Oakland reconsiders vegetation management in biennial budget, by Elizabeth K. Stage

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Oakland’s current $4 million funding level for vegetation management, for which the Conservancy and other local organizations lobbied hard, will need our support again soon. In February, the city’s finance director, Katano Kasaine, told the City Council that these funds, to be spread over two years, were a “onetime appropriation” and thus were not included in the baseline budget. Further, she said that the current year is heading towards a $6.5 million deficit, largely due to increased personnel-related costs (salaries, pension contributions, insurance claims, etc.), and could rise even higher next year to as much as $25 million, if changes aren’t made soon.

At the same meeting, City Council members announced their priorities. Both fire prevention and vegetation management had strong support from hills representatives Dan Kalb (D1) and Sheng Thao (D4), as well as from President Rebecca Kaplan (councilmember at-large). Kalb said that a wildfire assessment district (an area formed through taxation on homes in the high fire risk area) is needed to fund vegetation work. The possible formation of such a district will be brought to voters once Oakland’s in-process vegetation plan, including its Environmental Impact Report, is completed in about another year. A survey to gather Oakland residents’ views on expenditures found fire prevention was in the top ten out of forty items polled. If you are interested in receiving periodic updates as Oakland’s process goes forward, contact me at stage@berkeley.edu. Help is needed in speaking up at City Council meetings!