El Dorado County supervisors hash out details of vegetation management program | TahoeDailyTribune.com

El Dorado County supervisors hash out details of vegetation management program

Dylan Svoboda
Mountain Democrat
Forest Service firefighters conduct controlled burns in the winter.
Ryan Hoffman / Tahoe Daily Tribune

After a dose of debate over implementation, El Dorado County’s Vegetation Management Program is getting off the ground.

At its Aug. 6 meeting, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors authorized a budget transfer of $291,000 to the Chief Administrative Office’s Emergency Medical Services and Emergency Preparedness Division to add an analyst tasked with administering the program.

But the devil was in the details for those involved. A point of contention arose regarding which fire agency would carry out the vegetation inspections within the unincorporated areas of the county over the first year of the program.

According to the agenda, the county’s Chief Administrative Office would request a proposal from CalFire for inspections. Several local fire district officials spoke out against this proposition.

El Dorado Hills Fire Marshal Marshall Cox suggested a joint effort between local fire agencies and CalFire with local fire officials holding the first right of refusal — rather than requesting a proposal from Cal Fire alone.

“If you open it up to the (local) agencies to also put in a proposal, the agencies that are willing to participate and provide that service, (would then) allow CalFire to focus on the areas of agencies that don’t want to participate. Now you’re looking at covering more of the county that way,” Cox said.

He asserted that local fire agencies would be able to provide a higher level of service through their knowledge of the jurisdiction.

Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton said that he’d be open to working with any fire agency, whether it be CalFire or a local fire agency, but he’d prefer to have just one contractor, operating on a county-wide level, for the first year to ease administrative and cost burdens and harvest consistency throughout the program.

Ashton emphasized the details of the Vegetation Management Program must be worked out over the next year, details that are difficult to smooth out with a lack of program staff.

“This is all the implementation process,” Ashton said. “Staff is going to work collaboratively with the fire districts. Right now, your office is getting calls about the Vegetation Management Ordinance. My office is getting calls. I don’t have someone to answer those calls. This is simply to get that process started.”

Diamond Springs Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal Kenneth Earle spoke in favor of cost-sharing between local fire districts rather than awarding a contract to a single agency.

District 1 Supervisor John Hidahl sided with the local fire agencies, stating that he’d rather not limit options going forward.

“I just don’t want to exclude that participation at this level unless we find out that’s the only way to get this done in an efficient manner,” Hidahl said. “Because efficiency and getting it done is important but I’d rather consider all fire districts on the front end as opposed to the first year.”

Board chair Sue Novasel said she hoped all involved could work something out in the long run but conceded that going the CalFire route might be the wisest for the first year of the program.

“Knowing what I know about fire departments and how they work together — or don’t work together — I suggest we stick with CalFire to start with, with the understanding that we all need to collaborate and try to work together as one.”

Supervisors Shiva Frentzen and Lori Parlin echoed Novasel’s sentiment.

Ultimately the board voted 3-1 with District 3 Supervisor Brian Veerkamp in absence and Hidahl serving as the lone dissenting vote, citing restrictions on the ability to collaborate between agencies.

In May the board adopted the Vegetation Management and Defensible Space Ordinance in response to the devastating in wildfires in California over the past two decades.

The ordinance requires the treatment of improved lots if they are within 100 feet of structures and near roadways and implements a “good neighbor” policy on improved and unimproved lots throughout the county.

The county is expected to continue communicating the new ordinance rules to the public over the coming months with staff helping residents come into compliance starting in February 2020. The county will begin enforcing the ordinance rules in June 2020.

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