April 15, 2020
Memo to: OFSC Members
From: Sue Piper, OFSC Chair
Despite our cancelling the April Oakland Firesafe Council (OFSC) meeting, I want to assure you that OFSC continues to work hard to keep the community and our city focused on wildfire prevention in the time of Covid-19.
This week we “met” in two conference calls—one with District 4 Councilmember Sheng Thao and her staff—Brandon Harami and Rebecca (Becca) Sanchez, and one with OFD’s Assistant Fire Marshal Emmanuel Watson; Acting Vegetation Management Supervisor Travis Hanson; and OFD Chief of Staff Michael Hunt. Both were productive and provided reassurance that despite the economic impact of sheltering in place on the City’s budget, funds for wildfire prevention remain intact and that inspections and contracts for work on city properties are moving forward.
Key points re economic impact of Covid-19 response on City budget:
- The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Tuesday that it expects the global economy to shrink 3% this year—far worse that the .1% in the Great Recession year of 2009 and the worst year since the Depression 100 years ago. In its latest outlook the IMF expects economic contractions this year of 5.9% in the US. (The Associate Press report of April 15, 2020)
- Oakland’s vibrant retail, travel and hospitality, restaurant and entertainment industries have taken significant hits. The current crisis will have considerable impact on Oakland’s revenue, with early projections suggesting as much as a $30 million deficit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020. (From D1 Councilmember Dan Kalb’s April 13, 2020 newsletter)
- Acting City Administrator has frozen all hiring—except for positions where offers have already been made. Any exceptions will need his approval.
- Councilmembers Thao and Kalb are advocating for reinstating the search for a new Emergency Services Coordinator and a CORE coordinator, as they are both critical to the city’s response to COVID-19 or (God forbid) an earthquake or wildfire in the midst of the pandemic.
- The Public Works Department has been especially hard hit—in addition to the 20% vacancy rate in staffing, they are coping with a 50% reduction in essential staff due to sick days and Covid-19 related absences.
My personal assessment of the situation is that it will be worse than the Great Recession of 2008-9, where the City reduced its staff by 25%. We should expect something similar—or worse—as the Council works through its budget deliberations in May and June. We can observe and advocate by writing to our Council Members, the Mayor and the City Administrator, and by tuning in the City Council meetings which are now online. The schedule and agendas can be found at https://oakland.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx (however Mid-Cycle isn’t up or online yet).
See attached March 25, 2020 Memo on COVID-19 Fiscal Impactand live streaming of meetings at https://www.oaklandca.gov/services/ktop-tv10-program-schedule.
See attached March 25, 2020 Memo on COVID-19 Fiscal Impact on FY 2019-20 and FY 2020-21 from Adam Benson, Director of Finance
Key Points re Wildfire Prevention Efforts this year:
- The annual OFD property inspections are scheduled to start in mid- to late-May. Fire crews from hill stations will do the bulk of the first inspections; Vegetation Management Division inspectors will handle about 2000 properties in densely populated Montclair. New this year is the effort by OFD to inspect those properties that received 3rd and 4th notices last year in the first batch of inspections. You should have received a Post Card announcing the inspections a few weeks ago; look for the second mailer from OFD in the next few days.
- The current statewide and City Stay at Home Orders allow for gardeners and contractors to do vegetation management work. OFSC has posted a growing list of resources for homeowners who are looking for help in getting their properties ready for the inspections. You can find it at
https://oaklandfiresafecouncil.org/need-a-gardener-to-help-with-prep-for-the-upcoming-annual-ofd-inspections/ Please send me recommendations and contact information for gardeners/contractors that you have relied on. (Susangpiper@gmail.com)
- OFSC Member Bob Sieben has prepared a handy guide that is particularly useful for tips on what homeowners can do during the Stay at Home orders. It will be available on the Oakland Community Preparedness & Response website later this week at https://oaklandcpandr.org/
- Contracts for work on city properties (mostly roadside clearance) are already being let, with the first efforts in Montclair and then heading towards Grizzly Peak and Tunnel Road along Highway 24. OFD typically manages 40 contracts a season for reducing the fuel load on city properties.
