July/August 2009 issue

No RBDA General Meeting in July
Next meeting:
Wednesday Nine-Nine-Oh-Nine
September 9, 2009, 7:30 PM
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room
Ice Cream Grade & Pine Flat Road

The Fire Next Time: Getting Ready

Fire season started on June 1 and peak fire season arrived June 29. With the memory of last year’s catastrophes reminding us that  we live in a fire ecology, there is a lot of activity in Bonny Doon directed at preparing for the next fire.

Calfire inspecting for  fire preparedness

With additional funding from the state, CalFire has been conducting an expanded program of “LE100” inspections in Bonny Doon between the start and the peak of fire season, aiming to help individual property owners prepare their property by establishing a 100-foot zone of defensible space, not to defend your home directly, but to defend the firefighters battling to save the home.  According to Division Chief Rich Sampson, two areas of particular emphasis this year are: 1) making certain that every home has a street number, at least 3 inches high on a contrasting background, visible from the street, and 2) making sure that all driveways and private roads have adequate clearance to pass a fire truck: 10 feet on each side of a 12-foot driveway or 18-foot private road with 14 feet of vertical clearance. A driveway is defined as serving no more than two homes; more homes make it a private road.

 The two key concepts here are defensible space and ladder fuels. Your 10-foot zone needn’t and shouldn’t be an erosion prone stretch of bare earth. You should aim to reduce fuel in the form of dead vegetation, fallen trees and branches and flammable debris in the whole zone, with a 30-foot inner zone of “Lean, Clean, and Green” plantings around structures. In other words, landscaping should be well spaced, well watered, and fire-resistant. It should be low enough that if it does catch fire, it won’t give the flames a ladder to the eaves of structures or lower branches of trees.

The same principles apply to the clearing along roads and driveways; trees, limbed well up, are fine, but privacy shrubs should be back, outside the access clearance. To break the fire ladder, the lowest branches of overlying trees and shrubs should be separated by a gap of three times the height of the underlying vegetation above the lower story of plants.

While the unusually cool and damp weather we’ve had in May and June stands in welcome contrast to last year, the late rains have allowed some grasses to reach 5 or 6 feet in height, making them especially dangerous ladder fuels. Grass that high can produce 24 to 40-foot flame fronts! When you are clearing grass, please work in the mornings and evenings, paying careful attention to relative humidity, wind, and heat. The devastating Jesusita Fire in Santa Barbara was likely started by people clearing with power tools. When you feel hot, remember that at the ground it is 15 to 20° warmer than at your head; the spark of metal against rock is all it takes to start a major blaze.

Chief Sampson says nearly all Dooners implement the suggestions from the first round of inspections by the time a second visit comes around, but citations will be issued and fines levied if problems persist through a third inspection. While fire-awareness is highest in the summer, he reminds us that vegetation management for firescaping is a year-round job. Indeed, the best time to thin and limb trees and shrubs is in the early winter. That way slash can be safely burned or chipped with time to begin composting before the next fire season.  For more information, please visit your local fire station and talk to the staff. The excellent new 2009 revision of the pamphlet “Living with Fire in Santa Cruz County,” available at the Felton CalFire headquarters, contains much useful information for mountain residents, clearly presented.

Public asked to become involved in wildfire  protection plan

The Resource Conservation Districts of Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties and the CalFire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit have begun developing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan; the first steps have been to seek community involvement through meetings this spring in Half Moon Bay and Zayante.

A Community Wildfire Protection Plan is a document that sets priorities and directions for protecting communities in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI). It is required before applying for Federal funds under the 2003 Healthy Forest Restoration Act, and provides planning direction at a level between the National and State Fire Plans and those of local communities and neighborhoods.

A century of vigorous fire suppression, following the “Year of Fire” in Montana and Idaho which led to the establishment of the National Forest Service, has lead to a staggering, unnatural fuel load in western forests. Santa Cruz County ranks 7th in the West in the size of its WUI: 58% of our forest is developed with over 16,000 homes.

The WUI is the most dangerous and expensive place to fight a fire. While no lives human lives were lost, the Martin Fire cost nearly $6 million dollars, $11,000 per acre to fight. The need for action is clear.

A CWPP is not a legal document. It does not itself supply funding. It is not a Best Management Practices Guide and does not address CEQA and EPA guidelines for sensitive habitats It is not an Emergency Response or Incident Action Plan.

At the Zayante meeting, those in attendance broke into groups by area; board members of the RBDA and Bonny Doon Fire & Rescue (BDF&R) were part of the Bonny Doon/North Coast group. After caucusing and examining maps prepared for the CWPP and available at CalFire’s Fire and Resource website frap.fire.ca.gov, we identified two areas of particular local concern: the massive fuel loads in State Parks and privately held wildlands, and the inadequate communication infrastructure exposed by the Martin Fire.

While fuel management at Wilder Ranch/Gray Whale State Park is relatively advanced, the Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell Park, the steep eastern side of Ben Lomond Mountain, and the headwaters of San Vicente Creek on Redtree Properties land north of Bonny Doon Road and west of Pine Flat are 8-12-feet deep in mostly dead brush with 2-3 feet of flammable duff under foot.

