Sonoma County supervisors allocate $3.8 million for community fire prevention projects
Homeowner groups, nonprofit organizations and other entities looking to reduce the danger of rampant wildfire around neighborhoods and along roadways are getting their next infusion of grant money from Sonoma County.
The Board of Supervisors has allocated $3.8 million to fund a new round of community brush management projects using PG&E settlement funds.
The allocation, approved in a unanimous vote April 19, extends a grant program launched by the county last year to broaden both the scope of wildfire prevention work and the local partners involved in that work.
The projects call for such things as creating buffers along ridgelines that could help slow or halt a fire’s progress and clearing overgrown brush along roads, where human-caused fires often start.
Of the $3.8 million in new spending, the board allocated $3.3 million to fund 18 new projects throughout the county. An additional $500,000, also approved Tuesday, will support a microgrant program to help unsuccessful applicants develop their projects.
The projects funded in this latest round include prescribed grazing, shaded fuel breaks and so-called “calming zones,” all of which help clear or thin vegetation, leaving less fuel for wildfires.
The county received 38 applications for the grants between Dec. 16, 2021 and Jan. 23, 2022.
“The county continues to make huge strides in our work to lower the risk of wildfire in our communities,” said Supervisor James Gore, chair of the board. “We have a long way to go, but programs like these are instrumental in achieving our vegetation management goals.”
The program is funded by $25 million the board allocated from PG&E settlement money tied to the 2017 wildfires. Following Tuesday’s allocation, there is $14 million remaining in the settlement fund, said Kim Batchelder, the county’s vegetation management coordinator.
Batchelder raised the possibility of helping community groups connect with other grant opportunities in the state to bolster projects.
“Every year we need to get better at what we’re doing in vegetation management,” Batchelder said. “And I think we’re showing that in the projects we’re supporting this year and the process that we’ve used.”
Communities acutely aware of the accumulated fuel in their backyards welcomed the program’s launch last year, evidenced by the 90 applications the county received for the first funding round. The county approved 20 projects.
About 58% of the projects funded last year halfway complete, according to Betchelder.
They include efforts in Jenner, Cazadero, the Upper Mark West watershed and Sonoma Valley.
Though community groups scrambled to submit applications, several ran into obstacles as they tried to identify projects that met the program’s criteria and navigate the state’s cumbersome environmental regulations.
At the end of the year the board added a coordinator position ― filled by Batchelder ― to help ease the process.
On April 19, supervisors praised Batchelder’s progress in moving the program forward and expressed interest in creating a website for the public that presents all resources available for community-led projects, from creating fuel breaks to home hardening, and how to access those resources.
“We have this constellation of opportunities but not really anyone who is pulling it together and saying here is the one-stop shop, here is your entry point,” Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said.
Sonoma County’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District has been working with the county’s tech advisory committee and County Administrator’s Office to address needs, like a website, said Misti Arias, general manager of the open space district.
Arias added it is likely the district will be “proposing additional staff to support that effort.”
“It really would be wonderful to have some support in grant management and information distribution,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or email@example.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.