New wildfire prevention authority meets for first time

05/27/2020

The first-ever meeting of the board of directors for the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority, a new agency tasked with coordinating a countywide fire prevention effort, convened virtually last week. “The fire season is coming—there’s no stopping that,” said Bill Tyler, the Novato fire chief who chairs a committee that's putting together the authority's work plan. “There’s a lot we can put in play, a lot of things that were already in the hopper that we are looking at funding.” The authority will preside over an estimated $20 million annual budget generated by a 10-cent per building square foot tax passed by voters this spring. According to a skeleton work plan presented last week, 60 percent of the funding will go toward four areas: wildfire detection, notification and evacuation improvements, vegetation management and fire hazard reduction, grant management and public education. Twenty percent will go toward defensible space evaluations, and the last 20 percent will be used on any additional local wildfire prevention mitigation strategies. The first chunk of money generated from the tax won’t be available until December, but the authority could begin projects this summer through a county loan. A plan that details prevention efforts in the near- and long-term will come before the board at its June meeting. Jason Weber, the Marin County Fire Chief, orchestrated last week’s meeting, which was open to the public on Zoom. First, the board had a slew of details to work out regarding general policies, including voting structure, how it will appoint alternate board members if needed, and the appointment of a board president. A contractor has started recruiting for an executive officer for the authority, who will be appointed by the board as early as next month. The need for a coordinated wildfire prevention effort was first described in the county’s 2005 Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and stressed further in 2018, in the “Lessons Learned from North Bay Fire Siege” analysis prepared for supervisors by the county fire department. The most recent push came from a Marin County Civil Grand Jury report on wildfire preparedness last spring, which proposed the creation of a joint-powers authority funded by a sales tax. Instead, county supervisors opted for a parcel tax based on square footage after a voter opinion survey found that route was most favorable, with 75 percent support. Measure C won in March with 70.8 percent of the vote. The authority’s 17-member board includes Bolinas Fire Protection District board president David Kimball, Stinson Beach Fire Protection District board member Mark White, Inverness Public Utility District board treasurer Kathryn Donohue, and Muir Beach Community Services District board vice president Leighton Hills, among others. They are joined by 15 other representatives from the agencies with fire and taxing authority in Marin, and Supervisor Dennis Rodoni. The tax will cost property owners an average of $210 annually, with an exemption for seniors; an application period will open for the month of June. To qualify for the exemption, you must be 65 or older and have a gross income of less than $97,000 for one person, and $111,550 for two.