and other items, but first heard a comprehensive status update on the fire that raged through the Berkeley Hills on Wednesday.

Berkeley Fire Department’s Assistant Chief Abe Roman, a guest at the meeting, informed the commission about the fire’s timeline. According to Roman, BFD “sent a full assignment” to the fire, including four engines, and worked with Oakland Fire Department and other northern California fire departments to control the blaze.

“Immediate action took place (by Berkeley)” Roman said, regarding the quick responsiveness and organization of city firefighters and police.

One CAL FIRE firefighter was injured in a 50-foot fall while controlling the fire and was treated on scene by paramedics before being transported to Highland Hospital in Oakland, Roman reported.

The Berkeley Hills fire comes after five contained fire starts in the last week, all of which have unknown causes, according to Roman.

Commissioner Robert Flasher expressed concern over Berkeley Hill’s vegetation staying within fire safety code, which was a discussion item in the agenda.

“We’re not very safe … because (there is) a lot of vegetation,” Flasher noted.

Berkeley home owners who do not maintain their properties by “ignoring the weeds” put “their home at risk” of fire, Flasher said. The Hills fire supported his fire-safety assessment of the area.

Roman added that the city is “understaffed on inspectors” to enforce fire safety code.

The commission then moved to discuss Measure GG, the Fire and Disaster Tax; a nominal tax added to building improvements to fund fire stations and disaster preparedness, which was passed by city voters in 2008. The commission lacks the power to audit Measure GG expenditures but is still responsible for Measure GG oversight.

Taxes collected from Measure GG go toward paying staff overtime and other station expenses. Commissioners Gradiva Couzin and Paul Degenkolb expressed frustration at the measure.

Couzin said that her main concern is a “gradual and subtle shift” in Measure GG spending that is not in accordance with what voters supported.

“It’s easier to learn another way to extract money rather than living within a budget,” Degenkolb said.

Couzin also updated the commission on an “exploratory” working group to improve a city integrated program that awards free disaster equipment to households that collectively undergo disaster preparedness training.

She is concerned that these are “private-facing” groups, which do not “have an obligation to serve the broader public,” a core issue the working group is attempting to resolve.

Couzin said Wednesday’s meeting is about the “bigger picture” and expects new votes to come in future meetings. The next Disaster and Fire Safety Commission meeting is scheduled for September 27 at 7 p.m.

Contact Sydney Johnson at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sydjohnsonnews.