Work is continuing on various fronts to help reduce fire risk in drought-parched Cambria and its 3,000-acre native stand of Monterey pines and other trees.
Owners of 265 vacant parcels of Cambria land, who were notified in April that they must clear those properties of weeds, brush, small fallen trees and other fire fuels, have run out of time to do the work themselves.
On Tuesday, July 7, the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors approved a resolution to have a contractor do the clearing. The district will then bill the property owners for services rendered plus a $100 administrative fee.
Bills not paid through that billing process will be added to the 2016 county tax roll, with an additional $200 administrative fee.
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The district sent notices on April 24 to the owners of 1,838 properties, telling them they had to reduce the fire fuels on their land. The district includes about 1,908 vacant parcels, according to a staff report dated a day earlier.
Each year, the district adds parcels to the list of those who must do weed-abatement, according to District Clerk Monique Madrid.
Madrid told district board members that the higher number this year was in part a result of newer regulations, such as the added emphasis on removing dead trees to improve fire protection.
Blanket tree-removal permit
While the Cambria Community Services District has applied to County Planning for an emergency blanket permit that would allow property owners to remove dead trees without having to apply or pay for an individual county permit, Airlin Singewald, a planner for the county, said in an email interview June 22, conditions of that permit and the tree-removal procedures are still being coordinated among the county, Cal Fire, Cambria Fire Department and the state Coastal Commission.
“The focus of the emergency permit is to mitigate the fire hazard in Cambria by providing a more streamlined process for landowners to remove trees that Cal Fire deems hazardous,” Singewald wrote. That process “will likely consist of waiving permit fees for individual landowners and accepting Cal Fire's hazardous tree determination in place of the arborist report that is typically required to justify hazardous tree removal.”
He said the emergency permit “will include a condition requiring replanting,” with the details likely addressed in the follow-up “regular” coastal development permit that’s mandated by the process.
Singewald confirmed July 7 that those conditions of approval still were being negotiated.
Chipping, inspections and tree removals
Meanwhile, other efforts to reduce the risk of fire are continuing, ranging from free chipping services for area landowners and residents to Cal Fire inspections to make sure areas around homes and other buildings comply with state “defensible space” regulations.
: According to Michael Walsh, 2015 chipping coordinator, the partnership of Cambria Fire Department, the Community Emergency Response Team and the California Conservation Corps converted more than 46 tons of fire fuel into chips during May and June, chopping up woody brush and small trees alongside more than 100 locations.
Two more chipping dates are to be offered this summer, Dan Turner, business manager for the county Fire Safe Council, confirmed Tuesday, July 7. The council provides funding for the service. Dates will be announced soon.
Dave Wierenga, assistant CERT coordinator, lauded Walsh and his crew for their hard work and dedication. He said the community-oriented volunteers spent many hours promoting the event, planning routes, setting up the crews and, on chipping days, supervising crews is the field, checking out the next locations ahead of time, and “making sure all were safe and the process went smoothly. This was truly a high-impact community effort.”
: Alan Peters, Cal Fire forester, said earlier estimates on the number of inspections in Cambria may have been somewhat optimistic. On Tuesday, July 7, he wrote in an email interview that “for Cambria specifically, our best estimate is 1,800 residences have been inspected. Of those, 151 were reinspected and passed, and 76 were reinspected and failed a second time. This would indicate that roughly two-thirds of those inspected have completed the required work, which is good progress.”
Cal Fire regulations require adequate “lean, clean and green” defensible space of at least 30 feet around any structure, and reduced fuel loads in the area from 30 to 100 feet around the structure. This year, because of the severe drought and the fire danger it produced, inspectors are focusing on fuels in the 30-foot circumference and any dead and/or hazardous trees.
: County tree crews removed more than 165 hazardous trees in right-of-way areas in less than four weeks, and additional trees are targeted for removal after bird-nesting season ends.
•CCSD tree work
: Several weeks ago, Carlos Mendoza, who manages resources and facilities for the services district, was joined by Peters and Jo Ellen Butler, executive director of Friends of Fiscalini Ranch Preserve (FFRP), for a survey of “district property behind the wastewater yard and the Fiscalini Ranch borders (Warren Road, Tipton Street and Trenton Drive) as well as the trails in the middle of the forest.”
The team determined that 194 trees were “dead and posed an immediate threat to properties and people,” he said, most of them because they could fall on homes, trails or other areas often occupied by the public.
The team flagged the trees and marked them on a GPS map.
Mendoza added that “we have submitted a permit to the county and are waiting on approval.” He said the work likely would be paid for, at least in part, by about $25,000 of a $75,000 grant PG&E gave the county Fire Safe Council, with Cal Fire fallers and prison crews doing the work, except for trees that require topping or climbing.
In 2012, the ranch was granted a coastal development permit for work being done on the ranch, based on its master development plan, ranch management plan, environmental impact report and conservation easement, he said.
Those documents all address removal of dead and dangerous trees, especially any “that pose a threat to homes adjacent to the ranch and that fall within the fire department required fire breaks.”
Butler said FFRP is “looking forward to working with CCSD and Cal Fire to remove the hazardous trees on the ranch.”