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Archive for December, 2008

The Coast is Toast - California still missing the point.

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

The fires, fought at a huge cost to taxpayers, failed to translate into any meaningful reforms at the state or federal level despite efforts in Sacramento and Washington.

(Source: LA Times Bettina Boxall)

As wildfire fire fighting costs in California spiral upwards, driven by one of the worst wildfire seasons in the state’s history, our government still waffles.

‘I don’t think you can take money from suppression to do fuels treatment,’ Rey said. ‘Suppression money is what saves lives and homes, so that’s not going to be a very popular posture.’

-Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey

Popular isn’t the issue. Fuel modification is, and I for one. don’t know why everyone is dancing around the issue.  In fiscal 2008, half of the $1.4 billion that the U.S. Forest Service spent nationally on wildfire suppression was spent in California alone. State fire expenditures topped $1 billion.

I respectfully disagree, sir. The carrot still seems to be at the wrong end of the horse.  Modification of fuel saves lives while suppression, although highly visible, is ruining the environment. ( Please see our recent blog posts CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION - Time for a New Urban Wildland Fire Strategy? - Part 1 and 2 )

The other issue no one but us is broaching is why certain state agencies, commissions like the California Coastal Commission, and environmental groups, who say they want to protect the natural resources of the state aren’t helping the Fire Department and getting behind this. 

This hands-off posture is what Scot Franklin refers to as ” loving the chaparral to death.” Lets not destroy the chaparral all Californians love in order to “save it.”  It hasn’t worked,  isn’t going to work,  and bluntly, we don’t have the time or money not to try something different in 2009. If we do what we’ve always done, we’re gonna get what we always get - Burnt, crispy toast. 

State Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) sponsored several measures that went nowhere. One would have raised an estimated $43 million a year for fuel-reduction projects…

A bill written by Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) would have required that new subdivisions in high fire-risk areas have two access roads to ensure that residents could get out and fire engines could get in during an emergency. Developers also would have had to show that they had adequate water pressure and fire protection.

The proposal, supported by firefighter associations, was listed as a “job killer” by the state Chamber of Commerce, which argued that it could virtually shut down suburban development in certain parts of the state. The bill was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There is an absolute disconnect between requiring state taxpayers to take on the ever increasing burden of fighting fires…  “The solution is not just more engines, more airplanes,” said [Ruben] Grijalva, who previously served as state fire marshal and Palo Alto’s fire chief.

(Source: LA Times Bettina Boxall)

The issue is that federal spending on fuel reduction continues to lag far behind firefighting costs, in California and nationally, and until that changes… the coast is toast.

I hope reason prevails in 2009, and wish everyone a healthy, safe New Year.

 

CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION - Time for a New Urban Wildland Fire Strategy? - Part 2

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Given the high costs involved in fighting fires, and the high risks to life and property, perhaps its time to test Scott Franklin’s concepts on a wider scale. In order to accomplish this, cooperation is necessary between resource management agencies and fire officials. Mr. Franklin says that this method will actually preserve the chaparral Californians want to preserve, and agencies like the California Coastal Commission are charged with preserving- contrary to what is happening now. Mr. Franklin is not alone. 

Too much fire will eventually decimate the native flora.

-Naturalist Rick Halsey, LA TIMES November 26, 2008.

Scientists in Southern California are finding new evidence that frequent fires are gradually replacing chaparral and sagebrush with highly flammable and prolific nonnative weeds, The Los Angeles Times reports. The landscape change is extending the region’s annual fire season, deepening the threat of mudslides, and endangering animal species. Ecosystems forged over time to thrive by being burned every 60 to 100 years are now being scorched every 10 to 15 years — or even more often.

(Source: LA Times - Mike Anton)

Slow destruction of chaparral and the transformation into grassland will have devastating effects on the landscape of California.

-Naturalist Rick Halsey, LA TIMES November 26, 2008.

Chaparral, he says, does not need to burn to the ground every 30 years to remain healthy. Just the opposite. Too much fire will eventually decimate the native flora — some of the most diverse in the nation — leaving a biological wasteland of invasive weeds. (Source: LA TImes- Joe Mozingo)

This article was published on November 27, 2008. Does anyone get the irony here? California resource management agencies, especially the California Coastal Commission, an agency that prides themselves on environmental cleansing, and routinely demands people cut down Eucalyptus trees, and up root rose bushes because they are “non-native”, as a condition to receive a building permit, are surprisingly silent on this issue.  Mr. Anton continues,

Last October’s Santiago wildfire destroyed native sage scrub while the recent showers have created meadows of flammable, nonnative weeds. Ecologists fear the changed landscape will become a greater fire danger.

(Source: LA Times - Mike Anton) 

Most of the information on fire saftey from CALFIRE concentrates on the need for a defensible zone around homes. BUT what about the larger issue… the huge spaces that surround communities? What’s going on there?  This is one of the key topics of SINS OF COMMISSION. The public needs to become engaged in the interagency dialog regarding land management issues we face in large open spaces.  

If we continue to fight fires, and do nothing to treat the underlying brush (fuel), it seems like we’re destined to repeat the same devastating mistakes again next year, and we Californians can’t afford that. It is ecologically and fiscally irresponsible, and appears criminally negligent to all forms of life.

Kathleen Kenny vs California Coastal Commission - SINS OF COMMISSION

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

A working class hero is something to be…

-John Lennon 

Kathleen Kenny

Kathleen Kenny - Courtesy of Kathleen Kenny Family © 2008 pchpfilm, inc.

When I interviewed Kathleen Kenny, she had less than a year to live. Kathleen was a brave woman… you could see she was a fighter.

Maybe it was the Irish in her. But there was something else too - an unwavering strength in her belief she was right.

I interviewed Kathleen a total of two times. In both interviews, she was  lucid, very focused and determined. She spoke softly but clearly, thanks, in large part, to a heavy morphine drip. We spoke about 90 minutes each day.

When we finished our work together, she looked up. The toll from her battle with cancer was evident, and asked me if I believed her story. I said that I did. She smiled, sighed with relief, and closed her eyes. 

Kathleen confided in me that no one she ever spoke with about the California Coastal Commission believed her story, and was afraid she would pass on without ever seeing a great injustice righted. Kathy asked me to tell her story, knowing full well it wouldn’t do her any good, but might empower others to stand up for their rights.

Kathleen’s Story

Political hacks say fighting city hall is like gambling in Las Vegas, the house always wins. It’s not always the truth. It is just what the house wants us to believe.  Conventional wisdom says we should always choose our battles wisely; but, what do we do when an unwise battles choose us?

In Kathleen’s words

Kathy in happier days - Courtesy Kathleen Kenny Family -©2008 pchpfilm, inc.

“We went to a public auction that was in Topanga Canyon, California and we ended up buying four lots up there, four small lots, from this auction at a very reasonable price with the idea of building a small home on each one of those lots.

There appeared to be a lot of difficulty in getting permits.

We would fill out the forms that were requested of us, go back the next time, they were lost. Been sent to various departments, the road department, to the Coastal Commission, Regional Planning, and we never could seem to get ahead.

Then we began to, as time went on, notice that others were building, and we would go over to them and ask, ‘we’re having trouble getting a permit, on this very small house,” by the way, that house was only 661 Square feet, are we doing something wrong?’

Kathleen Kenny - Courtesy of Kenny Family © 2008 pchpfilm, inc.

I wrote a letter, to the supervisors, and told them this story, in detail… over three years in trying to get a permit for a 660 square foot house, saw others around us building, who seemed to get their permits in thirty days, or less.

And I gave a whole history of my background. That I had come here as a young girl, on a bus, with nine dollars, had gone to school here, my dream was to have a home, so forth and so-on. 

 

And, little by little, people began saying, ‘You have to pay money…’

‘Just give the building department money, put money in a plain envelope when you go up there, bring your plans with you, just slide it across the counter, and at the same time, ask them if they could double check your plans to see if there was anything that you had done wrong, or bring out the fact that they have a lot of expertise, maybe they could help you,’ so forth and so-on. 

We came ultimately to learn that nobody got a permit in that area. Either from the Coastal Commission or the Building Department without working through an expediter, or paying money under the table

Kathleen Kenny & Art Starz

Kathleen Kenny & Art Starz - Courtesy of Kathleen Kenny Family © 2008 pchpfilm, inc

We jack hammered the foundation ourselves, poured the foundation, and, in fact, we came to the attention of the Los Angeles Times. And, they came out and wrote a front page story of the Real Estate section of the Sunday Times. The title of that article was, “Sweat Equity.” 

