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  • Jeffrey Siegel

Open Letter to Los Gatos Mayor Marcia Jensen and the Town Council on Wildfire Safety

As I know you are aware, Governor Newsom issued a wildfire emergency proclamation stating that homes in the WUI (wildland urban interface) are at ‘extreme risk’ from wildfires. With a majority of historic homes in Los Gatos situated in the WUI, none are at greater risk than those located in Glenridge Park. This is because of Glenridge Park’s close proximity to the mountains, the fierce winds blowing through during wildfire season, many historic homes and this neighborhood serving as the first line of wildfire defense for Los Gatos on the southwest side town, sitting between the Santa Cruz mountains and Almond Grove. And historic homes, due to materials and building style, are far more flammable than ranch or modern-built homes that adhere to present-day building codes.

In other words, if Glenridge Park burns, so will Almond Grove as the fire rapidly spreads.

The California legislature, together with Governor Newsom recently passed AB38 which offers some prescriptive guidance on what is needed to fire-harden homes in the WUI. It also states that the matter is so serious, that beginning in 2021 any home in the WUI being sold needs to come with documented full-disclosure of what has and has not been done to become fire-hardened since this is now viewed as a life-threatening liability. The fact that so many insurance companies no longer renew their fire insurance policies for homes here in Glenridge Park just adds to the pain but validates the reality.

While AB38 offers some limited future state-funding to undertake such fire-hardening projects, those funds will not be available until 2024, leaving our historic homes (and hence our entire neighborhood) vulnerable as we approach the upcoming 2020 wildfire season. The 2020 wildfire season is already being projected by fire professionals to be the most potentially dangerous of any wildfire season to date given our minimal amount of rainfall this year. We’re told to expect seeing many wildfires occurring in the Santa Cruz mountains this year, and with the strong mountain winds blowing through Glenridge Park due to our higher topology perched above the town, fire embers carried on these strong winds can quickly travel several miles to reach this exposed neighborhood. This is not theory, but today’s harsh reality.

Glenridge Park has just become designated the newest Firewise USA community in America by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), joining over 300 communities in California and over 1,700 communities across the country that clearly see the threat to human life and property. Firewise Glenridge Park/LG is building a community-wide effort, together with CalFire and Santa Clara County Fire, to address wildfire safety by targeting reductions in structural ignitability as the most effective way to reduce our risk exposure.

If even one home burns, given the powerful winds we frequently experience here during the wildfire season, it puts our entire community at risk, so the weakest link effects everyone in Glenridge Park. And we don’t want to become the next Paradise, a community the size of Los Gatos that was completely destroyed by wildfire in a geography with similar ‘perfect storm’ wildfire conditions to ours. As the Governor has stated, “the wildfire threat is real and for communities in the WUI it is imminent”.

The town council of Los Gatos has seen fit to accept state-provisioned funding to undertake vegetation fuel management. along the highway 17 corridor. This meager start does nothing whatsoever to make the Glenridge Park neighborhood safer. The good news is that California’s Historic Preservation Act provides for wildfire safety funding we can access today, to fire-harden our most flammable historic homes, and to lower vegetation fuel nearest these homes.

For these reasons, we implore the town council to promptly vote to adopt the Mills Act, opening the door for homeowners to access the state-provisioned funds that California wants us to use to improve wildfire safety and preserve history from being destroyed by fire. If started today, we could make measurable fire safety improvements before the next wildfire season but time is running out. Fortunately, Mayor Jensen has the authority to enable a final vote on adopting the Mills Act by including it in the town council meeting agenda. In doing so, she can get in front of the avoidable risk to lives of many Glenridge Park residents and show leadership to other communities about responsible government.

This topic is known to the rest of the town council members, all of whom live in or near a WUI-based neighborhood, and that understanding will help them support adoption of the Mills Act. Firewise Glenridge Park/LG with support from CalFire and Santa Clara County Fire, has conducted a formal threat assessment and created an action plan as required by the NFPA to make our neighborhood measurably safer from wildfires. Without access to these state-provisioned Mills Act funds, it will take years or decades to achieve what could be achieved in months with access to these funds.

At this juncture, Mayor Jensen’s support is the key to our moving rapidly to create a Firewise safer community in time for the impending wildfire season. In light of the imminent threat to life and property in the WUI, we respectfully ask Mayor Jensen to put the Mills Act vote on the town council agenda and for town council to support a quick vote for its adoption and administration. The clock is ticking loudly and the welfare of our community requires urgent action to avert a potential catastrophe as described in Governor Newsom’s Wildfire Emergency Proclamation. It’s time to apply the lessons learned from Paradise and avoid Los Gatos repeating history. Time is of the essence.

Signed - Firewise Glenridge Park/LG with support from LG Historical Society, SCC Fire & CalFire

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