The following letter was sent to the Mill Valley City Council and Fire Chief Welsh, for their consideration at the September 5, 2019 public hearing, regarding proposed Ordinance Amending Titles 15 of the Mill Valley Municipal Code; Fire Hazard Reduction Vegetation Management Ordinance.
To Mayor Wickham, City Council of Mill Valley and Fire Chief Welch;
While we appreciate the sincere intent of Mill Valley Council, and understand the pressures to “do something” quickly, the Watershed Alliance of Marin (WAM) is concerned that rapidly adopted short-term measures may undercut the long term solutions needed to improve our resilience. Our concerns range from cultural and scientific, to legal, with respect to CEQA.
The Watershed Alliance respectfully asks that Council hold off on final passage of the proposed Ordinance until more scientific data can be included in the development of such far reaching policy.
Please note: Given the likelihood of CEQA challenges, we will include more detail in our letter so that key elements are on record.
As such, we endorse Attorney, Robert Goodman’s letters who represents Mill Valley Residents for Protection of Wildlife.
— The Watershed Alliance opposes the unnecessary destruction of California’s native plant heritage, diminishment of water quality, loss of cultural resources and habitat for wildlife and loss of hillside stability for the purpose of wildfire vegetation management.
What is missing from the current draft version of the ordinance is reference to the science that shows that California’s superbly diverse native plants are its most valuable resource for erosion control, wildlife and water conservation, and are vital to the long-term health of California.
—The Watershed Alliance of Marin supports protecting human lives, cultural resources, property, biodiversity, water quality and California’s native plant communities.
— We also support the need for respectful consideration of historic cultural matters. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria have a stake (Tribal Notification required) re: what happens to the plants that are culturally significant (Manzanita, Tan Oak, Coastal Sagebrush)and many are apparently threatened in the City’s latest policy iteration. That is just one of innumerable reasons why extensive CEQA review is necessary.
We must balance the unpredictable threats from climate change and current land use patterns by creating policies that do not exacerbate other natural disasters resulting from excessive vegetation removal, such as loss of carbon sinks, extinction, flooding and landslides.
Protecting our existing natural resources besides our homes and businesses must be a part of these policies if we are to maintain resilience of our communities, keep informed and engaged through adaptive management and education while restoring and maintaining the ecosystem functions we are all dependent upon. To do this thoroughly we must have fire ecologists involved who are familiar with the latest science.
Since the recent catastrophic fires in the state, we are challenged with rethinking our fire mitigation programs and public information literature such at Contra Costa County’s.
Contra Costa County Prepared by Diablo Fire Safe Council In conjunction with the Contra Costa County Fire Chiefs Association Hills Emergency Forum Stakeholder Committee Members.
Upfront, they acknowledge the different and diverse ecotones as well as their federally designated critical habitat for nine species:
Vegetation and Wildlife Habitat The vegetation and wildlife habitats of Contra Costa County [and Mill Valley] consist of many ecological communities including:
- Grass dominated communities: predominantly annual grasslands dominated by grasses and forbs, but also areas of native grassland, alkali grasslands (where grasslands overlay alkali soils) and ruderal (disturbed areas with sparse typically weedy non-native vegetation).
- Oak savannah, where tree cover is 5-10% and shrubs are sparse, can also be classified in these grass dominant areas.
- Shrub dominated communities: wet north coastal scrub (northeast facing scrub or north coastal Franciscan scrub); dry north coastal scrub (southwest facing scrub or coyote brush-sagebrush scrub; manzanita-chinquapin chaparral; emergent coyote brush scrub.
- Forest or woodland communities: oak woodland (often with 100% tree canopy cover); mixed evergreen forest (with California Bay, madrone and foothill pine); transition between oak woodland and mixed evergreen may be gradual with live oaks as common co-dominants.
- Riparian woodland/ scrub associated with streams and permanent water sources. May contain understory of shrubs and forbs. Wetlands, both permanent and seasonal, as well as aquatic habitats are also found in the county.
- Non-native communities: eucalyptus forest; Monterey/ bishop pine forests; predominantly non-native grasslands; broom.
In 2010 when the Wildland Urban Interface Code 4291 State law was in its comment period under consideration the California Native Plant Society and State Water Board weighed in. We are in agreement with their policy recommendations as they apply to vegetation management and water quality protection in Mill Valley.
Natural resources such as water quality, hydrology and hydrogeology, native vegetation, wildlife habitats, and the integrity of our hilly domain must be considered in addition to building materials and design, landscaping and land use zoning while developing fire mitigation plans. Because fire is inevitable, rebuilding and re-vegetation policy guidelines that reduce future threats must be considered for post-fire implementation. 
The status quo of today’s land use paradigms must be rethought on a basic level if we are to build resilience into built and natural systems. The City of Mill Valley and Planning Departments must institute strong slope ordinances, limit the size of homes and protect the existing population before further densification of the town occurs. Vilifying certain species of trees and plants without understanding their contribution to rare habitats and biomes, such as Cupressus Sargentii, is to serpentine habitat is unscientific and destructive.
Pictures of entire blocks show only homes burned and tall, perhaps, Eucalyptus surrounding them unscathed. Reexamining the plant lists as suggested by Steven Swain, Environmental Horticulture Advisor UCCE Marin and Sonoma Counties is advised before codifying a plant list that appears to be wholly deficient and devoid of science, contradictory, lacking data sources and inherently dangerous to wildlife, cultural resources, ecosystem function, hydrologic function and biodiversity.
The most flammable things in the neighborhood are the homes not the trees.
The California and U.S. natural resource codes have provisions for riparian and wetland protections that are not mentioned or distributed in the public literature for fire clearance standards. The existing literature which is over-simplified and that fails to address geomorphology, topography, streams and wetlands, critical habitat has the potential to be misleading and have serious consequences related to public safety,watershed function, water quality, soil stability, biodiversity, flooding, erosion and critical wildlife habitat. “Compliance with specific riparian and hydrologic regulations is required and federal land management activities must improve or maintain channel shade as well as sustain sediment levels and stream channel temperature.”  (Fire Science Brief, March 2010, Page 3.)
There are County provisions and protections through watercourse and stormwater run off ordinances limiting vegetation removal in stream conservation areas that extend anywhere from the creek banks out to 150 feet from a creek. The City has a 30 foot Creek Setback ordinance. Additionally, under the Clean Water Act,there are state and federal regulations to this end. Some vegetation removal in these zones require permitting.
Mill Valley’s recognition of only extremely mature trees nullifies any potential of generational succession and protection of plant communities.Of the many inconsistent municipal tree ordinances throughout Marin, thirty-six species of native trees (many that are riparian) are protected by the County on undeveloped parcels and only three of those trees may be removed from a developed property in a given year. Larger heritage trees would require permitting for removal.Oak woodlands have even more specific treatment allowances. Smaller native trees are the hope for future regeneration and habitat and important for natural succession and restoration.
Large snags (dead trees) provide significant habitat to multiple animals and birds and should not automatically be cut down without a biological recommendation – worth as much dead as alive.Dusky footed wood rats with their huge stick mound nests provide primary food for endangered Northern Spotted Owls. There are ambiguities that require careful consideration with expert biological assessments for reconciling ecological balance before outreach and education material is disseminated.
As such, we hope the city council and fire department take the opportunity to inform all within the city jurisdiction, officials, the public and fire fighters that we must simultaneously:
- Take care of the streams and wetlands and wildlife while managing fire risk through vegetation removal.
- Do not cut vegetation that would in any way damage the integrity of the riparian zone and its functions.
- Do not cut vegetation during peak nesting season, from late February through August, as it could be a federal violation of the federal Migratory Bird Act. Do not cut vegetation from the ground to 6-foot level where many birds nest in riparian zones during this same period of time.
Deforestation from development patterns, canopy tree and riparian vegetation removal has occurred in Mill Valley. Intense land development along bay draining creeks have lost species of fish once plentiful: Coho salmon (extirpated) and Steelhead trout (hanging on by a thread), as a result of stream augmentation. Flooding has increased exponentially since the 1940’s and linked to development, hardscaping, resulting in loss of tree canopy, increased stormwater runoff, lost groundwater recharge and channelized streams. The planting of native non-pyrophytic and habitat enhancing trees such as redwoods and their plant communities would be an encouraging start.
According to the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board, “Primer on Stream and River Protection for the Regulator and Program Manager,” extracted from Table 2 Pages 56 and 57: Potential Effects of Major Land Use Activities and increased vegetation removal, Soil Exposure or Compaction, Hard Surfacing in riparian zones results in:
- Homogenization of landscape elements leading to a reduction in biodiversity;
- Nonpoint source pollution ;
- Dense compacted soil ;
- Increased upland surface runoff;
- Increased sheetflow w/surface erosion rill and gully flow;
- Increased peak flood elevation;
- Increased flood energy;
- Decreased infiltration of surface runoff;
- Decreased interflow and subsurface flow;
- Reduced ground water recharge and aquifer volumes;
- Increased depth to ground water;
- Decreased groundwater inflow to stream;
- Increased flow velocities;
- Increased or decreased stream stability;
- Increased stream migration;
- Channel widening and downcutting;
- Increased or decreased flow frequency;
- Reduced flow duration;
- Decreased capacity of floodplain and upland to accumulate, store and filter materials and energy;
- Increased levels of sediment and contaminants reaching stream;
- Reduced stream capacity to assimilate nutrients/ pesticides;
- Increased streambank erosion and channel scour;
- Increased Bank Failure;
- Increased in stream sediment, salinity and turbidity;
- Increased in stream nutrient enrichment, siltation, and contaminants leading to eutrophication;
- Highly fragmented stream corridor with reduced linear distribution of habitat and edge effect;
- Loss of edge and interior habitat;
- Decreased connectivity and width within the corridor and to associated ecosystems;
- Decreased movement of flora and fauna species for seasonal migration, dispersal and population;
- Increase of opportunistic species, predators and parasites;
- Increased exposure to solar radiation, weather and temperature extremes;
- Magnified temperature and moisture extremes throughout the corridor;
- Loss of riparian vegetation;
- Decreased source of in stream shade, detritus, food and cover;
- Loss of vegetative composition structure and height diversity;
- Increased water temperature;
- Impaired aquatic habitat diversity;
- Reduced invertebrate population in stream;
- Loss of associated wetland function including water storage sediment, trapping, recharge and habitat;
- Reduced in stream oxygen concentration;
- Invasion of exotic species;
- Reduced gene pool of native species for dispersal and colonization;
- Reduced species diversity and biomass.
Table 2 Potential Effects of Major Land Use Activities, And other Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts that has the potential for indirect consequences of in riparian zones from increased Vegetation Removal, Soil Exposure or Compaction, Hard Surfacing in riparian zones results:
- Point source pollution
- Reduced stream meander
- Decreased capacity of stream to accumulate and store or filter materials and energy
In addition, the excess removal of vegetation on steep slopes can cause slope failure and landslides, mudslides and increased flooding potential downstream.Reduction of vegetation also causes soils to dry faster and creates decreased fuel moisture content of existing vegetation and thus increases flammability. It raises water temperature negatively impacting endangered and threatened salmonids and other species. Depletion of surface water and groundwater that is dependent upon infiltration and shade loss leading to water temperature increases will also adversely impact animal species and protected critical habitat for salmonids. Dispersion of rain by trees protects steep hillsides from erosion and assists in year round creek flows.
Many, many magnificent native trees have been either cut down or limbed up over 60 feet, entire hillsides above creeks stripped bare of any vegetation, creeks have become clogged with sediment, in ill-informed responses to the dictates of the fire clearance code. Though this may not be the fire department’s intent, it is happening on a large scale throughout the area. There are many examples of these destructive activities throughout the town.
Other concerns include:
- The Ordinance fails to provide any environmental review under CEQA, the Endangered Species Act or Clean Water Act.
- One of the most challenging aspects of the vegetation ordinance are its numerous conflicts with the 2040 General Plan with regard to Climate Action and the Natural Environment sections. After careful review it appears that instead of providing an educated foundation for creating sound policies, the Council and Fire Department have merely reacted to a general reactivity around the issues. We would ask that the City take the approach that Alameda and Contra Costa County have with their measured publications.
- The ordinance may be in conflict with best management practices in riparian corridors, endangered and threatened species protections, the federal migratory bird act and appears to have a lack of information with regards to the significance of native plants, their direct fire resiliency in ecosystem function. What is missing from the vegetation ordinance is the obvious discussion that no one wants to address but has been brought up in the IJ paper, the size, location and density of large homes (many new ones with flat roofs) in a very high-risk area and the impacts to property rights.
- The City leaders and residents have not done enough to decrease the amount of traffic and cars. By allowing large homes to be built that require service workers to travel back and forth daily, this directly equates to increased traffic and risk issues with these decisions and with greater risk to the entire community.
- Because of climate change and the inevitability of fire, certain important actions have been completely overlooked:
- All homes should be required to have an automatic gas shutoff valve for earthquake and in the event of a fire.
- The City should work with insurance companies and the power company to underground power lines wherever it is feasible.
- The City must immediately further these extremely important risk reduction issues.
- Excessive removal of trees and vegetation will result in significant light and noise pollution having effects on the character of the community and wildlife survival.
- Nowhere in the ordinance or staff report are indications that goats, sheep and other grazers be reintroduced and people with large properties should allowed to have them permanently. They were on our property and they were hands down the most efficient way to deal with excessive vegetation.
- Almost every decision the city has made with regard to hillside and WUI development in the last 30 years has put the community at greater risk.Mill valley is a box canyon with tiny narrow roads and impossibly dense development.The city’s homes and cars are the most flammable items in the landscape.
- Now is the time and opportunity to limit the size and location of all homes moving forward and this is relegated to the Council and Planning Department.
- Instead of taking the hard approach to protect the legacy and existing residents, all are threatened by bad policies.
- As a result, the Vegetation Management ordinance contains misinformation and are a diversion from where many real issues remain.
- We’d like the City to stop putting the onus of the above threats and hazards on homeowners before the City is willing to look at how it may assist in these matters.
- The Sargent Cypress is a relatively rare native tree that should not be on the Cypress removal list.Bay and Douglas Fir are primary trees in our biome and watershed. The Pyrophytic - Non-Pyrophytic plant list that is being used for referral in the Ordinance is 21 years old and scientifically outdated and current information may refute several of those conclusions.
- We understand the vulnerability of fuel against the sides of buildings and generally support the 3’ hardscape rule however, older homes that rely on this vegetated root system for hillside stabilization must be considered. And a more detailed research might yield a host of other aesthetically pleasing native plant solutions adapted to deep shade and other microclimates.
- The vegetation ordinance ignores, microclimates, mycorrhizal connectivity, in plant communities that facilitate subterranean water distribution, the significance of riparian corridors for wildlife, water quality, soil health and biodiversity.
- Unverified misinformation has quickly spread, even at the level of the Council.Certain trees and plants are misrepresented as if they might explode on sight, ignoring the resilience of most native plants that are fire adaptive as an important part of their ecology, i.e. seeds germinate in fire.
- Additionally, in spite of the known fire risk the City has allowed numerous homes to be built with flat roofs that increases the likelihood of catching fire from burning embers. They have allowed the community to become denser in the WUI, fearful of lawsuits.All are at greater risk from this inattention and avoidance of the obvious increasing fire threats from climate change – and where an entire chapter is dedicated in the 2040 General Plan.
- California Native Plant Society FIRE RECOVERY GUIDE must be consulted in order to understand the interconnectedness of plant communities. Initial Post-Fire Checklist for Land Care Decision Flow Diagram for Post-Fire Management, Soil Erosion Control Four Tips to Combat Soil Erosion, Straw Mulching Guidelines, Post-Fire Care and Recovery of Trees, Especially Oaks Join the Effort and Re-Oak, Seeding vs. Natural Regeneration Tips for Native Plant Gardening and Restoration, Invasive Plants, Important Notes on Seeding Grasses Following Wildfire, Special Plants and Ecosystems of the Region Baseline Vegetation Maps, Rare Plant Species, CNPS Rare Plant Treasure Hunt, Rare Plants of Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma Fire Areas, Fire Awareness and Preparedness in the Future Questions About the North Bay Area Fires of 2017.
- Vital information is missing from the ordinance and supporting materials and the lack of scientific input is striking regarding native plant post fire resiliency, ecosystem function that enhances and supports higher fuel moistures in plant communities through soil, vulnerability of modern buildings with flat roofs, interrelationships between plants and trees.
- Where we support the formation of an ad-hoc committee it would be better and for the sake of transparency if the entire council were to approve those decisions since the Mayoral position is a rotating one. Furthermore, it seems questionable that a political figure would be in a position to appoint potentially unqualified citizens who may not be scientific or legal experts and thus may put the community at greater risk. Lacking any criteria for appointment we are therefore, not in favor. Some experts from outside the City might be unbiased and qualified to serve. Attachment 2.
- Requiring a homeowner to hire a biologist to write an environmental review and provide mitigation and pay the cost of removing trees seems extremely burdensome financially and unfeasible for those on fixed incomes.
- The ad hoc committee does nothing to minimize the most flammable items in our environment, our homes. The City desperately needs to stop allowing building of large and flat roofed homes on steep hillsides.
- Plants must be considered for their contribution to the environment. The trajectory of the ordinance is simply so black and white in its assessment of vegetation as to be implausible and irrelevant.
- Removing pyrophytic plants that may be the only plants that would survive and regrow after a fire is incredibly shortsighted and does nothing to further the notion of BMPs, stabilize hillsides or prevent catastrophic landslides.
- Item 5, BMPs under the Federal Bird Nesting and Migration Acts already exist.There is no interference with existing nests or birds allowed. Furthermore, the City already has in its code. There is also the Endangered Species Act which is not mentioned. Best Management Practices already exist for Plant removal, erosion control, soil and slope stability.
- The MV 2040 General Plan of Mill Valley indicates the protection of its natural resources as a primary goal, yet the vegetation ordinance as written actually will adversely impact Mill Valley’s natural resources, endangered and threatened species and their critical habitat and generational succession of native plants and plant communities.
Maintain a diversity of vegetation types and wildlife habitats on the remaining open space lands, keeping the grasslands free of brush encroachment and protecting woodlands and chaparral, thereby limiting the increased threat of fire in the wildland urban interface (WUI) zone while preserving and enhancing the biodiversity and protection of our natural resources. p. 116. Natural Environment” MV 2040
- There is a lack of protection for important wildlife and riparian corridors.
The typically complex structure of riparian communities, as well as their proximity to water, makes them important habitat features for wildlife. Riparian corridors are commonly used by wildlife as contiguous features that allow movement and access amongst otherwise fragmented habitat. Movement corridors also provide cover from predators, allowing birds, bats, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles to move or migrate throughout the region. Native wildlife species that may be observed in riparian habitat in Mill Valley include red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), California quail (Callipepla californica), tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor), barn owl (Tyto alba), Pacific chorusfrog, common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), California myotis (Myotis californicus), dusky-footed woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes), and Columbian blacktail deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbian). The North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) has also returned to Mill Valley’s watersheds. Native wildlife species recently extirpated from Mill Valley’s watersheds include Pacific pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata), California redlegged frog (Rana draytonii), foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii), Coho salmon (oncorhynchus kisutch), California freshwater shrimp (Syncaris pacifica), and sooty crayfish (Pacifastacus nigrescens)
- “Thankfully, riparian areas act as moist buffers where fires don’t typically burn severely... all the slopes are upstream of sensitive habitat for wildlife." CNPSFire Recovery Guide P. 45
- Desiccation of hillsides from loss of plant communities and loss of dry season tree rain.
- Unfortunately, the recommended removal of foundational and historic cultural and valuable habitat plants is misguided. Those include Coyote Brush, Chaparral, chemise, Manzanita, Tan Oak, Yew and Coastal Sagebrush(Lines 45-46). Mt. Tam Manzanita is a federally recognized endangered species. Unlike many of the recommended plants, those plants are almost all fire resilient with deep roots and will re-sprout after a fire, making them significantly more valuable than the undesired status given. Numerous birds, insect and terrestrial wild animal species rely on all of the above plants fruit and for cover and nesting. Tan oak is considered the most important oak to the Coast Miwok and many tribes across the northern state.Manzanita has food values for humans and wildlife. Ceonothus germinates after fires. The considered policy is unfortunate attack on a significant biome of the Coast Chaparral and Oak woodlands and its wildlife and would also impact those who find native landscapes a desirable reason for the purchase of their property.
- The soil and fungi community that evolved here are fire resilient plants that have very deep root systems that sequester carbon. The leaf and stem part of a plant are not isolated from its biological function in a complete ecosystem.
- The wholesale removal of native plants and trees that carry the genetic material from millennia of evolution must be stopped and instead require protection.
- The implication of native plant removal and degradation of the natural world that we inherited, will make scarce, that which has intrinsic value and instead should be protected and understood.Instead it should be considered a gift to future generations….so they might experience the natural world, devoid of human interference and technology. And the fact is that many technologies evolve from our understanding and discovery of the natural world’s functional and aesthetic design inspires art, music, poetry, spirituality and creativity.
- The point at which we devalue the evolved state of plants that supported human and animal life and enrich soil and increase carbon sequestration in Mill Valley for thousands of years is a sorry state, indeed.
- Numerous officials, the newspaper and citizens of Mill Valley believed that the ordinance had been passed on August 5, 2019. Following that and for two weeks and until it was published that, yet another public hearing was to be held on September 5, that was the general consensus and is reiterated in numerous letters submitted to the City. This process does not appear to be very transparent.Is the final copy the one published on the City website and in the staff report? Or, are there even further edits and amendments that one cannot reasonably find or respond to? Is this process procedurally sound?
- Why did the City knowingly let so many extremely large homes be built on steep hillsides with narrow access roads and on the damaged flood plain very close together when they had known better? Concerned citizens have repeatedly asked for consideration of these threats to public safety. And now, we must all bear the burden of those decisions to put tax money over community safety and biodiversity.
- The personal cost and burden of the ordinance led many to suggest developing a public grant fund to assist low and fixed-income homeowners. Without assurances that these funds will be monitored for a specified period of time what assurances will there be that the public’s investment had any impact. An approximate 12 acre parcel on Panoramic Hwy. in Mill Valley is an example of a twice cleared property awarded a combined $145,000 public grant in approximately 2007 and later from Fire Safe Marin, and now show completely overgrown landscapes and when no one else in the neighborhood ever received any grant funding. Within a the past 5 years, the entire property is overgrown with invasive and pyrophytic species of pampas grass, scotch and French broom, acacia and Monterey pine. The owner did not maintain the very expensive clearing job. In fact, the FireSafe Marin grants were given out behind closed doors and with no public process.
- There are numerous instances that show that land that is cleared and not maintained is a host for highly invasive species of broom, pampas grass, gorse, acacia and other weeds. See attached pictures.
- The county protects 36 species of native trees at small size (see page 22) – the City only 4 species at very large size making genetic succession and habitat continuity unlikely and threatened.
- Goats and other ungulates were once a significant part of Mill Valley’s past way of holistically maintaining low fuel loads. We must bring them back and allow large properties to have them 24/7. They are the most efficient, sustainable and ecologically safe way to maintain low fuel loads while enriching soil and preventing the extensive use of carbon emitting engines.
- There is no mention of the flammability of wooden fences and a move to remove those.
- Contra Costa County’s community plan should be considered before this ordinance is rolled out. They did a great job.
- As for the specifics: Succulents do not grow in the deep shade of much of the canyon homes, but other non-pyrophytic plants will.
- Bay trees are said to be non-pyrophytic according to the Mill Valley Website and yet on all on public lands are to be removed. However, the CDFW will need to be consulted because removing riparian trees Code 1600 of the State Natural Resources Code. Impacts to Water Quality must be assessed before this ordinance can be considered therefore requiring environmental review.
- Bay trees (Umbellularia Californica) are significant native and riparian trees. “California Bay Laurel trees are also fairly fire resistant if kept well hydrated in the same way.” City of Mill Valley Website.
- They are part of the fabric of Marin’s riparian biome and provide food, weaving materials, shade and significant retention of soils on steep slopes. The excessive removal of Bay trees would have the negative effect of undermining steep hillsides and damage riparian areas and water quality. Plus the trees take 20 years to mature to produce nuts, where approximately only one in 100 will do so and whose diminishment will have a detrimental effect on wildlife: deer, squirrels, raccoons, dusky footed wood rat (the main food source of the endangered Northern Spotted Owl). Therefore, consideration of retaining nut producing trees is imperative or impacts to an endangered species will occur. The CNPS considers Bay laurels to be fire tolerant.
- The list of forbidden vegetation is outdated and includes many non-natives leading to further losses of biodiversity. Further, it does not work to understand the current science of soil and bio-communication that occurs in forests where trees support their offspring and surrounding plant communities.
- Fungi communities, imperative to supporting healthy soils and add to the fuel moisture and forest health through mycelial pathways. Much of Mill Valley is ancient forest whose progenitors exist today from the mother trees.
- Mature Douglas Firs are prime habitat trees for numerous endangered and threatened wildlife and an integral part of the Redwood and mixed conifer biomes. Northern spotted and other owls use mature trees for nesting.
- There are federal laws that protect the critical habitat of Northern Spotted Owls and numerous other listed species in Mill Valley.
- As for prohibiting Eucalyptus.... the trees on Panoramic gather enormous amounts of tree rain during fog events and moisten all the surrounding soils and plants. They are substituting functions for what would have been a primal redwood forest.
- Lastly, the miles of Mill Valley’s boundary are shared by multiple jurisdictions who have not been consulted or considered before this rush to roll out this plan. This is significant when we share and are connected by the same watershed... Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio and Richardson Bay. Yet, all those jurisdictions will impact Mill Valley and Mill Valley will impact them. Numerous requests from residents have asked for multi-jurisdictions to be involved in any policies moving forward and since wildlife does not see or honor boundaries.
Click on image to enlarge
Efforts to provide more holistic education material that addresses vital issues related to fire threat mitigation are imperative. Some of these additional recommendations should include: to cover all openings, vents, fireplaces and gutters on homes with wire mesh, enclose exposed eaves, remove and replace synthetic upholstery fabrics and certain synthetic window treatments that have low melt and ignition temperatures with fibers that have higher ignition points.
Given the lessons learned from recent California fire catastrophes, our fire departments along with fire ecologists and local government must develop more comprehensive educational literature that reflects our terrain, streams and diversity of biomes and ecotones, geology, wildlife and plant communities.
Laura Chariton, M.A. Riparian Policy, President Watershed Alliance of Marin
CC:Supervisor Damon Connolly, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, Supervisor Kate Sears
 CWPP UPDATE Community Wildfire Protection Plan Contra Costa County County Prepared by Diablo Fire Safe Council In conjunction with the Contra Costa County Fire Chiefs Association Hills Emergency Forum Stakeholder Committee Members
 Section 1: County Information – 1.4, 1.5 http://www.diablofiresafe.org/pdf/2014-Draft_Contra_Costa_County_CWPP_Update.pdf
 Primer in Stream and River Protection for the Regulator and Program Manager Technical Reference Circular W.D. 02-#1, San Francisco Bay Region California Regional Water Quality Control Board April 2003. Pages 56 and 57
 California Native Plant Society magazine Fremontia https://www.cnps.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Fremontia_Vol38-No2-3.pdf
 https://www.firescience.gov/projects/briefs/05-2-1-19_FSBrief100.pdfMarch 2010 Page 3.
 Marin County Tree Ordinances, Page 3. https://www.marincounty.org/-/media/files/departments/cd/planning/currentplanning/publications/factsheets/treeremoval_fs.pdf
MV 2040 General Plan, Page 153. “Climate change is caused by an increase in the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Potential climate change impacts in Northern California include declining water supplies, spread of disease, diminished agricultural productivity, sea level rise, and increased incidence of wildfire, flooding, and landslides. Like many communities, Mill Valley is addressing these potential impacts by thinking differently about its resources, taking actions to reduce the community’s contribution to greenhouse gas production, and identifying strategies to allow the community to adapt to potential foreseen changes.”
Bingham, Marcus & Simard, Suzanne. (2011). Do mycorrhizal network benefits to survival and growth of interior Douglas-fir seedlings increase with soil moisture stress?. Ecology and evolution. 1. 306-16. 10.1002/ece3.24.
“We conclude that Douglas-fir seedling establishment in laboratory conditions is facilitated by [mycorrhizal network] MN potential where Douglas-fir seedlings have consistent access to water. Moreover, this facilitation appears to increase as water stress potential increases and water transfer via networks may play a role in this. These results suggest that conservation of MN potential may be important to forest regeneration where drought stress increases with climate change.”
 http://www.cityofmillvalley.org/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=24584Figure 56 Map of endangered and threatened plant species MV2040 General Plan Page 125.
Figure 5.7 Map of Critical Wildlife Habitat Page 126.
California Native Plant Society
2707 K Street, Ste. 1 Sacramento, CA 95816-5113 (916)447-2677 FAX (916)447-2727
NATIVE PLANTS AND FIRE SAFETY POLICYAdopted by CNPS Chapter Council March 13, 2010,
The Policy Statement:
The California Native Plant Society opposes the unnecessary destruction of California’s native plant heritage for the purpose of wildfire fuel management. The California Native Plant Society supports protecting human lives, property and California’s native plants from poor fuel management practices. California’s superbly diverse native plants are its most valuable resource for erosion control and water conservation, and are vital to the long-term health of California.
To provide an authoritative policy that California Native Plant Society and others can use to persuade legislators and regulators to approve fire-safe practices that maximize conservation of native plants and native plant ecosystems, while protecting citizens, firefighters and property.
Supporting Materials Rationale:
Siting development in or adjacent to native plant communities increases the risk to structures from wildfire, the potential for additional human-caused ignitions, and the need for more fuel management. The best land-use planning practices minimize placing development in locations that increase the risk of property exposure or of ignitions. The best fire-safe building codes reduce the risk of the structure being ignited, or spreading fire, in a wildfire.
Fuel management practices to protect urban development generally have been ineffective and/or counterproductive, severely impacting that native vegetation. Public ordinances and bureaucratic regulations often require fuel-removal practices in excess of 2006 California Public Resource Code 4291, causing severe damage to native plant ecosystems without reducing wildfire risk. These requirements should be replaced with proven fuel management practices that minimize the wildfire threat and do not devastate native plant ecosystems.
California is large and diverse, and different fuel systems require different solutions for minimizing the impacts of fuel management and fire control practices on native vegetation. That diversity, as exemplified in two cases noted here, require the development of implementation guidelines that fit the affected area.
• In some areas, especially shrub lands, shortened fire-return cycles have converted native plant communities into non-native grasslands. These faster-burning invasive non-native plant species in turn fuel early-season wildfires, preventing regrowth of native vegetation and diminishing resource value.
• In certain forested areas, wildfire-suppression has caused a lengthened fire-return cycle, which can allow an accumulation of dead material and an increased likelihood of high-intensity wildfires. This modification of natural cycles has led to losses in native forest species diversity, erosion, increased wildfire management costs, and greater risks to property and people.
The California Native Plant Society supports:
• Fuel management plans that minimize the risk to human life and property while maximizing protection of native plants and their habitats. These plans should be locally-adapted and account for all combustible materials, including building materials, ornamental vegetation, other landscaping materials, and adjacent native plant ecosystems.
• Building codes and ordinances that require structures and landscaping in high fire risk areas to be situated, constructed, retrofitted and maintained using materials and practices that minimize the ignition and spread of wildfires.
• The creation of laws, regulations and land use policies that discourage new development in areas of high fire danger.
There are many different fire environments and property-development settings throughout the state. The California Native Plant Society will develop specific guidelines for implementation, supported by current applicable fire science and botanical knowledge, to fit the particular wildfire environment and property-development patterns of a given area. These detailed guidelines will be supplemental to this policy, and can be created, modified, or removed by approval of the California Native Plant Society Chapter Council.
Definitions codified in State law or local ordinances:
Brush – All native vegetation (especially shrubs), all vegetation in undeveloped lands. Sources: California FAIR Plan 2010; Los Angeles City Fire Department 2010.
Brush areas – Wildlands, undeveloped lands. Synonyms: Brush hazard areas, brush/wildfire areas. Source: California FAIR Plan 2010.
Brush clearance – Treatments or thinning of vegetation to reduce fire hazards. Synonyms: Fire clearance, fuel clearance. Source: Los Angeles City Fire Department 2000.
California FAIR Plan – “The California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (‘FAIR’) Plan was created by state legislation in July, 1968 following the 1960’s brush fires and riots. It is an insurance pool established to assure the availability of basic property insurance to people who own insurable property in the State of California and who, beyond their control, have been unable to obtain insurance in the voluntary insurance market. The FAIR Plan is a private association based in Los Angeles comprised of all insurers licensed to write property insurance in California. The FAIR Plan is not a state agency.” Source: California FAIR Plan 2010.
Defensible space – An area extending 100 feet from a structure in which “Fuels shall be maintained in a condition so that a wildfire burning under average weather conditions would be unlikely to ignite the structure.” (PRC 4291).
The defensible space zone consists of an innermost 30 feet in which the fuels are maintained as “lean and green”, and an outermost 70 feet as the “reduced fuel zone” in which fuels are reduced, limbed up, and thinned. Sources: Cal Fire 2010a.
Public Resource Code 4291, Excerpt from General Guidelines (pages 5-6) –“C. Fuel Treatment Guidelines
The following fuel treatment guidelines comply with the requirements of 14 CCR 1299 and PRC 4291. All persons using these guidelines to comply with CCR 1299 and PRC 4291 shall implement General Guidelines 1., 2., 3., and either 4a or 4b., as described below.
1. Maintain a firebreak by removing and clearing away all flammable vegetation and other combustible growth within 30 feet of each building or structure, with certain exceptions pursuant to PRC §4291(a). Single specimens of trees or other vegetation may be retained provided they are well spaced, well pruned, and create a condition that avoids spread of fire to other vegetation or to a building or structure.
2. Dead and dying woody surface fuels and aerial fuels within the Reduced Fuel Zone shall be removed. Loose surface litter, normally consisting of fallen leaves or needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches, shall be permitted to a depth of 3 inches. This guideline is primarily intended to eliminate trees, bushes, shrubs and surface debris that are completely dead or with substantial amounts of dead branches or leaves/needles that would readily burn.