Sweat Equity

LA TIMES May 15, 1988

And they, in that article, they told that story, of what we had been through, and that I’d gone to school, so forth and so-on, and in the process they mentioned that it had cost us ($25,000.00) twenty-five thousand dollars to build this home.

It was absolutely a beautiful home.

That then began a flood of people who read that, had dreamed of having their own homes, who began going down to the building department, trying to get information, coming out to our property and asking us…

The next thing that we knew, is that Art [ Kathy's companion] and I were both arrested. 

  

 

They came the next day with, as I said, two sheriffs who stood guard holding rifles. You can see them opening up panty drawers, and lifting up my panties, out of the drawer, opening up the refrigerator. They also had cameras and  were taking pictures of everything.”


 

 

kath1edit.jpg

Kathleen Kenny - Courtesy of Kenny Family © 2008 pchpfilm, inc.

Epilogue

Kathleen Kenny stood against a fleet of government lawyers, a deputy attorney general, and all of the might, resources, and power of the state of California and did what no one else had done: She filed a RICO lawsuit (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) against the County of Los Angeles.

She did it by herself - pro per - without a lawyer, and she won.   

But, as Kathy tells it, a deputy district attorney took it upon himself, or maybe got instructions from on high, to order the presiding judge in her case to over turn her verdict.

Kathleen Kenny continued to fight this injustice up to her death.

Kathleen Kenny passed away February 16, 2007. 

Post mortem, $2.4 million dollars in fines still stands against her surviving companion, Art Starz.

SINS OF COMMISSION - Time for a New Urban Wildland Fire Strategy? - Part 1

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

News investigations still continue into the cause of Southland wildfires that ravaged more than 41,000 acres. Authorities say they haven’t determined how two weekend wildfires began in Southern California.

(Source: San Francisco Chronicle)

How the fires began is not the point.

Fires start a number of ways, some natural, some not, but, SINS OF COMMISSION has discovered, large-scale urban fire control in the interface regions surrounding urban areas is possible. It all boils down to how to better manage the vegetation in the fuel beds, the large unbroken, usually protected, brush covered hills that surround LA, and extend down to the sea…That’s the point.

I interviewed Scott Franklin, former Fire Captain and Vegetation Management Officer with the County of Los Angeles Fire Department, and author of, “Urban-Wildland Fire Defense Strategy, Precision Prescribed Fire: The Los Angeles County Approach”.

In his exclusive SINS OF COMMISSION interview in July, 2008 - 4 months before the catastrophic Porter Ranch/Sesnon Fires in Los Angeles fires, Mr. Franklin predicted the next firestorm would reach the sea. His prediction almost came true .

 ”…there are critical conditions at the urban-wild land interface range [where homes meet the brush]”

-Scott Franklin, Fire Captain and Vegetation Management Officer, County of Los Angeles Fire Department (ret)

Mature, dense, and continuous chaparral brush fields on steep slopes found in Southern California represent one of the most hazardous fuel situations in the United States. Chaparral grows in an unbroken sea of dense vegetation creating a fuel-rich path which spreads fire rapidly. Chaparral shrubs burn hot and produce tall flames. From the flames come burning embers which can ignite homes and plants. All these factors results in a setting where aggressive defensible space clearing requirements are necessary.

  (Source: State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF)

California Department of Forestry and Fire) 

Chief Franklin offers a solution, and spoke about a technique to manage chaparral fuels in urban interface regions that have been promoted by the County of Los Angeles Fire Department.  He is not suggesting we apply this technique to areas outside major population centers, a concern expressed by Naturalist Rick Halsey in a recently published LA TIMES article.  Mr. Franklin suggests,

A method to reduce flame lengths, reduce down wind spotting, and reduce emissions while meeting fuel reduction requirements, was found by crushing chaparral and allowing it to cure for several days prior to burning. Crushing and burning has proven to be a highly successful tool in managing vegetation at the urban wild land interface.

-Scott Franklin, Fire Captain and Vegetation Management Officer, County of Los Angeles Fire Department (ret)

TURF WAR!

