Berkeley commission discusses disaster preparedness at meeting

Sebastian Cahill/Staff

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On Wednesday, the Berkeley Disaster and Fire Safety Commission discussed recent power shut-offs, public outreach on emergency preparedness and a possible reinstitution of a special assessment zone in the Berkeley Hills at its regular meeting.

Berkeley Disaster Preparedness Neighborhood Network, or BDPNN, president David Peattie reported that the organization recently received several grants from the state and the Department of Public Health for the provision of “go kits.” These kits, according to the FIRESafe MARIN website, are sets that can be assembled and used in case of emergency. The grants are partially based on the number of people BDPNN can prepare for disasters.

“We’re all volunteer and nonprofit,” Peattie said. “This is kind of a new area for us — the scale of this is huge.”

Berkeley Fire Department, or BFD, spokesperson Officer Keith May noted that four significant fires — all of them in residential buildings — have occurred since the last meeting in October. The cause of two of the fires was gas-powered wall heaters.

May also mentioned BFD’s search for a method of alerting the community during future disasters, noting the collaboration with Zonehaven, a program that helps communities plan for evacuations, according to its website.

“We’re trying our best to navigate that process of how to alert the community,” May said. “We hope to be getting this service for free for the next few years.”

Commission chair Gradiva Couzin began the discussion of reinstating a special assessment zone in the Berkeley Hills. This measure would raise an additional tax that could fund more fire prevention and mitigation programs, according to Couzin.

Other members of the commission worried that the tax would receive pushback from city residents.

“I think it’s going to be really challenging to get people to pay more taxes when we pay a lot of tax dollars in Berkeley,” said commission member Annie Bailey. “I think, as a taxpayer, it’s not always clear … that our tax dollars are being used effectively.”

The conversation later moved to the recent Public Safety Power Shutoffs that occurred in October.

“We can all assume to have a lot more power outages in the future. I do think there’s a personal responsibility to make your own (emergency) plan,” Bailey said. “However, I think there are vulnerable people who do not have the resources.”

Couzin added that there was uncertainty as to how much the city should contribute to power outages. Bailey noted the heavy cost to the local economy, adding that PG&E should take responsibility for the lost productivity.

The discussion was tabled to receive an update on underground utility wires in the city.

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.