$4 million fire-prevention grant ignites passions in Oakland


OAKLAND (KRON/AP) — The Oakland City Council on Tuesday night is set to consider the acceptance of a $4 million federal grant for a fire prevention program that has ignited heated debate over whether to chop down trees in the region.

Oakland officials and the city’s fire department want to accept the grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to clear young eucalyptus trees. Officials say the program will help prevent another devastating firestorm like the one that raced through the hills in 1991. The East Bay Hills Fire killed 25 people and destroyed almost 3,500 homes.

But some residents and environmentalists oppose the plan saying that the non-native trees are not a safety hazard. Instead, they argue that the priority should be to remove “ground fuel” in the hills. An environmental group has filed a federal lawsuit to scuttle the project.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club and another environment organization filed a lawsuit last week arguing that the tree-cutting plan doesn’t go far enough. The Sierra Club wants all of the estimated 500,000 eucalyptus trees in the region felled and replaced by native plant species.

Oakland’s interim City Manager John Flores said state authorities still must conduct an environmental review of the project before the cutting can begin.

FEMA’s initial proposal was to cut all eucalyptus trees in the area. But the project was scaled back after the agency received 13,000 comments from residents and others. The plan now calls for “thinning” smaller trees not native to the area over a 10-year period.

FEMA spokeswoman Mary Simms declined comment on the competing lawsuits and the grant proposal.

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