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
 

Fires Blaze along the coast of California

Wildfires rage in Southern California - NASA

Massive wildfires roaring through California are what many people jave come to expect our future will be.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Experts claim our monster fires are due to everything under the sun…from climate change to greenhouse gas and maybe even the sun itself.

SINS OF COMMISSION suggests there may be another factor no one speaks of,,, and possibly within our control.

Ever wonder why the number of forest fires in the Western U.S. and the amount of acreage burned have increased in intensity?

 

 

The fires are among the worst disasters in California history…

- California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger 

Line of fire: Approaching wildfire threatens a subdivision near Los Angeles, California, in 2003. Improved estimates of wildfire hazard could help firefighters focus limited resources on the most potentially dangerous fires.

Line of fire: Approaching wildfire threatens a subdivision in Southern California. Improved estimates of wildfire hazard could help firefighters focus limited resources on the most potentially dangerous fires.

Today Southern California is heavily populated with millions of homes, and these homes are surrounded by large unbroken swaths of protected brush - fuel beds, in fire department lingo. To continue to zealously protect brush without permitting the fire department to modify the denisty is only treating the result - not the cause.

What if we there is a way to trim the chaparral in an environmentally sensitive manner that diminishes the overall flame length thus controls the intensity of the fire - why can’t we do it?  Unless is fire being used as a device to prohibit, restrict or limit home building.

Or is it a turf war between state agencies competing for funds? 


    Portions of this story are excerpted from a series of features on sustainable development by IPS - Inter Press Service and IFEJ - International Federation of Environmental Journalists.

Court Stops California Coastal Commission

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

David Breemer from Pacific Legal Foudation, one of the people I interviewed for the movie SINS OF COMMISSION, was in the news recently. Here is an article I found on Marketwatch.com.

In a major judicial defeat for the California Coastal Commission, the agency this week was stopped from its drive to tear down a safety and boundary fence on a Torrance couple’s private property. The California Second District Court of Appeal ruled that the Commission had no legal authority to order the dismantling of the fence, which prevented people from climbing unstable bluffs where hikers had died, and which demarcated the boundary between private and public property.

David said this about the ruling:
With this decision, an appellate court put the brakes on an outrageous power abuse by the California Coastal Commission,” said PLF Principal Attorney J. David Breemer. “The Commission was trying to force Torrance homeowners Martin and Janis Burke and their neighbors to tear down a safety and boundary fence on their property that kept hikers from climbing dangerous bluffs where two people have died. The fence has been in place for three decades and had been approved by state and local officials, including the State Lands Commission. As the court said today, the Coastal Commission had no business butting in.
See more of David in the movie trailer at www.sinsofcommission.com

Why California Burns - One possible explanation

Monday, December 1st, 2008

The existing regulations do not meet the current requirements of the City’s Fire Chief, particularly with respect to brush management.

-San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders

Strong environmental protection policy is essential for our survival here on Earth.  Whether people can or can’t trim or cut brush in order to save their lives, should not be a debate.

Fires are getting more expensive to fight due to rising costs of fighting bigger fires and drier conditions. (CNN)

Has anybody asked themselves, “What if fires were getting more intense because there was a greater supply of fuel than ever before?”  Firestorms have intensified over the last 15 years according to Urban Wild Land Fire guru and former Los Angeles County (LACoFD) chief Scott Franklin.  ”Its curious to note”, says former  chief Scott Franklin, “that the intensification of fire storms coincides with stronger environmental protection…” He is referring to the large continuous swaths of fuel beds to be specific.

What if a simple revisit to the way we protect and manage brush decreased the fuel source that drives the fires? Think it might save precious resources environmental, human, and financial?

A clear public safety hazard is present for existing structures adjacent to undeveloped areas of native and naturalized vegetation.

-San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders

What if it were possible to trim the protected brush in a way that decreases the head of the brush - the part that’s is similar to a match. I’m no rocket scientist but if you decrease the head of the match, the flame length is shorter, thus the Santa Ana winds wouldn’t be whipping up 50′ to 100′ flames….they’d be blowing over flames 10′ or less but the good news for everyone is that the chaparral rejuvenates and potential damage to lives and homes is decrease. 

Problem is there needs to be cooperation on all sides.

Why not start there?



 
 
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