Stern Concerned About Lack of State Funding for SoCal Wildfire Prevention

State Senator Henry Stern (right) speaks to Keegan Gibbs, Malibu public safety commissioner (left) in October 2020 about home hardening while Jeremy Wolf, district director for Stern, records.

Since 2017, highly-populated Southern California areas like Malibu have only received three percent of the last five years’ worth of state wildfire prevention funding, but California State Senator Henry Stern said that needs to change. 

Stern spoke about the issue–and cited that statistic–during a Thursday, Jan. 14, California Senate Budget Committee Zoom hearing.

In his remarks over Zoom, Stern said that more than 90 percent of fire prevention money since 2017 had gone to “timber-oriented, more Northern” projects. He said that LA, Orange, San Diego, San Bernardino, Imperial, Ventura and Riverside counties combined had received about three percent of that same funding. “Historically, these counties … have received a short shrift and this budget proposal doesn’t seem to be any different … on a per capita basis, wildfire funding has not been going to large population centers,” the senator said.

Of the $1 billion in this year’s budget designated for wildfire prevention, Stern said, it seemed that only four percent would go toward projects not in heavily forested timber zones.

He called for legislators to look at wildfire prevention methods that could work for counties such as San Diego, the site of last September’s Valley Fire, and Orange, where, last November, the Blue Ridge Fire caused thousands to evacuate. 

“Why such a small amount for community hardening?” Stern asked budget administrators. “And why not try to restore some of the historic imbalance that we’ve seen?”

Allison Hewitt of the state’s department of finance told Stern that some regional programs focused specifically on hardening Southern California against wildfires and said that, overall, using some of the funding to build “strategic fuel breaks” would also harden population centers against wildfires in the sense that fires would then never reach population centers if they were stopped while still in the wilderness. 

The budget is proposed each year by the governor. 

Stern represents the 27th Senate District, which includes Malibu, at the state level. There, the Democrat chairs the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee.