Close to Home: Wildfires, resiliency and California’s future
This coming week, regional, state and business leaders from the public and private sectors will gather in Santa Rosa for the California Economic Summit to discuss economic opportunities for our state, as well as remedies for issues facing California. Of particular interest to me is the topic of building resiliency in the face of natural disasters such as the wildfires that devastated our community last year.
As chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, I look forward to leading a discussion on how we create sustainable, resilient communities up and down the state. Specifically, this involves the new Wildfire Safety Act, Senate Bill 465, which fits well into the agenda developed by Economic Summit co-conveners California Forward and the California Stewardship Network. The gathered leaders will be setting priorities for state and regional action on a number of fronts.
One of those fronts will focus on understanding the new wildfire law recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, which grants broad access to much-needed, low-interest financing for fire preparedness. Now, more Californians can take steps to upgrade properties and use fire-resistant materials and designs that previously were cost-prohibitive to most homeowners.
An effective tool like this to help everyone be better prepared can only help our communities and our state overall. With environmental challenges on the rise throughout the state, preparedness is essential to strengthening California's homes and businesses to protect valuable assets.
In 2017, wildfires cost California more than $500 million and dozens of lives. The destructive blazes show no sign of slowing, and the fires now burning in Butte and Ventura counties are the latest examples. The average area burned is expected to increase by 77 percent by the end of the century, according to a recent California Climate Change Assessment. During last year's fires in Santa Rosa, 97 percent of the homes burned were built before homes included fire-resistant construction.
But these daunting statistics don't have to become reality. By making affordable financing tools more accessible to all Californians, the new wildfire safety law puts Property Assessed Clean Energy financing squarely in front of those who want to be ready. PACE is one of the few programs homeowners can utilize to make wildfire safety improvements to their properties with long-term, fixed-cost financing options.
Created by the California Legislature and signed into law by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008, PACE helps state and local governments reach economic and environmental goals without impacting public budgets. With built-in consumer protections, PACE's long-term financing structure makes energy and resiliency improvements more affordable and accessible than other types of home improvement financing, like costly credit cards and bank loans.
The increased availability of PACE financing for millions of Californians for energy efficiency, fire and natural disaster resiliency improvements comes at a critical time for the state, when broader, communitywide participation is necessary for the state to achieve its climate goals and prepare for deadly, destructive wildfires, floods and other natural disasters.
Creating sustainable, resilient communities throughout California must continue to be a priority, and finding ways for all Californians to participate and benefit from making energy and resiliency upgrades is a great start.
The California Economic Summit will take place Thursday and Friday at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Rosa. For information, go to summit.caeconomy.org
James Gore is chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
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