Defeat the 3 feet
Former Mill Valley Mayor, council member, and planning commissioner, Dennis Fisco, has submitted the comments below to the Mill Valley Council in anticipation of the Council's September 5th hearing.
I am sending this note to the MV City Council and my MV friends and neighbors as a way of communicating a message in a manner that I have never done before in all of my 35 years in MV.
As most of you know, I am all things MV and I am a firm believer in the City government process, having spent a couple decades involved in one way or another. In all those years I cannot recall any time that I have taken a position counter to that of the City Council. This is especially true when it comes to a matter of fire/life safety. That said, I believe that the ordnance that the MV City Council is preparing to pass on September 5th is too far reaching and has not been properly vetted from cost-benefit, enforcement and community benefit standpoints.
To be perfectly clear here, I am only opposed to the requirement that all vegetation, with the exception of succulents, be removed from within three feet of any home located in the Wildland Urban Interface of MV – approximately 70% of MV homes fall in this category – a fact that is very concerning in itself.
CLICK HERE to SIGN the petition against the 3 foot ordinance!
Let me address the matter with a few comments for consideration (in no particular order):
- If the first priority of fire protection is to save lives followed by property, it would seem to me that a better use City staff’s time and efforts would be to do a complete detailed home by home study and education process of evacuation routes and each residents ability to evacuate in the event of an emergency. Yes, I know we have an extremely active CERT program and I have been a member since its inception, however, the plan is by neighborhood and I know that most people do not pay any attention until it is too late. We know this from recent experiences elsewhere. In addition, we are a community of many seniors who do not have the mobility to evacuate on their own. Why not spend the $300,000 +/- to put a data base in place that the City can use to notify individuals as to their evacuation routes and that would be used to assist those not able to evacuate on their own i.e. set up a neighbor-helping-neighbor “big brother/sister” program.
- We are all very concerned about fire and the proposed ordinance is well intentioned but the requirement to remove all vegetation except succulents in the first 3' from houses imposes a major financial obligation on owners of homes that have landscaping in the 3' area surrounding their homes. It will also change the attractiveness of those homes and hurt property values. In many cases we are talking about tens of thousands of dollars to rip out and replace that landscaping. Studies have shown that green, irrigated landscaping is not the problem. Leaves, pine needles or dry grass in the 3' zone is a problem, as opposed to many well maintained and irrigated species.
- The ordinance does nothing to mitigate the risk posed by heavy fuel loads on public lands surrounding Mill Valley or removal of other significant pyrophytic species such as Eucalyptus, Monterey Pine, Scotch and French Broom and others. We need to insist that Public agencies (MMWD, State Parks, GGNRA, City and County) continue more aggressive thinning of fuel loads on public lands surrounding MV and that the City enforce current requirements that fuel loads on private property be mitigated.
- The ordinance excludes areas outside of the Wildland Urban Interface. That means, Downtown, Sycamore and Tamalpais Park, Alto and other areas are excluded. If burning embers can cause landscaping to burn on Middle Ridge, then they can cause landscaping to burn in those areas as well. If we're going to pass an ordinance then it should be a Mill Valley wide ordinance.
- Make removal of landscaping in the 3' zone voluntary for existing homes and mandatory for all new homes or those undergoing construction/remodeling. Educate and inform owners about safe choices and approaches and about proper maintenance. The City's proposal contemplates inspecting every home and citing owners not in compliance. Rather than citations, education is warranted (see bullet point one above).
- The State of California and the County of Marin are in the process of crafting their own regulations relative to the Wildland Urban Interface. It seems to me that the City should be working in conjuncture with these the State and County and not crafting the three foot portion of the ordinance prior to determining a systemwide approach.
I applaud the desire of our City officials to make our town fire safe. As I stated above, I have never taken a position counter to a City recommended action involving fire/life safety matters and frankly it pains me to do so here.
Click on the image to enlarge
CLICK HERE to SIGN the petition against the 3 foot ordinance!
The three foot vegetation removal portion of the ordinance is over zealous approach to safety and it is very unfair to the large number of the citizens of Mill Valley who live in the Wildland Urban Interface area, which is most of Mill Valley. Surely there is a more reasonable “medium approach” to vegetation management that could be found as a compromise.
So I ask you, my friends and neighbors, if you agree, to contact your City Council members and ask them to please re-consider the three foot vegetation management portion of the proposed ordinance and at least postpone a decision on this aspect for the time being.
In conclusion, I know that this whole discussion can be very emotional and that some of you will not agree with my position here. That is fine and I respect your opinion, however, I do feel that there is enough of a discourse in progress that the City should do some additional research and consideration before enacting all of the ordinance.
You can contact City Council members as follows:
Jim Wickham – Mayor firstname.lastname@example.org
Sashi McEntee – Vice Mayor email@example.com
John McCauley – Councilmember firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Jackson – Councilmember email@example.com
Stephanie Moulton-Peters Councilmember firstname.lastname@example.org