The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors decided to suspend discussion about an ordinance protecting local oak trees and heard suggestions for keeping the county safe during fire season at its meeting Tuesday.
The board agreed to hold a public hearing within the next 90 days to determine whether they want to adopt a five-point plan to assess the Oak Tree Protection and Regeneration Program, passed in 2003 to restrict the removal of existing oak trees throughout the county. The board first heard the proposal, authored by 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone at a meeting May 10, but tabled discussion of the project due to the document’s unclear language. Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. spokesman Capt. Diondray Wiley also made a presentation to the board concerning the beginning of fire season and the ways the county can reduce the number of fires this summer.
Firestone said his revised plan contains five points, which include a provision that would allow local groups to apply for state grants to plant trees along the highway, the creation of a volunteer tree planting program, public recognition to landowners who plant new oak trees and the protection of “volunteer trees.” The final point of the plan calls for the hiring of an outside consultant to assess the effectiveness of the tree program.
Firestone said the public will have the opportunity to critique the draft at an upcoming public hearing. He said he has clarified much of the language other board members had found ambiguous, specifically the definition of a “volunteer tree.” Volunteer trees are those that grow from the fallen acorns of an older oak, and they are not protected by the oak tree ordinance.
The ordinance currently only places restrictions on the removal of oak trees planted before the program began in 2003. Firestone said part of his plan is to see that the ordinance is extended to include volunteer trees, and those planted by county programs.
“Unfortunately, the ordinance did not take up volunteer trees. If a landowner adopts that tree and waters it, I want it to be treated as a [protected] tree.”
Unlike his original proposal, Firestone said, the revised plan does not call for any investigation of the Kendall-Jackson Wine company, which eliminated 850 trees from its property between 1996 and 2001. While this event was one of the main reasons behind the creation of the oak tree ordinance, Firestone said he feels the community is no longer concerned with the company’s reasons for cutting down so many trees.
Wiley’s presentation about the upcoming fire season included a proposal for the creation of a crew to clear away vegetation that poses a fire hazard, as well as a program that would require residents to comply with local fire codes.
The creation of a “Fuels Crew,” Wiley said, would provide the county with a team of twelve firefighters and two supervisors from the Fire Dept. that would patrol public areas and remove any excess vegetation that could stoke larger fires. He said materials such as grass or overgrown trees could serve as potential fuel for smaller fires, allowing them to spread quickly.
By creating a similar program that would fine residents for excess vegetation growth on their property and would remove any potential fire hazards at the owner’s expense, Wiley said, the Fire Dept. could reduce the number of fires that occur each summer. He said residents would first be warned about any problems on their property, and if the owner refused to comply, the Fire Dept. would hire someone to clear away the vegetation and charge the resident for the cost of the removal.
“We want you to have trees cleared away 10 ft. from your chimney,” Wiley said. “We want cleared space 30 ft. vertically and horizontally from your house. Anything that can carry a fire is fuel to us.”