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AB-497 Forestry and fire protection: local assistance grant program: fire prevention activities: street and road vegetation management.(2021-2022)

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Date Published: 03/11/2021 09:00 PM
AB497:v98#DOCUMENT

Amended  IN  Assembly  March 11, 2021

CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2021–2022 REGULAR SESSION

Assembly Bill
No. 497


Introduced by Assembly Member Waldron

February 09, 2021


An act relating to wildfire prevention. An act relating to forestry and fire protection, and making an appropriation therefor.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


AB 497, as amended, Waldron. Wildfire prevention. Forestry and fire protection: local assistance grant program: fire prevention activities: street and road vegetation management.
Under existing law, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is required to develop, implement, and administer various forest improvement and fire prevention programs in the state. Existing law requires the department to establish a local assistance grant program for fire prevention activities in California. Existing law requires the department to prioritize, to the extent feasible, projects that are multiyear efforts and to prioritize grant applications from specified local agencies.
This bill would appropriate the sum of $25,000,000 from the General Fund to the department to be used to provide the local assistance grants described above. The bill would require the department, for purposes of this appropriation, to prioritize projects, in addition to the priorities specified above, that manage vegetation along streets and roads to prevent the ignition of wildfire and that require the funds for purposes of purchasing equipment necessary for the project.

Existing law requires the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection to classify all lands within the state, without regard to any classification of lands made by or for any federal agency or purpose, for the purpose of determining areas in which the financial responsibility of preventing and suppressing fires is primarily the responsibility of the state.

This bill would provide that it is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would enact statutory changes relating to wildfire prevention.

Vote: MAJORITY2/3   Appropriation: NOYES   Fiscal Committee: NOYES   Local Program: NO  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(a) The deadly 2018 Carr Fire in northern California has been determined to be the 12th largest wildfire, and the 9th most destructive, in the state’s history, and is similar to the Cloverdale Fire that burned 100 acres in San Pasqual Valley in the northern part of the County of San Diego in that arson investigators have determined that both of these wildfires were believed to be caused by sparks from vehicles.
(b) Vehicles are a top cause of wildfires in the County of San Diego, according to a recent article published by the San Diego County News Center. Citing data from the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the article indicated that approximately 97 of the wildfires that occurred in 2018 in the county were caused by vehicles.
(c) Vehicles spark fires for a variety of reasons, including, among other things, poorly maintained engines, failing catalytic converters, rims of flat tires and dragging metal chains from vehicles scraping the pavement and generating sparks, improperly maintained brakes and oil systems, and hot vehicles coming into contact and igniting brush and other vegetation.
(d) The Carr Fire is believed to have been started accidentally by a vehicle towing a dual-axle travel trailer when the steel rim of a flat tire of the trailer scraped along the pavement and generated sparks that ignited dry vegetation along the edge of the highway.
(e) Wind caused the Carr Fire to spread quickly, while hot conditions and steep, inaccessible terrain presented challenges for fire crews as they strengthened fire containment lines.
(f) The Department of Transportation (Caltrans) implements vegetation control measures on state highway roadsides in order to maintain clear recovery zones, maintain clear areas around bridge supports, maintain visibility of traffic control devices, reduce the risk of fires starting along roadsides, protect pavement surfaces, control noxious weeds, prevent erosion, limit stormwater pollution, protect sensitive species, and improve the aesthetics of roadways.
(g) According to Caltrans, vegetation should be controlled where necessary for fire prevention, safety, reduction of noxious or invasive weeds, and bridge inspection needs. Removal of vegetation is generally restricted to a narrow band adjacent to the edges of the shoulders and median, which is necessary to provide sight distance and protection of highway appurtenances such as guardrails and signs.
(h) County maintenance crews work every day to keep county roads safe and passable, which requires constant maintenance work, including repairing damaged pavement, cleaning and repairing signs, cleaning drainage channels, mowing grass and removing vegetation, removing landslides, and responding to public complaints and requests.
(i) In order to prevent future wildfire catastrophes that may be ignited by a vehicle stopped along the shoulder of a road, it is in the state’s best interest to invest in and assist with widening defensible space along county roadways.

SEC. 2.

 (a) The sum of twenty-five million dollars ($25,000,000) is hereby appropriated from the General Fund to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to be used to provide grants pursuant to Article 2.5 (commencing with Section 4124) of Chapter 1 of Part 2 of Division 4 of the Public Resources Code.
(b) In addition to the priorities established by Sections 4124.5 and 4124.7 of the Public Resources Code, for purposes of the appropriation made by subdivision (a), the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection shall prioritize projects that meet both of the following:
(1) Manage vegetation along streets and roads to prevent the ignition of wildfires.
(2) Require the funds for purposes of purchasing equipment necessary for the project.
SECTION 1.

It is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would enact statutory changes relating to wildfire prevention.