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April 4, 2013
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Nevada County supervisors scold Cal Fire about diverting resources

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors has drafted a letter officially objecting to California’s state firefighting agency plans to shift resources from Nevada County to the northern shore of Lake Tahoe.

The California Department of Fire and Forestry will move an engine company staff from Station 20 in Nevada City to a station in Carnelian Bay in Placer County.

“(The move) will leave residents ... in the heart of Nevada County (with) a diminished level of fire protection as we enter a new and potentially dangerous fire season on the heels of one of the driest winters in recent history,” said Chairman Hank Weston and Nate Beason in a letter dated April 9. “We find this news of grave concern.”

The letter is addressed to Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott and said the agency’s plan essentially abandons a station that covers about 210,000 acres of high fire-risk land to serve 17,000 acres in Placer County.

“Cal Fire is reducing its initial attack capability in an area of higher fire start frequency and high risk for catastrophic wildfires,” the letter states.

Daniel Berlant, a Cal Fire spokesman, said the move is a result of an ongoing effort to coordinate firefighting coverage with federal partners including the United States Forest Service.

“We are exploring efficiency in our land coverage,” Berlant said.

Cal Fire covers about 31 million acres of land throughout the state and is constantly looking at ways to adjust coverage according financial resources and the abilities of other agencies, Berlant said. Cal Fire is looking at similar adjustments in Riverside and San Bernardino.

The agency will also keep the actual engine docked in Station 20, retaining an option to staff it on high fire-danger days, Berlant said.

However, Weston and Beason expressed concern for the way in which the message was delivered to the county.

“Even more troubling, the way this information reached us was through a personal source and not as a result of a community notification ... briefing, or other open public communication,” the letter states. “The lack of transparency of this process is cause for great concern among our constituents.”

In a Thursday phone interview, Weston listed some of the recent controversies dogging the state firefighting agency, including a report that emerged in February regarding Cal Fire’s improper diversion of $3.6 million away from the state general fund.

Cal Fire stored taxpayer dollars in an account managed by the nonprofit California District Attorneys Association, paying the group to hold the funds rather than depositing into the state’s general fund, as required by statute.

Furthermore, Cal Fire has elicited the ire of many local residents after sending out a State Responsibility Area Fee, which consisted of $115-150 bills to help the agency address financial shortfalls.

“So this agency is going to take $150 for no increased level of service and on top of that they expect the people of this county to lose another service?” said Weston, a former Grass Valley fire chief who also once worked for Cal Fire.

“The state is pretty arrogant in how they go about things and they do not adhere to the same level of public involvement as we are expected to.”

Many rural governments and public officials, including State Sen. Ted Gaines, have maintained the fee is actually an illegal tax that should have required a two-thirds vote of the California Legislature rather than the majority vote it received in 2011.

Nevada County’s Board of Supervisors are expected to approve the letter during the Tuesday, April 9 regular meeting.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or 530-477-4239.

“So this agency is going to take $150 for no increased level of service and on top of that they expect the people of this county to lose another service?”
— Supervisor Hank Weston


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The Union Updated Apr 5, 2013 01:53PM Published Apr 7, 2013 11:30AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.