Almost two years ago, in the early hours of an August Monday morning, the Jones Fire started in the South Yuba River canyon right outside of Nevada City. Burning through steep, heavily forested terrain, the fire was 550 acres the next day, causing the evacuation of nearly 4,000 residents, triggering air quality advisories, and resulting in the destruction of the Independence Trail. More frightening still, it was poised to threaten Nevada City itself.
Can you imagine the lives that could be lost if a wildfire were to rage through Nevada City, Grass Valley, or Truckee? Can you imagine losing Nevada City’s iconic National Hotel–the oldest hotel in California–our historic firehouse, or our beautiful Victorian homes to a wildfire like the Camp or Dixie Fires? And while I love our historic downtown, I love our forests and rivers just as much.
That’s why I’m inclined to support putting the proposed “Wildfire Prevention, Emergency Services and Disaster Readiness” measure on the November 8th General Election ballot. We need a source of locally controlled funding that can be put to immediate use to save lives, reduce the threat of wildfire, and improve evacuation safety.
This proposed measure would be funded with a ½ cent sales tax, which would raise $12,000,000 annually. That’s our money; the state can’t take it away. It’s a sales tax, not a parcel tax. That means visitors and tourists chip in, so all the burden isn’t on homeowners.
I love the natural beauty of the Deer Creek watershed, but the truth is the overgrown vegetation poses a serious threat to both Nevada City and Grass Valley. Deer Creek runs from Scott’s Flat Lake through Nevada City, past Grass Valley, and to Lake Wildwood in Penn Valley, through parts of the same fire footprint as both the 1988 49er and 2017 Lobo Fire. A fire here would threaten hundreds of County and City residents alike. Deer Creek needs a shaded fuel break along its entire length.
Almost all of us live in what our fire officials refer to as the wildland urban interface (WUI), with 92% of residents living in high or very high fire hazard zones, including all of Nevada City and most of Grass Valley and Truckee. Like so many of you, my husband and I have worked frantically to create defensible space around our home. Not only is it hard work, but it is also costly and a multi-year process to get to where we need to be. This measure would fund a free green waste disposal site year-round.
Vegetation management projects that would protect our homes and cities and provide critical evacuation routes are not only costly but require continuous maintenance. How can we afford to create safer evacuation routes, remove hazardous vegetation along public and private roadways, and support our volunteer Firewise communities? How do we stay competitive for large-scale fuel reduction grants – which is what we need but requires a local match – and maintain a safety net for our front-line first responders? How can we afford not to do this work? These are the urgent needs we have heard about and continue to hear from you. Our residents deserve a local government that listens and is responsive to their needs.
One solution would be to combine local funding with State and Federal funds to get the job done. It’s time for a countywide approach to reduce the threat of wildfire.
Oversight, accountability, and transparency are essential for any governmental spending, but especially for a general sales tax. If passed, the measure will have a Citizens Oversight Committee with Board-appointed community volunteers who will conduct regular audits and report their findings to the public. It will have a Technical Advisory Committee with professional members who represent our first responders, firefighters and law enforcement, city and rural residents, and nonprofit and community leaders.
The proposed measure is the result of a conversation that has been happening since 2017, and more robustly since 2020. In the past few years, we’ve seen wildfires, extreme heat events, and prolonged drought. Last year’s winter snowstorm left the majority of Nevada County without power for over a week, and some, like myself, stranded due to a record number of downed trees and power lines. We must act now.
I urge you to talk to your friends and neighbors, and attend the public hearing at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 9th, at the Eric Rood Center in Nevada City or call in at 530-270-3474. You can also email us your comments to BOS.PublicComment@NevadaCountyCA.gov. I want to hear from everyone on August 9th.
Heidi Hall is Nevada County’s District 1 Supervisor, which includes Nevada City and the unincorporated areas of Banner Mountain, Cascade Shores, Deer Creek, and the Highway 174 corridor.