- During our conversation with OFD, OFSC member Martin Matarrese and I advocated for the long-held desire of Adopt-a-Spot volunteers for better coordination between OFD contractors and the Adopt-a-Spot leads to avoid damage protected plants or intentionally planted natives. We worked out a compromise as follows:
- Between now and April 27, volunteers need to flag one or two protected areas in their adopt-a-spot spaces. They should take a photograph and, if possible, also mark it on a Google map, and send those to Travis Hansen at email@example.com ASAP so that he can include it in the bid documents that are sent out to the contractors.
- However, because OFD’s first priority is to reduce the risk of wildfire, they have asked volunteers to do the careful weeding within those protected zones prior to the work of the contractor (i.e. by April 27); otherwise, OFD will instruct the contractor to reduce the fuel load within the zone as well. Travis did say that he could be somewhat flexible on the deadline (maybe delay work by a week) so please mark your zones and then stay in touch with Travis should you run into problems meeting the deadline.
- During the conversation with Councilmember Thao, I raised the problem of the loss of corporate volunteers that many Adopt-a-Spot leaders have depended on in the past to help keep their areas maintained. In some instances, Adopt-a-Spot groups have funds to hire a contractor to do the work (since many volunteers fall into the Covid-19 High Risk category and are avoiding their usual activities as a precaution.) I asked if the City would allow volunteers to hire contractors to do the work under these unusual circumstances. More to come on that topic…
- The City’s reduction to only essential services has implications for getting rid of green waste from these projects. Councilmember Thao said she would raise the need to look at the process stream of vegetation management to see if the City can reduce such roadblocks to getting our community ready for wildfires in the midst of Covid-19. Meanwhile, if Adopt-a-Spot efforts result in a large amount of debris, the leaders can contact their Councilmembers for free debris boxes (but note, they each only have 12 boxes a year to allocate!)
- Waste Management has said it has temporarily suspended any activity that requires their employees to exit their truck. They recommend that homeowners:
- micromanage yard waste so that it aligns with regular pickups and containers available
- create their own extra yard waste bin which they can leave out; residents must call the day before to give notice (510 613-8710)
- Use 1x bulky pickup if not yet used
Other Wildfire Prevention issues:
- Wildfire Prevention as a City-wide Priority—Council unanimously approved a Resolution making wildfire prevention a city-wide priority and asked the City Administrator to return with a report in April 2020 on how City departments would incorporate wildfire prevention in their planning, policies, programs and procedures. That report was supposed to come to the Public Safety Committee in May, but has been delayed due to the pandemic. Councilmember Thao said she would bird dog this and work to see that the report is presented as soon as feasible.
- 10-year Vegetation Management Plan—the consultants are supposed to be working their way through all the comments and proceeding with the Environmental Impact Report. Councilmember Thao will work to ensure that that process isn’t unnecessarily delayed during the disruption.
- Oakland Community Preparedness & Response (OCP&R)—OCP&R Project Manager Doug Mosher and his dedicated team have shifted from face-to-face presentations (they had more than 10 workshops scheduled for over 350 participants before the Stay-at-Home orders) to preparing online videos. Additionally, OCP&R has launched two efforts to engage younger people (youth and their families and friends) in the messaging.
- “Prep is Love!” Youth Video Contest—youth of all ages up to age 21 are eligible for small prizes if they prepare a 1-minute video on the topic of preparedness. Please pass this link to your friends, neighbors and anyone who has kids who may be into videos and social media. The deadline for submissions is May 25, 2020. https://oaklandcpandr.org/videos/
- OCP&R is working with students in Merritt College’s Administration of Justice class to look at what social media approaches resonate with young people. They will get course credit and we will get practical information to improve our outreach.
Meanwhile, please stay safe!