Though the system of dispatch for BDF&R and CalFire’s new Fall Creek Station at Empire and Ice Cream Grades have been a continuing issue, the communication problem extends down to the infrastructure level and up to the community level. On the one hand, there are many areas in Bonny Doon where pagers, two way radios and cell phones simply do not work, so even the most efficient system imaginable would still be ineffectual without extending coverage. On the other, while many neighborhoods have phone trees to help us look out for one another, once the power goes out and land-line phone switching equipment batteries drain, or we are evacuated, the social network falls apart and there currently is no plan for providing a local information clearing house to replace it.

Interestingly, the formal requirements for a CWPP include final sign off by three entities: County government, CalFire, and local fire districts. Without a Fire District, our community lacks a final say. To find out more about the CWPP process, and to contribute your ideas about other issues, such as access, evacuation plans, firebreaks, etc., please visit wildfireplan.blogspot.com/.

Fire team adding water, mapping, and CERT training

From new Bonny Doon Fire and Rescue Board Chair Rob Caldeira we learned of a number of new initiatives the Fire Team is pursuing this spring and summer.

First, BDF&R obtained a donation of four large water storage tanks no longer used at Santa Cruz City Public Works’ Laguna Creek pumping station. The tanks have been placed opposite Crest Ranch on upper Empire Grade, on lower Smith Grade, and at two other locations in upper and lower Bonny Doon. Once filled from tankers this summer, the tanks will significantly improve firefighting capabilities in remote areas in Bonny Doon.

Second, with federal funding, training by certified Team Engineer Steph Marr, and coordination by Teri Mehegan, Bonny Doon residents can take part in Community Emergency Response Training (CERT).  CERT’s goals are to present citizens with facts about what services will be available following a major disaster, inform people about their responsibility for preventing and mitigating disasters, teach needed lifesaving skills and their wise and proper provision and application, and to organize teams to offer immediate help to victims until professional services can be restored. The training will be offered over two weekends this summer at McDermott Station. It will include a wildland module in addition to the basic course and is free to participants, although each person must independently take a First Aid/CPR course to be certified.  For more information about CERT please visit santacruzcountycert.org. To ask questions or sign up for the Bonny Doon course please contact Teri Mehegan at teri@cyrun.com.

Third, their mapping project will locate all roads, driveways, gates, swimming pools, ponds and water tanks in Bonny Doon. When completed later this year this information will be critical in emergency situations where mutual aid from fire teams beyond Bonny Doon is required. A later phase will place blue reflective markers on roads and at water sources.

While fire is one of the most natural things in the Bonny Doon environment, preserving its rural character, by keeping the community on the land safe, requires a great effort involving State agencies, local volunteers, and ordinary citizens working together.

New Coalition Formed to Oppose UCSC Expansion

With the first draft of the EIR for the extension of City of Santa Cruz water and sewer service to UCSC’s Upper Campus expected to be issued this summer, city and county groups and individuals have come together as the Community Water Coalition (CWC) to preserve the City’s scarce water resources and forestall development of this pristine undeveloped area.

The Upper Campus, about half of the university’s 2,000 acres, stretches from the City limits, along Cave Gulch behind the private neighborhood adjacent to Empire Grade, and up further into Bonny Doon. It would be the first urban development in Bonny Doon, and is in direct conflict with the County General Plan. But of course, UCSC is exempt from local land use regulations.

Nevertheless, although it challenged the legality of the Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Committee, (LAFCO) having jurisdiction over the extension of City services to the Upper Campus, UCSC agreed to seek LAFCO’s approval as part of last year’s Comprehensive Settlement Agreement in a tangle of lawsuits with the City, County and community groups (including the RBDA) and individuals involving UCSC growth. It needs to be noted that UCSC reserved the right to re-file its suit if LAFCO rejects or restricts UCSC’s use of City water. Additionally, certain agreements to build student housing and help fund traf fic improvements would also be suspended or curtailed.

The RBDA has always been strongly opposed to any urban incursion, and joined in the legal battle mainly to try to restrict or prevent development of the Upper Campus.  On June 23 the CWC and CLUE, the Coalition for Limiting University Expansion, asked the City Council to take a more comprehensive approach to water system expansion and land use planning, including a more active role for interested citizens.  City Water Director Bill Kocher claimed that the public had many opportunities for input into the creation of the City’s Integrated Water Plan, and would have many more if the City proceeds with a plan to build a desalination plant.

CLUE also asked the City to take a more neutral role in the LAFCO application and not share half the cost of the EIR. The Council rejected this based on his legal interpretations of the settlement agreement by the City Attorney, with which CLUE and the RBDA disagree.

Your RBDA board will be closely following this critical issue for Bonny Doon and working to ensure that the forthcoming EIR thoroughly and fairly examines all the significant issues related to Upper Campus development. If you are interested in this issue or want to participate in the CWC, email the board, below.

