The Politics Involved

To make life more difficult for hard working elected representatives (like I may become some day), blocks of votes in Congress are often reflexively steered towards appropriations for projects "ABC". (Anywhere But California) Now, I ask you. Is that any way for Congress to treat a nation state like California with the GNP that we have? Many studies suggest that California is a donor state that sends far more in taxes to Washington DC than is returned here by Uncle Sam's largesse.

Reading between the lines, the author believes it is a foregone conclusion that national leadership on the issue of fuels management in the West is weak and national awareness in general is at an all time low. This is not an optimistic evaluation of the situation but it is an honest analysis of the challenges we face in changing the opinion of the average American voter.

This leadership vacuum in Washington, DC is both a blessing and a curse. It creates an opening for a nimble young film company dedicated to shaping public opinion and training the next generation of film makers. A Wall Street prospectus for this dot org startup would point out, with beautiful four color charts and graphs, how a few thousand dollars invested today could return hundreds of million of dollars in preserved real estate and public relations opportunities in the future.

The prospectus would also point out that despite the billion and a half dollar cost of the 1991 Berkeley hills fire and the attention the media paid to it, this committee is quite alone on the video frontier. Existing fire safety videos aren't quite up to the task of alerting people to the nature of the problem, much less motivating homeowners to do anything about it. And so, unless we step in, homeowners are doomed to be the last to know and doomed to pay the price again.

Speaking for myself, I can see another suburban holocaust in my mind's eye just like it has already happened. This past Summer, only two homes that I can think about in the Bay Area were destroyed by grass fires. Another home was severely damaged by the fire in Novato, several homes were saved by the firemen in the Alum Rock neighborhood fire on the night of October 21st and thankfully no one was killed or injured. My question is, "Were wood shingles a contributing factor?"

Speaking for the rest of you homeowners, did you know that fire department training tapes like "Fire in the Interface" have already been distributed to fire stations and are designed to help pumper truck captains decide where to make a stand? Fire captains have already been trained to make snap decisions using defensible space criteria to judge homes that are worth defending in the face of a fast moving brushfire, versus homes that should be written off.

A worker uses a heavy duty weed wacker to clear exotic thistle from a
roadside near the Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto. "The Naturalists"
scene will open with an actor portraying Don Coyne using a tool like
this to cut down oats on the hilldide below his organic garden.

The problem for the environment is that many home owners remain blissfully ignorant of this desperate fallback firefighting tactic and fire insurance companies aren't in a hurry to let anyone tell them. The fact is that the cupped hands you're in, really aren't so good and the best fire equipment in the world will be swept aside like so many toys in the wind when mother nature decides to hold a rompin' stompin' suburban forest fire through the beautifully leafy, hilly neighborhoods of this county.

So unbelievably lacking is local government leadership on the issue of urban fire storms that in June of 1997 the people of Oakland voted to repeal the parcel tax that funded both a vegetation clearing program and a citizen fire patrol during periods of high fire danger. The margin of defeat was very slim and a video like "The Cannonball Express" could easily have tipped the balance.

This process of gathering political support has culminated in a revived dialogue with the Sacramento Regional Foundation. Our momentum is still growing and our plans for a pilot project video are intact. Keep an eye on this web site for regular progress reports and links to related sites the world over. You'll soon be seeing major improvements to this web site in the form of sneak previews of the shoot at the plant nursery, more links, (over a hundred at last count) and additional sound effects.

Despite the many positive changes that came out of the 1991 disaster, when and if we do have another Berkeley Hills type fire in the Bay Area, the fire experts know that it will be ultimately controlled when the weather conditions change. (i.e. When the fog rolls in.) Firemen in Marin County know from computer simulations that they could lose 7,000 acres IN THE FIRST HOUR of a major fire on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais. A fire like that is going to make the evening news. Nationwide!

Shocking as this may be, I promised some food for thought and here it is. Reading between the lines, I suspect that the fuel load situation in many parts of San Mateo County means that similar conclusions have already been drawn here by the local fire authorities. So I have to step back into my role as prophet of doom and beg the question. What will it take? Another holocaust? (And here is where the author goes out on a limb in his role as social critic.)

Despite 2,000 years of evolution and institutionalized learning, the author believes this culture has been unable or unwilling to develop the necessary social structures to prevent this kind of man made disaster. I'm not saying the emperor has no clothes but I do find it difficult to accept that on Charing Cross Road or anywhere else, God is going to call Mom and the kids home, out of deference to the Sierra Club's lofty rhetoric on behalf of "habitat values".

And not that I want to panic anyone in either community but I feel compelled to point out that we have a serious problem here and no comprehensive plan in place for reducing the risk.....

The power of eminent domain is one, albeit drastic, solution to the danger of fire in the hills and carries the added cachet of adding acreage to recreational open space areas. Therefore, citizens living in these areas, less than an hour's drive from Silicon Valley, must learn to take their fuel reduction problems seriously in their backyards and beyond, to preserve their right to live there at all.

The Project / Politics Involved / Environmental Concerns / Thank You