Feb. 21, 2020 – In this report, we assess the (1) state’s overall approach to addressing wildfire risks and (2) Governor’s wildfire-related budget proposals. 

State Should Develop Strategic Wildfire Plan to Address Risks. In assessing the state’s overall approach to addressing wildfire risks, we find that several factors contribute to increasing risks, including increased development in fire-prone areas, unhealthy forestlands, climate change, and the role of utility infrastructure management. In the coming decades, the state will likely continue to face demands for additional funding and resources to respond to wildfire risks. Yet, without a broad and comprehensive evaluation of wildfire risks and mitigation strategies, it will be difficult for the Legislature to efficiently and effectively allocate additional funding related to wildfires. Accordingly, we recommend that the Legislature require the development of a statewide strategic wildfire plan. The purpose of the plan would be to inform and guide state policymakers regarding the most effective strategies for responding to wildfires and mitigating wildfire risks. In particular, this would include guidance on the highest-priority and most cost-effective programs and activities that should receive funding, as well as an assessment of how the state can achieve an optimal balance of funding for prevention and mitigation activities with demands to increase fire response capacity.

Governor’s Wildfire-Related Budget Proposals. The Governor’s budget provides a total of $492 million (mostly from the General Fund) for 22 proposals for wildfire-related augmentations across multiple departments. This includes $179 million for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, $77 million for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, $30 million for the California Public Utilities Commission, and $206 million for various other departments and multidepartmental proposals. Based on our review, we classify the budget proposals into three categories. Specifically, we find (1) that even in the absence of a strategic plan, some proposals appear reasonable; (2) several proposals are promising but lack important implementation details; and (3) some proposals raise more significant concerns because they might not align with some of the key elements we think should be included in a strategic wildfire plan, they lack basic workload justification, or both.

Recommendations on the Governor’s Budget Proposals. We offer recommendations on each of the Governor’s proposals based on our categorization described above. First, we recommend approving proposals that appear reasonable. Second, for the proposals that appear promising but lack important implementation details, we recommend that the Legislature either provide implementation guidance or withhold action pending additional information, depending on the specific circumstances of the proposal. Third, for the proposals that raise more significant concerns, we recommend that the Legislature ensure it has sufficient details and workload justification for the proposals that we find lack this information. If the administration does not provide sufficient information to justify these proposals, we recommend that the Legislature reject them. For proposals that might not align with a strategic approach to addressing wildfire risks, we recommend modifying the proposals to limit ongoing commitments.

This report is available using the following link: https://lao.ca.gov/Publications/Report/4172?utm_source=laowww&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=4172