Is Oakland Prepared for the Next Fire? (Part 3)

This is the third post in our three-part series on fire safety in Oakland. Read part one here and part two here.  In this post, we’ll continue the discussion of wildfire prevention.

Oakland Fire Department seems to have outdated monitoring systems. 10-15% of properties to be inspected have not turned up on inspection roles in the past. Additionally, a recent audit of OFD’s vegetation management found that in two fiscal years, OFD issued 1,369 invoices for vegetation code violations, totaling $419,386, but only collected $2,121 – because it had to void 98% of the fines due to input errors. Clearly OPD needs more inspectors and better data systems.

This recent audit also found that OFD still needs to improve its internal controls, its oversight of the inspection system, and needs to develop a better enforcement system for cars blocking ingress for emergency vehicles. Furthermore, OFD does not appear to have a system in place to track structure or wildfire deaths year over year. This type of data collection should be required.

OFD has been working for years on a new vegetation management plan, and we are told it should be ready by 2019. This plan will only be a scientific assessment of the vegetation in City parks and open space in the hills, and the best practices and standards for reducing the fire risk. Should the City Council adopt these future findings, we still need the City to commit resources to making sure robust prevention occurs.

OFD can also better protect residents by implementing technology solutions. San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) has invested in automatic electrical switch systems. They cut electricity to 12,000 customers in San Diego County in December during the recent wildfires after winds reached 88 mph in some rural areas. Meanwhile, PG&E is still struggling to develop a policy for whether to embrace automatic electrical shut-offs. The control of electrical lines is not OFD’s responsibility, but OFD could be an advocate for such a solution. SDG&E looks at red flag warnings the same as other utilities look at hurricane warnings – they have built an infrastructure and mind set that lets them and their clients prepare in advance. Oakland and PG&E should invest in the same infrastructure for Oakland as well as other Bay Area communities.

WUI residents are now starting to pay the cost – in addition to bearing greater fire risk. Residents are discovering insurance carriers will no longer cover fire risk (or offer only a small level of coverage, or require much higher premiums). Insurance companies are using more complex models to determine the fire risk in different areas – and the Oakland Hills fall into a high-risk profile. It’s not clear whether better preventive efforts will lead to better insurance policies, but the risk of wildfire, regardless of insurance concerns, demands better support from the City.

What do you think Oakland could do better to improve its wildfire prevention strategy? Comment below or email us at 

Make Oakland Better Now!

OakTalk Here is the blog of Make Oakland Better Now!, an Oakland community grassroots group of a grass-roots group of voters, volunteers, and policy advocates committed to improving the City of Oakland by focusing on public safety, public works, and responsible budgets. Founded in 2003, we’ve researched, lobbied, and successfully campaigned for a number of new, impactful policies, including the city’s Rainy Day Fund, Measure Z and Operation Ceasefire.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. mark

    One of the many areas that Oakland is failing in is fire safety in the Oakland hills. The house we live in will not only be on the wrong side of the fire line in the next fire, but egress from the area is almost impossible in an emergency. The city has allowed the roads to narrow to dangerous levels that cannot support fire trucks and residents fleeing at the same time. The population in our area has limited roads to flee, and a miss-parked car, or fire truck will block the most important ones – Skyline, and Broadway Terrace. While the city counsel is working on art projects, and sanctuary city issues, the basic management of the city is failing. We have a recent record for people killed in fires that could have been prevented with a little administrative work. The police department is still under court watch and has recent real issues about bad behavior by patrolmen. Even simple issues like parking enforcement in the hills turns into a multi year task force to explore how to enforce no parking – this is easy, cite and tow. Throw in 3 million dollar loses to council member bad behavior and you have one of the lease competent city government in the state.

  2. Jeff

    Insurance companies should be able to tell what needs to be done to prevent another 1991 type of fire…They know more about this as its there business..They have money at risk…Let them stop insuring property in the hills and you will see the fire hazard decrease…In the past the AIA called the shots ..Very High insurance rates will get the fire hazard reduced….Leave this up to the professional insurance evaluators and things will get done properly….

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