Fish Fry as State Fiddles

As the City wrestles with its problems with water supply and demand, the implications flow all the way back to Bonny Doon. As we drive home, newly placed signs remind us of our place in the watersheds that supply the millions of gallons of water piped to the City every day. How much of that water should remain in the streams has long been a contentious issue.  The City’s historical practice of seasonally diverting all the water at their dam sites has been a detriment to downstream habitat. Regulatory agencies have sought modifications of these practices for many years. The issue came to a head when the City proposed to modify its intake structures as part of a project that also included replacement of the pipelines that transport the water to the treatment plant. The modifications require permits from the State Department of Fish and Game (DFG). DFG staff required that the City change its diversion practices before it would allow the work to proceed.

Consultants were hired and studies conducted to determine levels of stream flow that must remain to maintain aquatic habitat conditions that will increase habitat connectivity, food transport and inflow to the lagoons. This information was also needed to inform the development of the City’s federally required Habitat Conservation Plan, a process that has dragged on for 10 years. At the same time, the City allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to retain attorneys to “negotiate” with the regulatory agencies on their behalf.  While still in discussion about methods that will be used to manage sediment that inevitably accumulates behind the diversion dams, DFG staff felt it now had enough information to submit the permit applications in June but no action has been taken on them.

Update on Mountain Lion Project

To date, UCSC Prof. Chris Wilmers’s mountain lion project, which he described at the RBDA’s Jan. 14 meeting (with briefer information in the January and March Highlanders) placed telemetry collars on seven adult lions, four of them in the Bonny Doon area, three closer to San Jose, and three kittens, all in Bonny Doon.

Thanks to the quick thinking and action of a concerned RBDA Board member, a deer, tragically killed in a road accident, is now stored in the project’s freezer.  It is waiting to be put out as bait, so ‘hunters’ can collar another lion. While the freezer is now occupied, Dooners who are interested can still help the mountain lion project, which “collects continuous movement and location data from each animal,” by reporting sightings of uncollared lions to Paul Houghtaling, Dr. Wilmers’s research assistant (phoughta@ucsc.edu). Please include a description of the animal, and date and time and detailed location of the sighting.

For updates on the project, with pictures, check Chris Wilmers’s website: people.ucsc.edu/~cwilmers/

A Quieter and Safer Bonny Doon

What if Cemex decides to sell its property, and we can preserve it forever as open space? What if we can ensure that fire fuels are cleared annually in the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve?

Ambitious, audacious, visionary...of course. Possible...well, Yes!

SB 211, sponsored by State Sen. Joe Simitian and already passed in the Senate, is at press time in the State Assembly’s Local Government Committee, where it is sponsored by Bill Monning and Anna Caballero, and supported by a large and growing list of individuals and organizations, including the RBDA Board and the County’s Board of Supervisors, would enable Santa Cruz County to form an Open Space District.

Already San Mateo, Marin and Sonoma counties have this legislative ‘architecture.’ Within this framework, they have successfully preserved farm and timber lands, watersheds and streams; underwritten stewardship projects for park land that’s already protected; reached out to communities with conservation education; and funded scientific studies. These counties’ successes are models for plans in Santa Cruz.

Presuming SB211 becomes law, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County is ready to move ahead, with strength and bold determination. In early 2010 a series of community workshops, funded by the Community Foundation, will be held throughout the County, in each of the five supervisorial districts. In them, information from scientists and planners about our area’s special characteristics will be presented. The Land Trust is also preparing a website, full of even more information and maps. After this extensive educational outreach program, we citizens will then be asked what conservation projects are especially valuable to us. 

Again presuming all goes well, the Land Trust will prepare a ballot measure outlining the kinds of projects the Santa Cruz community has identified as most important.  Perhaps as early as the Fall 2010 General Election, we will be able to vote for the projects we have endorsed, to create an open space district—and we will also be asked to vote for a quarter-cent sales tax, for three years, to support them.

While initial planning for this enterprise has already been paid for by private donors (the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County), public funding is an essential component. In one year, a quarter-cent sales tax would raise approximately $8 million. More important than this hefty sum, however, are the federal and state grants that our own spending—a demonstration of Santa Cruz citizens’ willingness to support our own projects with our own dollars—will bring in. As Terry Corwin, Executive Director of the Land Trust, says, “It takes dollars to get dollars.”

Of course these are hard times. And of course everything can’t happen at once.  But maybe in these circumstances it’s especially important to think big, to have visions for the future, to believe that there are some things we can do!

RBDA Board 6/10/09 Actions
1. Approved letter to legislators supporting Santa Cruz Open Space District bill SB 211.  Unanimous.
2  Endorsed the goals of the new Community Water Coalition to limit or prevent UCSC development on its Upper Campus. Unanimous.

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The Highlander
The Rural Bonny Doon Association Newsletter
Box 551 • Felton, CA 95018

Bonny Doon's voice in preserving our special quality of life, 
The Highlander, is mailed free to Bonny Doon residents prior to the 
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 Send mail correspondence to the Highlander Editor at the above address, 
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RBDA Executive Board 
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Vice Chair
Jan Hilkert 
Ted Benhari 
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Miriam Beames
Ben Harmon 
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Marty Demare 
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Tom Hearn
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If you live in or own property within this district, roughly from Empire Grade to the ocean and from San Vicente Creek to the City of Santa Cruz border, you are eligible to be an RBDA member.

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