September 17, 2019
At their meeting on September 5, 2019, the City Council received an update on the Countywide Fire Prevention Measure from Jason Weber, Marin County Fire Chief, Bill Tyler, Novato Fire Protection District Chief and the president of the Marin County Fire Chiefs Association, and Christie Neil, Marin County Fire Battalion Chief. Tom Welch, Mill Valley Fire Chief introduced the item.
The presentation detailed how, in response to the need for a coordinated countywide coalition to prepare for wildfire risk, Marin County fire agencies and local governments have proposed creation of a new joint powers authority (JPA) agreement that could be – with voter approval – the source of improved coordination and funding for local wildfire prevention efforts. Local fire officials contend that the formation of a wildfire prevention joint powers authority will help Marin County be better prepared when wildfire strikes.
“We need to be on the same page – all the Cities, Towns, the County, as we aggressively address the risk of wildfire,” Mayor Jim Wickham said. “We have to be consistent across our communities with wildfire prevention policies and programs.”
Council received the presentation about the proposed Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority (MWPA) and the associated potential ballot measure to raise approximately $20 million per year. The MWPA would use the funds to improve and oversee programs in early wildfire detection, improved alert and warning systems, resident evacuations, vegetation management and fuel reduction, defensible space property evaluations, public education and more.
“We have been working on a new approach to coordinate wildfire prevention efforts for some time, and we’re glad that residents and partners around the county understand the urgency of this proposal,” said Tyler. “It’s necessary because fire does not respect jurisdictional boundaries. This JPA would create a sustainable financial commitment to better protect our community.”
Weber, Tyler and Neil presented to the Mill Valley City Council as part of an outreach and education effort directed at Marin Fire District Boards, Town and City Councils to share the concept and gain feedback and input on the proposal. They also shared a new website www.marinwildfire.org that has an informational video, FAQ, links to articles and associated documents.
Council thanked the presenters and expressed their interest in the measure. Councilmembers cited Mill Valley’s long history of dedicating significant resources to wildfire preparedness and prevention, funded in part by the City’s Municipal Service Tax, such as vegetation removal for emergency vehicle access, fire fuel reduction from City properties, the chipper program, and outreach, education and inspection programs. Questions discussed included how the MWPA would make funds raised accessible to Mill Valley, how the City will be represented in the JPA, and how Mill Valley will have the opportunity to participate in budget and operational decisions. The presenters received the feedback and encouraged continued participation from Council and community members as they move the proposal forward. The countywide parcel tax measure is currently under consideration for the March 2020 election to provide dedicated funding for the MWPA program.