Our View: The time for action on fire is now | TheUnion.com

Our View: The time for action on fire is now

The Union Editorial Board

If only fire obeyed state bureaucracy.

If it did, we wouldn’t have to worry about completing Caltrans’ Standard Encroachment Permit Applications or Tree Removal Requests to get dangerous fire fuels out of both sides of state highway right-of-ways. The fire would simply avoid those trees because, well, the proper paperwork wasn’t done.

It’d be much safer for Nevada County residents if fire avoided our highways because no Excel spreadsheet existed detailing which trees needed removing. Thankfully, in this scenario the fire couldn’t proceed because three bureaucrats proficient in landscape architecture, cultural resources/archaeology and biology had no spreadsheet to check — a necessary step before a decision is made on removing those trees from the sides of Highways 20, 49 and 174.

And, that spreadsheet uncompleted, the fire would just stay away and leave us safe evacuation routes.

These layers of bureaucracy are real and exist in our state. They apply, for example, to a Firewise community that hires a private business to clear vegetation on the right-of-way of a state highway.

Caltrans has a different set of rules when it comes to its own work, and this coming week plans to remove trees along Highway 20/49 between the Glenbrook Basin and Nevada City.

But we need more, and we need it now.

We talk about fire safety and prevention efforts and how essential they are, yet our state government builds hurdles for us to achieve these goals.

You better believe fire has no concerns about government regulations.

We are far past the days of a fire season that lasts a few months each year. It is always fire season. We always must be working toward solutions.

All the talk, the fear, the worry — they must translate into plans and then action. Nothing less is acceptable.

This takes money, which the state has. Like most resources, it’s finite. Our state government has many priorities and all of them need money.

That’s one reason why the Nevada County Board of Supervisors is considering a November ballot measure that, if passed, would create a new tax to fund hazardous vegetation reduction and safety evacuation efforts.

This tax is in the early stages. We don’t know whether it’ll be a sales or property tax. We don’t even know if it’ll be on the ballot.

It’s fair to ask why our community should shoulder yet another tax when the state is sitting on a surplus. It’s true the state has plenty of cash. The problem is that we would need to apply for it through grants, and get those grants year after year.

There’s no guarantee that will happen.

If you’re not angry, you should be. We’re in this situation because several actors failed to properly play their roles.

PG&E’s power line infrastructure is outdated and the utility has failed to maintain it. Caltrans is supposed to maintain the vegetation along state highways. It’s doing some work. It needs to do more.

And here we are, sitting in the middle of a tinderbox, waiting for the inevitable fire to come.

Let’s stop waiting, and start acting.

Put everything on the table. We must identify the regulations that hinder our ability to fight fire and remove them. The California Environmental Quality Act can be amended. Let’s remove onerous laws that restrict the removal of trees and fire fuels that endanger us. Caltrans regulations that make it near to impossible to remove trees from state highway right-of-ways must go.

And if it takes yet another tax to ensure our community controls a steady flow of dollars dedicated to maintaining our own safety, then we must enact it.

Otherwise, we burn.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

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