George Boardman: Woodman, spare that town | TheUnion.com
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George Boardman: Woodman, spare that town

George Boardman
Columnist

If there was any sense of urgency to speed up fire mitigation efforts after our near disaster during the Jones Fire, it has dissipated. We could be the next Paradise, and in Nevada City, some people want to fight city officials to stop cutting down trees instead of making sure they don’t act as torches.

Some residents are so concerned that PG&E might cut down 260 trees to mitigate the fire danger, they have gone to court to give the City Council the backbone to “launch a robust opposition” to PG&E’s plans.

It doesn’t matter that the city contends it has no legal authority to interfere with PG&E’s vegetation management program or that the city discussed the plan at three separate public meetings. Opponents want to ensnarl the town in bureaucracy that will stop the tree cutting in its tracks.

A lawyer for Save Nevada County Trees persuaded Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderson to halt all current cuttings in town, and set a hearing for Nov. 6 to explore the authority of the state Public Utility Commission to order PG&E to chop the trees.

Trees can still be cut before Nov. 6 if both parties agree a specific tree should fall, but I’m guessing most of those trees will become drier and more fire prone as we advance through California’s worst fire season in decades.

Save Nevada County Trees apparently won’t be happy until they can negotiate with PG&E over every one of those 260 trees. They have proposed a working group composed of advocates, property owners, the city and PG&E to resolve this issue, a lumbering process that could last more than one fire season.

If you listen to trees spokesman Matt Osypowski, property owners are helpless against the evil utility. “If you walk up Orchard (Street), you have people who are losing their entire front or backyards,” he told The Union. “Aside from the sentimental and environmental issues, they stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars in property value.”

But that’s not the story PG&E is telling. Of the trees in question, 150 of them are on city property and the rest belong to landowners who have approved their removal. “All property owners have granted permission to move forward with the work,” said Brandi Merlo of PG&E.

Perhaps those residents currently residing in a large blue Atlas cedar tree on Broad Street might want to educate themselves on the experience of Berry Creek, a forested mountain community of 2,500 in Butte County that was wiped off the map by the still active North Complex fire, killing at least 10.

The fire started four days after work began on forest-thinning projects financed by a grant from CalFire. The Butte County Fire Safety Council applied for the $836,365 grant two years ago, right after the Paradise fire.

Butte County is cognizant of the threat of fire — it has experienced 19 large fires scorching more than 400,000 acres since 1999. But opposition of local residents, the lumbering state bureaucracy, and unanticipated slowdowns like the coronavirus pandemic consigned the mitigation effort to the back burner, so to speak.

The Berry Creek project languished as the fire safe council struggled to gain landowner approval for thinning. Opponents could wield the cudgel of the California Environmental Quality Act, which makes it easy for local residents and interest groups to oppose construction and development projects.

CalFire officials kicked back some of the paperwork filed by local leaders because it had been improperly formatted. Butte County finally got approval 17 months after applying for the grant, then the pandemic put a hold on some of that paperwork.

The plan was to create fire breaks along two of the main evacuation roads from the community. The fire took care of the vegetation along the two routes, Bald Rock and Rockerfeller roads, now inhabited by charred cars and trucks.

“I tried to work with anyone who would listen to avoid what happened,” said Denise Bethune, a Berry Creek fire safety coordinator. Is anybody here listening?

Counted Out

As we near the end of the 2020 census, you have to wonder why so many people in Truckee are missing.

Slightly more than a third of residents filled out the census online or through the mail, according to numbers released by the U.S. Census on Sept. 23. That’s less than half the response rate of Grass Valley (71.3%) and Nevada City (71.6%). Truckee’s non-participation drags the county’s response rate down to 61%, below the state average of 68.7%.

The Census Bureau estimated that 16,735 people lived in the town as of July 1, 2019. Many residents are part-time seasonal workers and some houses are owned by people who live elsewhere. Perhaps most telling, 18.6% of the population is Hispanic/Latino and 11.3% are foreign born. You have to assume that a fair number of them are living in the country illegally, people who would prefer to remain under the federal government’s radar.

President Trump and his supporters may not like it, but the Constitution requires the census to count everybody living in the country. The count is not just restricted to citizens, but Trump’s threats have discouraged more than a few people from raising their hands.

Enumerators are supposed to track down those who don’t respond to the census, but there are reports from the Bay Area and elsewhere that they are being idled before the work is completed as the Census wound down for a Sept. 30 completion date. Those enumerators may be put back to work now that the deadline has been extended to Oct. 31.

An undercount will cost places like Nevada County in lost federal and state revenue, and distort the congressional and state legislature districts that represent us. I guess that’s part of the price you pay these days for being a blue state.

George Boardman lives in Nevada City. His column is published on Tuesdays by The Union. Write him at boredgeorgeman@gmail.com.


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