- Jeffrey Siegel
Funding Firewise Glenridge Park in Los Gatos – where will the funds come from?
While all homeowners living in single-family homes in Los Gatos have high property values, some are better financially equipped to invest in fire safety than others. Many residents have lived in their historic homes for a long time, live on a fixed income, and are essentially ‘house poor’. Yet their inability to fund needed fire safety improvements puts not only themselves but their neighbors at heightened risk.
So how do we secure the funding for these projects when many residents are living on fixed incomes and lack the financial resources to improve their safety and that of the entire neighborhood? Remember, if one house goes up in flames its likely to spread to adjacent homes, especially in sections of town with high winds and small lots tightly packed together as is often the case in our historic neighborhoods.
The good news, is that there are two funding sources to assist homeowners participating in the Glenridge Park Firewise program.
The first is from new legislation that was enacted in the fall of 2019, AB38 which seeks to address the core issue of structural ignitability, and sets aside $150M of state funding to provide some financial assistance when it goes into effect in 2021. This program will apply to all homes throughout the state residing in the WUI, not just historic homes. Participating in the Firewise Glenridge Park program, which provides the homeowner with excellent documentation of what is needed to fire-harden each home, improves homeowners’ chances of getting a slice of those limited funds.
The second, and far better source for quickly and fully accessing wildfire safety related funding, if you are a homeowner of a historic property, is through the California Historic Preservation Act known as the Mills Act. Fortunately for historic homeowners, the preservation (including from fire) of its historic homes is protected under the California state law known as the Mills Act, named after Senator James Mills, who initiated this legislation to initially save the historic Hotel Del Coronado from demolition. Today the Mills Act has been adopted by over 100 towns throughout the state who already enjoy its economic benefits (including increasing an entire neighborhood’s value) and Los Gatos is about the last historic town left in the great state of California to not have embraced its vast economic and public safety benefits
If your home was built pre-1941 (per Los Gatos town definition of a historic home), the state will assist you (once LG town council adopts the Mills Act) in funding 100% of costs to fire-harden your home through financial reimbursement of the money you have expended in the form of lowered property taxes. Even better, the town council can choose to allow property tax reduction upfront in advance of undertaking the fire-hardening improvements that will help to preserve our historic homes in Los Gatos.
Unfortunately, the historic homeowners of Los Gatos have been prevented from accessing the Mills Act economic and life-saving funds due to Mayor Marcia Jenson steady efforts to block its adoption which requires a simple yes vote by the town council. This is despite the fact that the Los Gatos town code stipulates that all possible actions e taken to protect our historic properties from threat of decay and demolition (and fire).
Yet the Mills Act remains the perfect funding source to make Glenridge a far safer neighborhood from the growing ravages of wildfires, and support the Firewise Action Plan for Firewise Glenridge Park/LG. If there was ever a compelling time and reason for the town council to vote to adopt it, the time is now. But Mayor Jenson controls the agenda of the town council and has chosen to keep the Mills Act vote off the agenda, effectively preventing the other town council members, who are in favor of it, from voting it in. Only the collective voices of our historic neighborhood residents acting in unison will turn the tide on compelling Mayor Jenson o take wildfire safety seriously and to stop blocking access to these state provisioned funds. In contrast, nearly all the communities in Marin have adopted the Mills Act and have thus been able to use the funding to create safer Firewise communities. Unlike our present Los Gatos mayor, their town councils fully understand the seriousness of proactively addressing the wildfire issue before it’s too late. And as the Governor’s Wildfire Emergency Proclamation states – the threat is imminent!
Firewise Glenridge Park/LG, working in concert with the Governor’s Office, the state’s Historic Preservation Office, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Fire Protection Association, Santa Clara County Fire, and CalFire is now re-petitioning the Mayr Jenson to finally take wildfire safety seriously, and to adopt the Mills Act to allow homeowners access to the funding that would support making the Glenridge Park neighborhood an effective line of first defense against wildfires for our town. The cost of inaction, to lives and property is unconscionable and the threat is imminent (Governor Newsom and CalFire’s assessment) and growing with the next wildfire season now shaping up to be potentially the most dangerous on record. If the Mills Act adoption is voted on and passed in March, homeowners could begin to quickly tap into the funding that would give them a few precious months to act before the 2020 wildfire season is in full blaze.