Suspends environmental rules for high priority projects

On March 21, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in California for the approaching fire season.

As part of his proclamation, Newsom is suspending state contract regulations and environmental regulations in order for the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) to complete fuels reduction projects as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

“The increasing wildfire risks we face as a state mean we simply can’t wait until a fire starts in order to start deploying emergency resources,” said Newsom in the press release. “California needs sustained focus and immediate action in order to better protect our communities.”

The waivers of administrative and regulatory requirements will allow Cal Fire to begin implementing the 35 high-priority projects identified in its March 4 “Community Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Report.” Newsom had made this a high priority when he issued the request in an executive order signed his first day as governor.

The regulatory suspensions are for this year. Cal Fire must request the waiver for each project from both the secretary of the Natural Resources Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Essentially, this suspends requirements to prepare California Environmental Quality Act documents for these 35 projects. However, Cal Fire has assured the public that it will be aware and careful, and avoid sensitive natural and archaeological resources during the progress of this work.

For other projects, Cal Fire has said, “Cal Fire initiated projects are subject to the environmental review and permitting process. A Program Environmental Impact Report is currently under preparation to evaluate potential environmental impacts of future Cal Fire vegetation treatments to reduce wildfire risks and avoid or diminish the harmful effects of wildfire on the people, property, and natural resources in the State of California. The draft Program EIR is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.”

Newsom also announced more details on the $50 million California for All Emergency Preparedness Campaign — a joint initiative between Cal Volunteers and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. 

Nearly half will be used for grants to community-based organizations to prepare residents for natural disasters through education and resources designed to bolster resiliency. About $12.6 million will be used for disaster teams and citizen emergency response teams. Another quarter million will assist community groups in developing linguistically and culturally appropriate public awareness and outreach campaigns.

OES also issued “Alert and Warning Guidelines” in conjunction with the wildfire response efforts.