3. Down logs or stumps anywhere within 100 feet from the building or structure, when embedded in the soil, may be retained when isolated from other vegetation. Occasional (approximately one per acre) standing dead trees (snags) that are well-space from other vegetation and which will not fall on buildings or structures or on roadways/driveways may be retained.
4. Within the Reduced Fuel Zone, one of the following fuel treatments (4a. or 4b.) shall be implemented. Properties with greater fire hazards will require greater clearing treatments. Combinations of the methods may be acceptable under §1299(c) as long as the intent of these guidelines is met.
4a. Reduced Fuel Zone: Fuel Separation
In conjunction with General Guidelines 1., 2., and 3., above, minimum clearance between fuels
surrounding each building or structure will range from 4 feet to 40 feet in all directions, both horizontally and vertically. Clearance distances between vegetation will depend on the slope, vegetation size, vegetation type (brush, grass, trees), and other fuel characteristics (fuel compaction, chemical content, etc.). Properties with greater fire hazards will require greater separation between fuels. For example, properties on steep slopes having large sized vegetation will require greater spacing between individual trees and bushes. Groups of vegetation (numerous plants growing together less than 10 feet in total foliage width) may be treated as a single plant. For example, three individual manzanita plants growing together with a total foliage width of eight feet can be ‘grouped’ and considered as one plant and spaced according to the Plant Spacing Guidelines in this document.
4b. Reduced Fuel Zone: Defensible Space with Continuous Tree Canopy
To achieve defensible space while retaining a stand of larger trees with a continuous tree canopy apply the following treatments:
• Generally, remove all surface fuels greater than 4 inches in height. Single specimens of trees or other vegetation may be retained provided they are well-spaced, well-pruned, and create a condition that avoids spread of fire to other vegetation or to a building or structure.
• Remove lower limbs of trees (‘prune’) to at least 6 feet up to 15 feet (or the lower 1/3 branches for small trees). Properties with greater fire hazards, such as steeper slopes or more severe fire danger, will require pruning heights in the upper end of this range.” Source: Cal Fire. 2006
Glossary of terms:
Community – Any ecologically integrated group of species of microorganisms, plants, and animals inhabiting a given area. Source: Purves, Orians, Heller, Sadava. (1998)
Ecosystem – The organisms of a particular habitat, together with the physical environment in which they live.
Source: Purves, Orians, Heller, Sadava. (1998)
Environment – An organism’s surroundings, both living and nonliving; includes temperature, light intensity, and all other species that influence the focal organism. Source: Purves, Orians, Heller, Sadava. (1998)
Fire management – Strategies for controlling and extinguishing fires/wildfires. Source: Carle (2008).
Fire-safe landscaping – Designing a defensible space by using well-spaced fire-resistant plants and hardscape elements such as brick or stone walls to prevent heat and flames from reaching the structure. Source: SAFE Landscapes (2009).
Fuel – Any combustible material, both man-made – such as wood fences, lumber, furniture, plastic, awnings, and cloth – and vegetative – such as grass, leaves, ground litter, plants, shrubs, and trees – that feed a fire. Sources: for vegetation: Carle (2008); for man-made materials as fuel: Los Angeles City Fire Department (2000).
Fuel management – Manipulating fuels to reduce the likelihood of ignition, reduce fire behavior, and/or lessen potential damage and resistance to control. Synonyms: fuel modification, fuel reduction, wildfire fuel management. Source: Carle (2008).
Habitat – The environment in which an organism lives. Source: Purves, Orians, Heller, Sadava. (1998)
Native – Occurring naturally in an area, not as either a direct or indirect consequence of human activity; indigenous; not alien. Source: Hickman (1993). Note: Plants documented or assumed to have been in California at the advent of European exploration of the west coast of North America – around 1500 A.D. – are generally considered to be “native plants”.
Plant community – An assemblage of individuals of one to many plant species distinct in structure and composition from other adjacent such groupings. Source: Sawyer, Keeler-Wolf, and Evens (2009).
Vegetation – All the plant species in a region and the way they are arranged. Source: Sawyer, Keeler-Wolf, and Evens (2009).
Vegetation management – Manipulation of plant species by humans to attain a goal or goals such as esthetics, economics, maintenance, restoration, pest/weed eradication, and/or fuel modification. Sources: Carle (2008); Sawyer, Keeler-Wolf, and Evens (2009).
Wildland-urban interface (WUI) – The area where structures and other human development meet undeveloped wildlands and their fuels. Source: Carle (2008). Note: WUI is easy to define qualitatively but it is so site-specific that WUI cannot be used to create qualitative regulations defining the width of fuel clearance zones in general.
Source references for legal definitions and glossary of terms:
Cal Fire 2010a. Why 100 Feet? http://www.fire.ca.gov/communications/communications_firesafety_100feet.php (accessed January, 2010)
California FAIR Plan. 2010. California FAIR plan website. http://www.cfpnet.com/ (accessed January, 2010)
Carle, David 2008. An Introduction to Fire in California. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Hickman, James C. (ed.) 1993. The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Los Angeles City Fire Department, 2000. Los Angeles Fire Department Fire Hazard Reduction and Safety Guidelines. LAFD Bureau of Fire Prevention and Public Safety, Brush Clearance Unit. Van Nuys, CA.
Purves, W. K., G.H. Orians, H.C. Heller, and D. Sadava. 1998. Life: The Science of Biology, 5th Edition. Sinauer Associates, Inc. 23 Plumtree Road, Sunderland, MA. W.H. Freeman and Company, Salt Lake City, UT.
SAFE Landscapes. 2010. SAFE Landscapes, Sustainable and Fire Safe Website. http://groups.ucanr.org/SAFE/ (accessed February, 2010).
Sawyer, J.O., T. Keeler-Wolf, and J.M. Evens. 2009. A Manual of California Vegetation, Second Edition. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento CA.
