Sonoma Valley Sun


Red flags on Measure H

Posted on February 13, 2024 by Sonoma Valley Sun

We all want to be safe from fire and we all respect, appreciate and want to support our dedicated and courageous firefighters for their lifesaving work.

However, there are many red flags about Measure H.

It’s a regressive tax. The Measure would establish a half-cent sales tax, applicable to everyone throughout the county, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay, whether in an incorporated City or unincorporated rural area, in a dense urban area or in the wildland interface, homeowners or renters. Cities already fund their own local fire services so city dwellers would in effect would be paying twice to subsidize rural residents.

This is a forever tax. Only a simple majority vote is needed. If approved by 50%, this tax would be established forever unless recalled by the voters.

Contrast this to the ¼ cent sales tax for the Open Space District which must be approved by 66% of the voters at regular intervals. The same is true for the SMART rail tax.

The public deserves to know how much the County is already spending on “fire resilience.”  This measure would take $60 million annually out of people’s pockets to “supplement existing funding”.  The County already receives millions for fire resilience from federal and state sources and other agencies, spread across multiple departments.  What $60 million annually will be spent on is not clear and may not be the highest priority.

The measure seems to set incorrect priorities. “Vegetation management” is mentioned 24 times in the 11-page document, yet home hardening is not mentioned once.

Some 95% of the wildfires that devastate homes and lives are wind-driven, caused by flying embers. It has been shown repeatedly that by far the most effective way to protect lives and homes from wildfire is by “hardening” structures – focusing on small tasks like clearing gutters, covering vents, and keeping flammable objects away from the first 5 feet around buildings, as well as things like installing fire-resistant roofs and sprinklers; and on maintaining defensible space up to 100 feet from structures.

Clearing vegetation in woodlands and forests is ineffective and can exacerbate the spread of fire by opening the way for wind-driven fires, allowing soils to dry out and flammable invasive weeds to take hold. In addition, there are untold negative impacts to wildlife habitat, and these are not being monitored. Heavy equipment can compact soil, lead to erosion, and impact water quality in streams, doing more harm than good. Even CalFire now admits that vegetation management is largely ineffective at reducing wind-driven fires.

The County is receiving some funding for home hardening but for the most part the responsibility is left to home-owners.

Lastly, the Oversight Committee for Measure H has various appointees including by the Board of Supervisors, the County Fire Chiefs Association and the Fire Districts Association. Is this the right balance for achieving independent oversight?

We support our firefighters but Measure H doesn’t measure up.

— Jenny Blaker, Cotati, and Janis Watkins, Healdsburg

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA