• The Publisher’s Notebook •
Malibu Town Hall: Some Burning Questions
BY ANNE SOBLE
If Malibuites don’t show up for the face-to-face with firefighting and law enforcement agency representatives at next week’s town hall and ask tough questions, they have no one else to blame if they don’t like the way things are handled when their neighborhood is the next one to burn. Residents in areas that have not experienced wildfire in decades should be especially concerned as Southern California faces another year of drought, record heat and frequent winds in the 50 mph-plus range. In the past, after a major conflagration, public agencies somberly listened to the concerns of those who lost their homes while nearly everyone else breathed a sigh of relief and cocooned. As humans are wont to do with disaster, most Malibuites thought wildfire was an if, not a when. But now that wildfire is a year-round phenomenon and public agencies are caught in the economic turmoil besetting all government entities, those who live in the wildland interface have to think proactively about wildfire preparedness. The upcoming town forum is an ideal place to start this process if it is not already part of your Malibu playbook.
Private wildfire preparedness is impossible, however, if public agencies don’t level with residents on the degree of their own preparedness. The biggest reality check is an honest assessment of what kind of agency response a resident can expect in a firestorm. Is it possible to look at a map and say that, given one set of conditions, the odds might be 60 percent for one home, while the house at the top of a steep, narrow road might only score 38 percent? People need honest answers about this. Officials can try to say that it’s impossible to predict in the abstract, but fire experts make probability assessments all the time. Also critical is a clear explanation of evacuation procedures. Can there be mandatory evacuation if the law does not require a citizen to leave his home? How is that reconcilable with Corral Fire report assertions that evacuating residents impeded the flow of fire department equipment? The fire department can’t have it both ways. Since wildfires don’t claim lives the way floods do, why do we not differentiate?
The bottom line is that we are the ones who will be here when the next fire strikes, not the talking heads at a town hall. We have to make clear what our concerns are and that it is our intention to act on them politically. Residents have to be prepared to pressure government for more money and equipment. Too often, a few people show up at forums, shout a bit and then it’s business as usual. If Malibuites let that happen, there will ultimately be another major conflagration in a different part of the community and the results will be just as devastating. Pack the Performing Arts Center next Wednesday at 7 p.m. and speak up for Malibu.