City Manager Jim McCann
July 25, 2019
As we enter the third month of Fire Season, I’d like to share with you recent and upcoming activities related to fire prevention and preparedness. The information below is part of a new feature at City Council meetings where I will share a monthly update on City activities around fire prevention and preparedness, our Vegetation Management Program, and other fire safety initiatives.
We have a lot going on, and there is still more to do! And we cannot do it alone - Read on to find out what we have been up to, and how you can learn more and get involved.
Vegetation Management Ordinance – The City Council will review the proposed new regulations on August 5, 2019. The proposed ordinance will require structures in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) (areas where homes are built near or among lands prone to wildland fire) to have adequate defensible space based on the careful selection, placement, and maintenance of vegetation near each structure. For more information, click here.
The Chipper Program - The Chipper Program is a significant element of our Vegetation Management Program, where we bring the chipper to neighborhoods to grind up vegetation from private properties. In the past 12 months we have brought the chipper to 15 neighborhoods and removed 533 tons of vegetation. We plan to conduct the same level of service and vegetation removal in the next year. We have sent almost 4,400 mailers to residents to raise awareness of the program and to let them know how to take part. Interested in scheduling a Chipper Day in your neighborhood? Click here.
Tree Removal – With heightened attention to bird nesting season and erosion control, the City has removed 42 trees determined to be dangerous or particularly fire-prone last year. This adds up to almost 250 tons of vegetation removed. This year we have our sights on 7 very large Eucalyptus trees. We estimate that removal of these trees costs around $20,000 each due to access challenges. Many of these trees are in difficult locations, on steep slopes, and will require cranes and other advanced technical support for their removal. We have applied for many grants to State and Federal entities to support this work, and we think we stand a good chance of receiving the needed funds. If we do not, we will move forward with other plans to fund the tree removal projects. Interested in learning more about fire-safe landscaping and fire-resistant plants? Click here.
Steps, Lanes and Paths – The SLPs, as they are called, are an important part of our circulation and have a key role in emergency evacuations. We inspect, clear and make repairs to our SLPs twice a year, with our next round coming up this August. We want to acknowledge and thank our Public Works Department for their diligent work on the SLPs, as well as Friends of Mill Valley Steps Lanes and Paths for conducting monthly volunteer work projects. Interested in joining them? Check out their volunteer page for info.
Fire Fuel Reduction – We have a considerable amount of property owned by the City that we maintain and clear regularly, such as the Edgewood Reservoir and open space around the Golf Course. Through the funds attained by our Municipal Service Tax, we budget for the management of those properties and our work crews do a solid job of reducing fire fuels. Last summer the Edgewood Reservoir experienced a small grass fire that firefighters quickly contained and put out thanks to our recent fire fuel reduction efforts. We have increased our Vegetation Management funds to $1 million over a two-year period. This extra funding allows us to expand the area that we clear along our primary and secondary evacuation routes. We thank the voters for approving the ballot measure (with 77% voter approval!) in 2016 – it provides much-needed funding to support this critical service.
Protecting Wildlife – Guided by the Core Value of a healthy natural environment, the City hires a Wildlife Biologist to help us plan our vegetation work. It is important to the City that we are sure to not disturb nesting birds and other wildlife when removing vegetation. We budget $5,000 for the Wildlife Biologist to provide advice and guidance in this area.
Weed Abatement – We began inspections in May and have conducted around 2,000 of the 5,000 properties in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). We expect Fire personnel will complete the inspections by mid-August. We have had a good response from those 2,000 properties and have only had to write 35 compliance notices, which we expect will receive a quick response. We have around 20 properties that are receiving secondary letters and that may move into some enforcement actions. Learn more about inspections and other aspects of our Vegetation Management program.
Long Range Acoustic Device – We have installed 5 new sirens, known as LRADs, to provide auditory emergency alerts around town. An upgrade from our old system, we can now send audible messages that convey information and instructions. We have conducted a handful of low-level acceptance tests per tower and will begin our monthly tests the first Saturday in August Learn more.
Please stay tuned for more information about a dedication and community demonstration event tentatively scheduled for the beginning of September. What will the LRADs sound like? Click here to hear the monthly test message.
Public Outreach – We have sent out over 5,000 distinct mailings on our Vegetation Management Community Meeting in March. We sent 5,000 informational flyers on the proposed Vegetation Ordinance and public engagement opportunities. In early August, we will send around 5,000 flyers on the topic of evacuation and community refuge areas. We also are developing videos to help educate the community on this topic. We continue to conduct outreach via our City Website, our eNewsletter MVConnect, and our social media platforms. Learn more.
Countywide Effort – We have attended many meetings on the Countywide Fire Prevention Measure. This effort would create a Joint Powers Agency that would coordinate a new Countywide wildfire prevention program. Councilmembers are also involved in a comprehensive effort to take what we are doing locally in Mill Valley and extending it throughout the County.
Public Safety Power Shutoff – As you may have heard, if extreme fire danger conditions threaten a portion of the electric system serving our community, PG&E may turn off electricity in the interest of public safety. This is called a Public Safety Power Shutoff or PSPS. The City is working on a plan to prepare for and to respond to a potential PSPS, which we will share with the City Council for their review in September. We encourage all residents and businesses to begin preparations now for the possibility of a PSPS. We have links and resources available here.
The threat of a fire is very real in our community and we continue to adapt to the “new normal" facing our communities of more violent and volatile wildfires. We thank our staff and agency partners in their intensified efforts in wildfire preparedness and prevention.
Now it’s your turn – Here are some things you can do today: