News

Californians unwilling to subsidize land owners' wildfire prevention, Stanford poll finds

Majority don’t believe people should be required to move out of fire-prone zones

Years of devastating, back-to-back wildfires coupled with recent power shutdowns have not convinced Californians to fund wildfire prevention on behalf of at-risk homeowners and businesses, a new poll by Stanford University researchers has found.

Nor do they support mandatory relocation of at-risk communities, even though one-quarter of those surveyed have been directly affected by wildfires or who know someone who has been in the past year.

The survey sought to understand public support for potential wildfire policies and was conducted by Bruce Cain, a professor of political science and director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, and Iris Hui, a senior researcher at the Center. The poll sampled 3,000 people in the country’s western states, including 1,046 respondents living in California. Residents in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Idaho and Nevada were among those polled.

The survey took place between Aug. 25 and Sept. 6, 2019, and looked attitudes towards policies addressing safety and personal property. The data was publicly released on Oct. 30.

One quarter of the Californians surveyed said they or someone they knew had experienced a wildfire personally in the past 12 months.

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About 52% said they experienced smoke from wildfires in the past 12 months, about the same percentage as those respondents in the other western states.

Roughly half of Californians who experienced smoke from wildfires said they took precautions. Most, 79%, followed air-quality reports and 83% stayed indoors. Only 28% wore recommended N95/P100 respirators, 35% wore a dust, paper or cloth mask, 30% used an air purifier and 18% left town. About 9% consulted a health care provider, the survey found.

A majority of California respondents, 55%, favored requiring property owners to undertake prescriptive burns and other measures to limit possible fuel for wildfires, such as removing brush.

Nearly two thirds -- 62% -- favor enacting government policies to ban people from living in fire-prone areas, and 60% would ban commercial enterprises in such areas. But only about one-third, 36%, support requiring property owners to buy wildfire insurance.

Fewer respondents, 28%, want the government to force people to move out of wildfire-prone areas. Only 22% believe owners should be prevented from rebuilding homes after losing them in a wildfire.

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The researchers found that no majority of respondents favors any measure involving tax-payer-funded subsidies for those owning property in fire-prone areas. About 48% are open to subsidizing home upgrades. Only 41% would support partially paying for people’s wildfire insurance, although that support rose to more than 50% if the subsidies are given to low-income residents in fire-prone areas.

Only a third of respondents support subsidizing protective upgrades and insurance for commercial properties, however.

The survey found only 28% support subsidizing the costs of “managed retreat” and relocation or for buyouts for either home or commercial properties, even for low-income individuals, a strategy being floated for communities facing significant environmental disasters and climate change.

“In short, there is still resistance to doing much more than requiring property owners to take steps to better protect their properties and some restrictions in development in wildfire prone areas, but they are reluctant to force or spend money to induce property owners to move out of harm’s way,” the researchers said.

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Californians unwilling to subsidize land owners' wildfire prevention, Stanford poll finds

Majority don’t believe people should be required to move out of fire-prone zones

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sat, Nov 2, 2019, 8:33 am

Years of devastating, back-to-back wildfires coupled with recent power shutdowns have not convinced Californians to fund wildfire prevention on behalf of at-risk homeowners and businesses, a new poll by Stanford University researchers has found.

Nor do they support mandatory relocation of at-risk communities, even though one-quarter of those surveyed have been directly affected by wildfires or who know someone who has been in the past year.

The survey sought to understand public support for potential wildfire policies and was conducted by Bruce Cain, a professor of political science and director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, and Iris Hui, a senior researcher at the Center. The poll sampled 3,000 people in the country’s western states, including 1,046 respondents living in California. Residents in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Idaho and Nevada were among those polled.

The survey took place between Aug. 25 and Sept. 6, 2019, and looked attitudes towards policies addressing safety and personal property. The data was publicly released on Oct. 30.

One quarter of the Californians surveyed said they or someone they knew had experienced a wildfire personally in the past 12 months.

About 52% said they experienced smoke from wildfires in the past 12 months, about the same percentage as those respondents in the other western states.

Roughly half of Californians who experienced smoke from wildfires said they took precautions. Most, 79%, followed air-quality reports and 83% stayed indoors. Only 28% wore recommended N95/P100 respirators, 35% wore a dust, paper or cloth mask, 30% used an air purifier and 18% left town. About 9% consulted a health care provider, the survey found.

A majority of California respondents, 55%, favored requiring property owners to undertake prescriptive burns and other measures to limit possible fuel for wildfires, such as removing brush.

Nearly two thirds -- 62% -- favor enacting government policies to ban people from living in fire-prone areas, and 60% would ban commercial enterprises in such areas. But only about one-third, 36%, support requiring property owners to buy wildfire insurance.

Fewer respondents, 28%, want the government to force people to move out of wildfire-prone areas. Only 22% believe owners should be prevented from rebuilding homes after losing them in a wildfire.

The researchers found that no majority of respondents favors any measure involving tax-payer-funded subsidies for those owning property in fire-prone areas. About 48% are open to subsidizing home upgrades. Only 41% would support partially paying for people’s wildfire insurance, although that support rose to more than 50% if the subsidies are given to low-income residents in fire-prone areas.

Only a third of respondents support subsidizing protective upgrades and insurance for commercial properties, however.

The survey found only 28% support subsidizing the costs of “managed retreat” and relocation or for buyouts for either home or commercial properties, even for low-income individuals, a strategy being floated for communities facing significant environmental disasters and climate change.

“In short, there is still resistance to doing much more than requiring property owners to take steps to better protect their properties and some restrictions in development in wildfire prone areas, but they are reluctant to force or spend money to induce property owners to move out of harm’s way,” the researchers said.

Comments

resident
Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2019 at 1:28 pm
resident, Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2019 at 1:28 pm
10 people like this

What is the definition of "fire prone area"? Is the state mapping these out like they do with the flood zone maps?

The problem is that our climate is changing. The whole city of Santa Rosa was at risk during last year's fire. I don't think they considered it to be a "fire prone area" when the city was founded, but back then rain in October was common, unlike now when the dry season usually lasts until December. Clearing brush from around homes makes sense in sparsely populated areas, but what do we do when a whole city is at risk?


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 2, 2019 at 1:45 pm
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Nov 2, 2019 at 1:45 pm
3 people like this

Many people like to live in beautiful outdoor surrounding with trees, wildlife, and spectacular views. They also want to have new 4000 sq ft houses with all utilities and the comforts of the city at their their disposal while living in the country.

I noted during the Paradise campfire that responders had a difficult time driving into the areas because of the lack of adequate roads and bridges.

This is expensive and someone needs to pay for it. I suggest it is the homes and businesses that want such surroundings who should pay for their own utility and safety infrastructure.




Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2019 at 2:50 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2019 at 2:50 pm
2 people like this

I'm a little disappointed in the results, which are akin to how people looked at seat belts. As a liberal, I'm all about personal freedom, but, as with any freedom, people need to understand the impact on other people. It may be freedom if you, individually, choose to live in a small cabin in the fire-prone woods. It is your responsibility to protect yourself, and, your problem if the cabin burns down. But, if a city grows up around you, with kids in school, hospitals, and public services, the rules MUST change.


George
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2019 at 9:15 am
George, Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2019 at 9:15 am
6 people like this

The goal should be to shift current federal and state fire expenditures from reacting to annual disasters (very expensive) to perpetual, proactive forest cleanup. People have been moving up into the woods in large numbers since the seventies and little has been done to reduce the risk. California's woods are full of millions of dead trees due to infestation and fire - these need to be cleaned out. Better managed forests would free up fire funds for more cleanup.
City and county politicians own some responsibility - far too many buildings permits in known hazard areas. Much was written at the time of the 'Hanley fire that devastated a huge area adjacent to Santa Rosa yet the county fully approved development in that same footprint to build Fountain Grove in the seventies, Fountain Grove, of course, famous for the disastrous burn of over 1500 homes in 2017 and, the county permitting rebuilding in the exact same footprint now. That's just Santa Rosa but elsewhere, everywhere north and south, building the woods and canyons prone to blaze goes on.
True, PGE lines everywhere run through thick brush and trees on aging wooden poles which in many places don't seem to have been maintained for years. PGE does have its work to do ahead.
But the state, including the county governments, may be most to blame. The state has dreams of bullet trains and open borders but has not done too well planning for, and providing for, it's growth. Fire hazards join the list of transportation, housing, water and energy infrastructure, and unfunded government liabilities that the state has failed to plan for.
California has to stop sprawl, build up - and in places like the peninsula way up - and block further development in the woods. Building out endless housing into the foothills and valley and into the mountains is unsustainable. Hopefully, the recent outages and fires will inspire a recommitment to California's green spaces. A moratorium on any further development in the woods, Cal fire leading a cleanup of the woods to reduce the amount of tinder, and a serious PGE effort to harden it's network should all help.


Resident
Charleston Meadows
on Nov 3, 2019 at 9:30 am
Resident, Charleston Meadows
on Nov 3, 2019 at 9:30 am
9 people like this

People move to those areas because they do not want to live in an expensive, small,cramped, 1.2 million dollar condo on the fourth floor with no parking and a $1350 maintenance fee.

Would You?


Safety First
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2019 at 9:57 am
Safety First, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2019 at 9:57 am
8 people like this

@George,
You make many good points, but the problem is your answer. This is earthquake country, and building densely in cities is also a recipe for fire-related destruction and death on a massive scale. That is getting overlooked in all this, because safety always takes a back seat until disaster happens. The real answer is for planning to have a safety-first ethos (legally enforced). In order for that to have teeth, our state should create a health and safety fund, the way the state of Minnesota did, to help different municipalities upgrade their infrastructure, schools, and public works for safety.

@rsmithjr wrote:
"I noted during the Paradise campfire that responders had a difficult time driving into the areas because of the lack of adequate roads and bridges. "

Everyone should watch the recent Frontline about the way the Paradise fire developed. Several years ago, I remember driving through Paradise, and as a disaster survivor myself (lost a home in a major CA wildfire), I recall saying something to the effect of it being obvious that all of that was going to burn someday and wondering why no one there was doing something about the obvious danger. Given the obvious danger, the town was not set up to evacuate, either, which was strange given foreseeable disasters. (Something our own area should not be smug about.)

The Frontline show makes the point that there were people trying to improve egress for evacuees in the event of foreseeable disasters. But they felt complacency because of a complicated plan (first mistake), and they just did not have the money to devote to widening the roads that couldn't be justified based on daily use (as opposed to safety first).

This is a state with specific safety planning needs. We should have a state fund to help communities put safety first. And then a state mandate! Because otherwise, it's all well and good to blame people for being in harm's way, but so long as developers can do whatever they want, unsafe development will continue.


Safety First
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2019 at 10:01 am
Safety First, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2019 at 10:01 am
3 people like this

"but so long as developers can do whatever they want, unsafe development will continue."

Including overly dense urban development with perpetually obsoleted seismically unsafe tall dense buildings (e.g., SF), no egress to evacuate or natural fire breaks or disaster staging open spaces, for example.

The answer to this should not be a kneejerk move to making even more risk of massive loss of property and life in the event of a foreseeable major quake event or even just a major urban fire event.


George
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2019 at 10:36 am
George, Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2019 at 10:36 am
2 people like this

#Resident- I agree. The peninsula is still a great place to be. It's better to build up and build well here than to pave the state with single family boxes spaced 6 feet apart, three miles from the strip mall and miles and miles from any real community. Better to drive out of the city and enjoy the mountains as they were than to drive out of the city only to be in more city. Stacking lots and lots of 2000 - 3000 sq ft. Apartments here could eventually increase supply and help to moderate the crazy costs. But I would hope that in general we build closer to the core and not, as we are, further and further out.


George
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2019 at 10:52 am
George, Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2019 at 10:52 am
Like this comment

#SafetyFirst - more public funds - including a safety fund - equals more taxes. Cal Fire has proved to be a great resource, so, yes, this type of funding is great. Since ALL public money is dependent on commerce and private funds, the better option is to build the solutions into the normal course of business and by regulations that would effectively put a moratorium on building in fire prone areas that cannot protect themselves. Oakland imposed homeowner requirements to clean up after the big Oakland fire - that reasonable maintenance could be imposed in reasonable measure statewide.
The new Salesforce tower was built in an earthquake zone. Unless we are willing to relocate everything to safer ground, this is the place to build.


Resident
Midtown
on Nov 3, 2019 at 7:31 pm
Resident, Midtown
on Nov 3, 2019 at 7:31 pm
7 people like this

What Frontline did not cover was the fact that new road furniture were put in some parts of Paradise eliminating a couple of lanes.

Palo Alto did the same on Arastradero/Charleston corridor.


I believe they built the project for two reasons:

1) Grant money from Fed, State, County

2) If traffic is impeded their is less traffic entering Middlefield/San Antonio and Charleston/San Antonio in order to pass a traffic study. Now the developers can build more buildings. Oshman center, the new hotels....ect...
More dense housing/office space = more property tax = more money for the City of Palo Alto.

I understand the thinking, I just think it is really slimy using student safety as a their pitch to get public consent. When in reality it is far more dangerous with the new traffic furniture.

Palo Alto was not thinking when they converted Arastradero/ Charleston from four lanes to two. Hopefully this will not be a factor in the next emergency


Betty Jo
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 4, 2019 at 1:01 pm
Betty Jo, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 4, 2019 at 1:01 pm
5 people like this

Living on the Wildland/Urban interface is wonderful until it isn’t.

And, for so many small communities, the fire problem is near intractable. Homeowner insurance is very expensive if you can get it at all, many folks who live in the woods just don’t have much money - sometimes the only rural jobs are minimum wage at the convenience store in town. And, too often, there’s only one way in or out and that is often a narrow one lane road. One of our friends managed to get some CALFIRE grant money to help her community do brush clearing. Having property owners do prescribed burning sounds like a terrible idea. Even when CALFIRE does prescribed burning, they can get out of hand. Lewiston got burned out by one that got away a few years ago. Ya just never know when the weather and wind might change suddenly and then you’re in trouble.

Building codes already require sprinkler systems for new residential construction on the wild land interface. But these are both expensive to install and require electricity to keep the pipes from freezing.

I think we oughta forbid new housing developments in high fire prone areas, nobody should be putting on shingle roofs, strong public outreach to educate everyone about defensible space landscaping might help. Civilian Conservation Crews should be funded big-time. They provide good work experience and employment in rural areas and can help homeowners with brush clearing.

My heart aches for all the poor folks caught up in these latest conflagrations.


rhody
Registered user
Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2019 at 4:52 pm
rhody, Barron Park
Registered user
on Nov 4, 2019 at 4:52 pm
7 people like this

I agree with the comment about the dangers of road "furniture" on neighborhood access routes like Charleston/Arastradero. There should be more critical thinking before transportation is slowed down!


pinball
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Nov 5, 2019 at 4:51 pm
pinball, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Nov 5, 2019 at 4:51 pm
1 person likes this

Same opion of this that I have to public pensions etc. I think people need to pay for the cost of things upfront so that they can decide whether it's worth it. If the net cost of a pension raises a city worker's effective salary 2x, then it should be budgeted at 2x. Allowing or subsidizing building out in fire country is like having an unfunded pension. We should pay, or make people pay for it up front.


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