15 May 2014

San Diego County Fires, Madrona and Carbon Canyon

Added to both ends of the Brea portion of Carbon Canyon along Carbon Canyon Road by CalTrans District 12, these signs are unambiguous about the real threat posed by wildfires in Carbon Canyon.  This is what future buyers of 162 houses in the proposed Madrona subdivision will drive by on their way to the site, if it is approved (as early as next Tuesday) and if it is actually built.  Why should the Brea City Council take the chance of approving something that could be at the flashpoint of a catastrophic wildfire?
Given the continuing drought and the increasing frequency lately of hot, dry, Santa Ana conditions, the fires raging through northern San Diego County, which has been hit with major blazes several times in the last decade or so, are another reminder, if any were needed, of the danger that Carbon Canyon, and like areas, faces.

This remains an essential issue as the deliberations over the proposed 162-unit Madrona housing development in the Brea portion of the canyon comes closer to a deciding point—perhaps as early as next Tuesday, the 20th when the Brea City Council takes up the matter again.

Old Standard Life Insurance Company, the owner of the Madrona property, has indicated that it will accept 9 of the 11 Conditions of Approval offered by council members Brett Murdock and Christine Marick as a way to wring further concessions from the OSLIC.  This would, presumably, sway enough of the council to vote for the project and deny its appeal, filed back in 2008 just before the Freeway Complex Fire burned the Madrona site and most of the Brea side of Carbon Canyon.

The San Diego County conflagrations, however, should be another obvious indication that all of the promises of fire mitigation and all of the projections of abundant water supply, orderly evacuation strategies, and other aspects, may just not be sufficient to counter the devastation that can be wrought by a wildfire of the proportions that we're seeing in that county and which we witnessed here 5 1/2 years ago--and will again.

The portion of the canyon where Madrona is proposed has steep canyon walls and wind-swept ridgelines that are, according to any expert analysis such as the US Geological Survey's new video, "Living With Fire," flashpoints for developing and moving fire rapidly through those areas.  The mitigation efforts proposed for the development look fine on paper, or on computer screens via 3-D simulations and other modeling, but the unpredictability of fire and human emotions and reactions in real time is an entirely different matter.

Madrona is just a microcosm of a bigger issue--the continuing encroachment and intrusion of development in wildland areas, as we are coming to terms (well, some people) with the effects of climate change, enduring drought, dwindling water supply, and other factors.

Madrona is emblematic of outdated and timeworn thinking, at a time when we need innovation, adaptation and forward-thinking leadership and management.

Madrona is symptomatic of a broad problem of not coming to terms with a changing world, but this isn't just theoretical posturing.  The prospect of having 162 houses in the middle of a raging wildfire--which even the fire consultants for the project admit will happen again (and again)--takes this beyond the conceptual into the real (or the realistic, in terms of probability.)

Does the Brea City Council (or those that may still be around when and if such an event occurs) really want to be responsible for that probability?

SATURDAY, 17 MAY: Today's front page of the "LATEXTRA" section of the Los Angeles Times has a photo of an Escondido home that, despite being built of concrete and steel, was destroyed by the intense heat of one of the many San Diego County fires.  It is worth noting that, as with the Madrona site, the location was on a hilltop, prone to high winds.


Anonymous said...

I think the problem is "pensions." All the City cares about is revenue. Everyone in the City expects more than 100k plus for retirements as early as 50 and free medical for life. When Gray Davis approved SB400, everyone was given a huge retroactive raise for hours they never worked. This problem increases with millions of debt being accumulated per day.

prs said...

Hello Anonymous: There are many problems surrounding Madrona and it may well be that looking for revenue to meet future pension obligations is part of the picture here.

Whatever the (de)merits of SB400, it is worth noting that the bill(http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/99-00/bill/sen/sb_0351-0400/sb_400_cfa_19990928_142123_sen_floor.html) passed in 1999 with support from both parties (35-0 in the Senate and 70-7 in the Assembly), so it wasn't that Gray Davis "approved the bill" so much as signed what sailed through both houses as supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.

A blog from the "Sacramento Bee" newspaper looked at costs as recently as 2010-11 from SB400 and found something interesting: http://blogs.sacbee.com/the_state_worker/2012/09/column-extra-calpers-analyses-of-the-1999-pension-benefit-increases.html

Still, there is no question that unfunded liabilities in pensions are a major issue in California and throughout the country.

See George Skelton's "Los Angeles Times" editorial from less than a month ago on the subject here: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-cap-teacher-pensions-20140428-column.html

How much of a role this has for Madrona in Brea's thinking is an interesting question. Thanks for commenting.