FEMA Grants Withdrawn, by L. Tim Wallace

You have probably heard by now that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has withdrawn $3.5 million in wild fire hazard mitigation grants previously awarded to the University of California and the City of Oakland. As a result, both agencies will be postponing much needed vegetation management programs in their parks and open spaces throughout the Oakland Hills, including in Claremont Canyon. The decision was made on September 16 as part of a settlement between FEMA and the plaintiffs who had challenged FEMA’s Environmental Impact Statement. FEMA’s $2.3 million grant to the East Bay Regional Park District is still set to move forward.

The withdrawal of funds occurs just as we are about to observe the 25th Anniversary of the Oakland Tunnel Fire, a fire that ravaged our hill-area homes and wildlands in late October of 1991. Those of us who lived through that fire will never forget it, nor the lesson learned that we reside in a potentially dangerous wildland-urban interface, just like many other high risk communi-ties throughout California and the West.

We know that we need to safeguard our homes with appropriate building materials and landscaping. Equally important, we must continue to encourage our public parkland managers to make the right decisions in reducing fuel build-up, maintaining fire trails, and setting out strategic staging areas for fire fighters.

Jerry Kent will be taking on these issues on October 30 at our Annual Meeting and will discuss what went wrong with the FEMA process and why the Oakland/Berkeley Hills are likely to burn again.Please check back soon for updates on this important subject.