Cal Fire 2006. Cal Fire Clearance Code: General Guidelines for Creating Defensible Space, February 8, 2006.
http://www.fire.ca.gov/cdfbofdb/PDFS/4291 guidelines2_23_06.pdf (accessed January, 2010)
Cal Fire 2010a. Why 100 Feet? http://www.fire.ca.gov/communications/communications_firesafety_100feet.php (accessed January, 2010)
Cal Fire 2010b. The Wildland Urban Interface Building Code Information.
http://www.fire.ca.gov/fire_prevention/fire_prevention_wildland_codes.php (accessed February, 2010).
California Codes, Public Resources Code (PRC) section 4291.
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section+prc&group+04001 05000&file4291-4299 (accessed March, 2010)
California Fire Safe Council. 2010 Homeowner’s Guide to Firewise Landscaping.
http://www.firesafecouncil.org/homeowner/index.cfm (accessed February, 2010)
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Office of the State Fire Marshal. 2010. Wildland Urban Interface Products. http://www.osfm.fire.ca.gov/strucfireengineer/pdf/bml/wuiproducts.pdf (accessed February, 2010)
Halsey, Richard W. 2008. Fire, Chaparral and Survival in Southern California, Revised and Updated, Second Edition. Sunbelt Publications, Inc. San Diego, CA.
Keeley, J.E. 1981. Reproductive cycles and fire regimes, pp. 231-277 In H.A. Mooney, T.M. Bonnicksen, N.L. Christensen, J.E. Lotan, and W.A. Reiners (eds), Proceedings of the Conference on Fire Regimes and Ecosystem Properties. USDA Forest Service, General Technical Report WO-26.
Keeley, J.E. 1991. Resilience to fire does not imply adaptation to fire: an example from the California chaparral. Proceedings of the Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference 17:113-120.
Keeley, J.E., P.H. Zedler, C.A. Zammit, and T.J. Stohlgren. 1989. Fire and demography. Pp. 151-153 in S. C.
Keeley (ed.) The California chaparral: paradigms reexamined. Science Series No. 34. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA.
Los Angeles City Fire Department, 2000. Los Angeles Fire Department Fire Hazard Reduction and Safety Guidelines. LAFD Bureau of Fire Prevention and Public Safety, Brush Clearance Unit. Van Nuys, CA.
SAFE Landscapes. 2010. SAFE Landscapes, Sustainable and Fire Safe Website. http://groups.ucanr.org/SAFE/ (accessed February, 2010).
Taylor, Alan H., and C.N. Skinner. 1995. Fire regimes and management of old-growth Douglas fir forests in the Klamath Mountains of northwestern California. Pp.203-208 in J. M. Greenlee (ed.) Proceedings – Fire Effects on Rare and Endangered Species and Habitats Conference, Nov. 13-16, 1995. International Association of Wildland Fire, Fairfield, WA.
Nesting Bird Ordinances
Mill Valley Ordinances
6.16.010 Destroy or Injure any Wild Animal
It shall be unlawful to for anyone to shoot, trap or in any way intentionally destroy or injure any wild birds and/or animals, with the exception of mice, rats, gophers, and moles, within the limits of the City of Mill Valley (Ord. 987; February 16, 1982).
6.16.020 Birds Nests-Robbing Prohibited
It shall be unlawful for anyone to intentionally destroy, rob or in any way disturb any bird’s nests in the trees, brush or grass on properties within the limits of the City of Mill Valley (Ord. 987; February 16, 1982).
6.16.030 Penalties for Violations.
Any person violating any of the provisions of this Chapter shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punishable by a fine of not more than $500.00, or by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period of six (6) months or by both such fine and imprisonment. (Ord. 987; February 16, 1982)
California State Fish and Game Code
3503 It is unlawful to take, possess or needlessly destroy the nest or eggs of any bird except as otherwise provided by this code or any regulation made pursuant thereto.
3503.5 It is unlawful to take possess, or destroy any birds in the orders of Falconiformes or Strigiformes (birds of prey) or to take, possess or destroy the nest or eggs of any such bird except as otherwise provided by this code or any regulation adopted pursuant thereto.
Title 14 Chapter 1, Section 251.1. Harassment of Animals
Except as otherwise authorized in these regulations or in the Fish and Game Code, no person shall harass, herd or drive any game or non game bird or mammal or fur bearing mammal. For the purposes of this section, harass is defined as an intentional act which disrupts an animal’s normal behavior patterns, which includes but is not limited to, breeding, feeding or sheltering. This section does not apply to a landowner or tenant who drives or herds birds or mammals for the purpose of preventing damage to private or public property, including aquaculture and agriculture crops.
703 Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act
It shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer or sale, sell, offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or export, any migratory bird, any part, nest, or eggs of any such bird, or any product, whether or not manufactured, which consists, or is composed in whole or part, of any such bird or any part, nest, or egg thereof.
Below is a progression of the same property that has been completely cleared of vegetation in five years.
2005 Approximately – There are two parcels that are represented here.
There are no existing trees or shrubs left on the property. No plants have been planted and the slope is around 40% grade with a creek on the far side of the property and wetland below.Since then, the creek below has silted up for several hundred feet and head cut (a form of erosion).The creek is a headwaters creek that flows through Mill Valley where is already an impacted water quality and there are Federally and State listed threatened species.There is no longer water retention, habitat or aesthetic value and it is impacting downstream riparian and wetland zones.
Several properties in this vicinity of Mill Valley have limbed up their trees like this.According to Mr. Ray Moritz, Certified Arborist and Consultant, this activity weakens the trees and destroys their biomechanics.These trees contain habitat to endangered species, when healthy, function as a forest providing unique ecosystem services and are known to sequester carbon at a very high rate, besides anchoring hillsides, slowing wind and rain and providing habitat.The excuse given by the homeowner of these properties is fire clearance.
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