Vegetation Inspection Town Hall for PPNA
Here are rough notes from the just-for-PPNA webinar to drill down on a number of issues needing clarification before the bulk of inspections begin. Here is the link to the webinar, but please skip into around 3:30 minutes to skip the technical setup.
ROBBIE NEELY, PPNA Exec. Dir, Intro
We all share one very important goal: to reduce the chance of wildfires in our neighborhoods. The way you have already participated was clearly evident in how quickly we filled up three green waste dumpsters last month…and how much more was piled up at your driveways for Waste Management pick up. That’s been one heck of a fuel load reduction!
The format this evening is pretty simple, and most of our time will be devoted to your questions. Our panel:
Travis Hansen, our new Vegetation Management Supervisor, who replaces Vince Crudele
Brandon Harami, Councilmember Sheng Thao’s liaison to Montclair
Ron Wacker, PPNA VP
Special thanks to:
Michael Hunt, OFD Chief of Staff, for his great support and understanding of how desperately we want to improve the 2020 inspection process over previous years
Manny Watson, Fire Marshal, for helping PPNA residents resolve previous years’ inspection citations, appeals and fees.
Melinda Drayton, our new Interim Fire Chief, for really listening to the community outcry about the initial compliance process and fees outlined for this year, and being willing to make changes to accommodate our angst
Andrew Markarian, Fire Suppression Inspector for our district, for helping us wade through the delayed posting of inspection dates in Accela
Charleton Lightfoot, Community Liaison Officer
TRAVIS HANSEN, ACTING VEGETATION MANAGEMENT SUPERVISOR
If you need to reach us:
510 238-7388 Voice mail checked regularly, commitment to reply within 24 hours weekdays. If mailbox is full (City mailboxes only hold 99 messages), send them an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
More info on website: Website: www.oaklandca.gov/services/wildfire-district-inspections [NOTE: it has not been updated to incorporate process changes noted above]
Accela issues, email email@example.com
Process changed… reinspection in previous years was at 30 days, now at 45. Important to know (some of this was clarified after the webinar):
- It is recommended you submit PHOTO evidence within 30 days, so OFD can review and determine if you pass or are still in violation.
- If documents show you complied and removed the violation, OFD will mail your certify of compliance and you’re done.
- If there’s a question, or if it’s clear that work was done but the violation isn’t cleared, OFD will communicate with you, and you’ll have until the 45th day to get the correction submitted.
- After 45 days if you’re still not in compliance, you will be scheduled for a reinspection and a fee will apply regardless of the outcome of the reinspection. (City master fee requires a fee for all reinspections.)
- Photos must clearly show the work done, and should be taken from the same perspective as violation photos on Accela. OFD needs to clearly see the work done.
- Situations will often require judgment calls.
Prepare, plan & protect Very High Fire Severity Zone. Ours runs from Berkeley to San Leandro and from Moraga/East Bay Regional Parks to Oakland flatlands. State determines boundaries, and set up requirements in state fire code.
Inspections & tips
- 30-foot fuel reduction zone around all buildings and structures; more may be required on steep terrain because fire generally travels up.
- Not necessary for residents to maintain vegetation outside their property lines.
- Seasonal weeds and grasses must be under 6” in fuel reduction zone
- OFD must be able to see address numbers. Requirement: 4” high, contrasting background, visible from street. [This could be a compliance issue for MANY in PPNA]
- Pay attention to street clearance to prevent roadside ignition. Reduce fuel with 10-ft minimum roadside clearance.
- Tree crowns pruned to 10 feet of structure to provide as much “cold air space” as possible.
- Fire code does not enforce removal of standing trees, dead or alive. Limb up 6’ from ground or ¼ height of tree.
- Get rid of non-vegetation combustible, flammable materials around your property. Paint, boxes, rubbish….
- Wood chips permitted up to 12” DEEP.
- Cut grass can be left on slope to protect soil. Ideally, 18 - 24” long should be raked and removed. 4 - 6” high can be left in ground to prevent soil erosion.
- Logs, tree trunks can be left but branches must be removed because they ignite. Remove grasses and needles around felled trunks
- New in state fire code this year: clear vegetation within 10 feet of any combustible FENCE. If plants are irrigated, and maintained, it’s likely they’re not hazardous. Clear all flash fuels around fence…seasonal weeds and grasses. Do not store firewood near wood fence.
- Vacant lots: ALL ground fuels cut. If home is on an upslope, fire travels faster uphill, so must clear below your structure. May require more than 30 feet for slopes leading uphill to structures.
- Goal in vegetation management besides preventing fires is to BUY engine companies time by slowing the spread.
- CREATE COLD AIR SPACE BETWEEN PLAN AND STRUCTURE
- If it’s ornamental, irrigated and maintained, it’s not necessarily a fire hazard. Must meet the intent of the fire code.
- Ground ivy shouldn’t be cited…but beware that ivy holds dry vegetation underneath—pine needles, etc, If undergrowth is excessive, you may be cited. Prune ivy/vines appropriately, so they’re not climbing up structures, trees. If growing up a lattice, it’s ok because it’s not trapping dry veg underneath.
- Non-compliance notice will include fire code violations, how to submit evidence of correction, and absent evidence a reinspection will be scheduled 45 days from initial inspection. When you send your evidence, include all the information at the end of the notice (parcel number, etc.) to help expedite review.
- There will be growing pains with this new photo evidence process
RON WACKER, PPNA VP
- Communications issues. There are still some discrepancies and outdated info on website. (Travis: we don’t have access to change website info. Some has been updated. M. Hunt might help us update more)
- Long term, Accela needs improvement
- clunky interface, differences in accessing info on computer vs. phone
- What’s private vs. public…can get anyone’s inspection dates. (Travis: you can get inspection date for any property, but that’s all you can get unless you’re the registered property owner. You can link all your properties and then see all.)
- Accela software…better than what we had before.
- Email for Accela support fireacsupport@oaklandca. Gov
AUDIENCE … Broad questions not addressed above
How can you insure inspection consistency across personnel? We have yearly standardized training for our staff of 400+. It’s almost impossible everyone will see everything the same. Inspectors will look at an issue in its totality. Let us help put you in compliance. Don’t wait for 45-day if non-compliant discrepancy…call 238-7388 and we’ll discuss how to get you in compliance. Previous years’ inspections are visible to current inspectors.
Post inspection, how soon know results? Door hanger will be left on the day of inspection. Accela should be updated with pass/fail info within an hour, however poor cellular service in hills could delay upload. We have 60 inspectors working each day. They can get bogged down…but you should see pictures within one hour.
How submit documentation if no computer access/skills? If can’t get info filed online, can submit to 250 Frank Ogawa Plaza 3rd floor, fire prevention bureau, or mail it. Submit within 30 days to allow OFD to review and communicate any remaining discrepancies/violations. Take your correction photos from same perspective as violation photos.
What about compost and firewood? Compost is moist, but keep away from house….Firewood, keep it covered, in an enclosed structure… so it’s not open to embers.
Vacant lots with no house number? Identified via integral GPS map. All parcel numbers are on map, shows boundaries. Shows who owns property
Managing boundary between property: they can get a surveyor or go through assessor’s office.
How make info available sooner on inspection dates? We’ve been asking since April for inspections to be scheduled. We need to pull owner info from tax assessor right before. This year, got first 2 days of inspections scheduled, then staff lost access to Accela. Now all scheduled and posted.
Maintain tree branches over roof? 10’ required from gutter in all directions
Mature trees? Create max cold air space between tree and house. Less if stucco than wood.
Overhanging branches from neighbor’s tree. You’re responsible for branches on your property regardless of where tree is planted. It’s where the fire danger exists. Can cut back to property line.
Send pictures to Travis if question before inspection: firstname.lastname@example.org
Can I reschedule inspection because of a vacation? No. 8,000+ inspections need to be done in 40 days. Oakland hills od unique area: It’s not a matter of if, but when, there will be a catastrophic fire. Can’t delay further. Fire season in hills year-round. Move the inspection to a sooner date? Probably not because of the inspection workload. Depends on district staff’s schedule in your area.
Inspecting 7/4 holiday? Yes, they work 7 days a week.
Away for inspection: Neighbor agreed to send picture of any non-compliance and help coordinate mitigation.