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Ojai Disaster Council pushes disaster prevention and readiness plan

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Ojai Valley News photo by Grant Phillips 

Mulch pile behind Matilija Middle School possibly prone to ember sparks, as mentioned during the Ojai Disaster Council meeting. 

 

Grant Phillips, Ojai Valley News reporter

Ojai Disaster Council figured out many ways to keep Ojai Valley residents safe when disaster strikes, during a productive July 28 special meeting. One big question remains: How to pay for it all.

With only 28 employees, city government has a limited staff and finite resource, Disaster Council members noted.

Discussion centered around evacuation routes and evacuation centers for people and their animals. Newly proposed evacuation sites include Oak View Community Center, San Antonio Elementary School and Mira Monte Elementary School.

The clearing of flammable arundo plants near Creek Road and mulch piles behind Matilija Middle School was also discussed.

The recently announced Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training was noted as a way to secure volunteers, hold public workshops and events, and inform the community of different ways to prevent, manage, and navigate wildfire-based emergency plans. CERT offers free, bilingual online seminars as well as in-person training programs that can help prepare residents related to disaster response skills, fire safety, team organization, environmental hazards and disaster medical operations. Community members can register for the free online course by visiting: https://bit.ly/3BTcWyX and selecting the city they live in. To learn more about the Ventura County CERT program, visit: www.vcfd.org/cert or contact the VCFD CERT Program Manager, Capt. Robert Ashby at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Communication with Ojai residents was also key, utilizing the MyOjai app, radio stations, signage at each end of the city, social-media updates, and other alert systems.

“We have already started some of these things,” said City Manager James Vega.

The Ojai Disaster Council voted unanimously to approve these plans for the City Council to weigh in on next.

The comprehensive plan will need both city and county cooperation, which will result in an effort contingent on the communication between the Red Cross, the Sheriff’s Office, Ventura County Fire Department, Fire Safe Council, Office of Emergency Services and other city and county departments.

With such an ambitious list of proposals, financial support of the program was a main concern.

“We’re talking about millions of dollars to do the stuff we’re talking about,” said Fire Safe Council Executive Director Chris Danch.

The financial backbone of the program is anticipated to come from several possible, but not yet definitive, sources.

Danch outlined how a currently pending CAL FIRE Grant for $2.7 million could cover an estimated six distinct projects, including $764,400 for two separate programs (a fine-scale risk management program and a wildfire vulnerability and evacuation assessment), along with a $125,000 cash commitment from the Ventura County Fire Protection District. The grant has not yet been awarded and results are expected in late August or early September.

There is also a Community Wildfire Protection Plan grant that could potentially provide $150,000. This grant could potentially cover committed contractors completing hazard analysis and vegetation mapping.

Danch also mentioned taking after the Marin Fire Safe Council which has implemented a a parcel tax to help support mitigation efforts.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency grant related to the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program was mentioned by Bob Roper, Disaster Council member and former county fire chief. He described it as a potential $37 million revenue source as the grant is open on a rolling basis. But Roper also outlined the challenging nature and exclusivity of the grant, which would require a variety of council support.

Disaster Council member Bob Daddi presented another possible solution: a 1% sales tax increase for the city. Funding from the tax would go directly to the programs discussed, with any roll-over money potentially funding roads and paving projects.

Oxnard has a 9.25% sales tax, compared with Ojai’s 7.45%, and Santa Barbara has an 8.75% sales tax after the city initiated its own 1% increase in November 2017 that goes directly toward infrastructure, including police, fi re, local streets, parks and other general services.

“I cannot understand why this is not a council emergency,” said Daddi. “To mitigate the fire risk, educate the people as to what they do in a disaster, and get out. I don’t know why anything gets on council above this issue.”

With an interest from Vega and a sense of urgency from Mayor Betsy Stix, the 1% sales tax is expected to be addressed at a future City Council meeting, with a possibility of the tax being added to a future ballot.

“Now that we have a plan, we have something to sell,” said Stix. “We’re ready.”

“When we bring the plan, we’ll know costs for different things and that will give us the opportunity to talk about how we’re going to pay for it,” said Vega.

The Disaster Council also voted in favor of standardizing its meeting schedule, so they will meet the fourth Wednesday of each quarter month: January, April, July and October, at 10 a.m.

The plan and proposed meeting schedule passed with unanimous approval, with Roper absent from the vote.

Ojai City Council will address the mitigation plans along with possible funding options and future steps at its Aug. 10 meeting at 7 p.m.. The public is encouraged to attend the meeting at City Hall or via teleconference. The Disaster Council special meeting can be viewed at: https://bit.ly/3rFTWiF

A further detailed outline of the plans can also be found at: https://bit.ly/2TEntN0.

The 13 Ojai Valley Disaster Council approved mitigation plans are:

1. Identifying home-hardening guidelines.

2. Creating messaging sign boards at each end of the city.

3. Resurrecting the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

4. Ensuring a City Emergency Operations Center function for the dissemination of breaking information.

5. Increasing the scope and scale of evacuation shelters by working with the Red Cross and law enforcement agencies.

6. Creating a risk assessment of the city to provide incentives and improve insurance coverage.

7. Conduct public workshops to raise community awareness about wildfires.

8. Create an efficient alert process for emergencies.

9. Create a fuel-reduction process which would eradicate invasive species.

10. Utilize CERT volunteers to perform wildfire maintenance and mitigation inspections.

11. Have the Disaster Council approve these actions and move them onward to City Council.

12. Conduct a community readiness event (completed May 27).

13. Discuss the possibility of hiring a contractor to manage action steps and partner with the county Office of Emergency Services.

 

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