A January 5 L.A. Times story (“In 2019, We Saw How Wildfires Can Be Prevented: Power Shut-offs Seemed to Avert Fire Ignitions, But There’s More the State Can Do”) noted that of the state’s 20 most destructive wildfires, all were human-related in respect to how they started.
Three days before that article appeared, Castellammare resident Rosalie Huntington told Circling the News by email, “We neighbors have been talking about the extreme fire danger along Los Liones Drive for some time. The neighbor who got the ball rolling on the brush clearance is Marcia Vogler. She and her husband, Fred, are recent arrivals to the neighborhood.
“I took photos two years ago showing dead brush on Los Liones Drive [north of Sunset],” Huntington continued. “If it were to catch fire, flames would run up the hill to our area in no time. Thank goodness it hasn’t.”
Marcia Vogler, who grew up and lived in Brentwood, saw the overgrown and dead brush all around Castellammare and knew something had to be done.
“Two-thirds of Castellammare is surrounded by state park,” said Vogler, a professional harp player who graduated from USC. She also noted that the sidewalks along Los Liones Drive are impassable. “Los Liones has not been cleared in 25-30 years.”
In June, Vogler contacted California State Parks about the needed brush clearance. “I found out to get this done we would need permits,” she told CTN.
Three state biologists came out and “walked the land with me.” The area that could be cleared is 100 feet from a habitable structure. The biologists also marked bushes that were habitats for species that should be protected (such as the wood rat) and pointed out non-native plants that should be removed.
A permit is needed for each property area and costs about $150 per house. “The California Parks people wanted the brush clearance done, and they were helpful, but told me ‘This is a good idea, but it’s not our responsibility,’” Vogler said.
She then was passed along from person to person within the state bureaucracy, all of whom claimed they weren’t the responsible party.
“I’m dealing with stupid after stupid,” said Vogler, who was told by state officials there was simply no money for brush clearance at this location.
Vogler appealed to L.A. County officials, who also told her, “We don’t have the money.”
Ultimately, Vogler learned that Los Liones is a City road and the responsibility for clearance would fall in Councilman Mike Bonin’s district.
Vogler contacted Bonin’s office and is still waiting to hear back.
“It has been a challenging process,” Vogler said. “We knew that this needed to be done, but the question was how to pay for it.”
In September, she and some of her neighbors (who live above Los Liones) started a fundraising campaign. “In three weeks, we had about three-quarters of what we needed,” Vogler said.
Although this was not a homeowners association project, Castellammare Mesa President Cindi Young summed up the fundraising effort in a letter to the residents on January 1, stating “almost $65,000 was raised through online donations and checks for the purpose of brush clearance.
“During that same time, local, state and federal elected officials were repeatedly contacted with requests for assistance with this project, which resulted in vague promises that amounted to nothing. Not one could find the time or wherewithal to cut through the red tape, collaborate, consolidate or even cooperate within the political system.”
Vogler said that many residents were angry because they felt that their property taxes should help pay for brush clearing efforts. They didn’t understand why they should have to pay additional money.
“I understand that,” said Vogler, who added, “I’d like to see an itemized bill that shows how our tax dollars are spent.”
“This project is about community building,” said the mother of two college-aged daughters. “I spent hundreds of hours listening to everyone’s opinion and concerns.”
The money was raised, and then the project stopped on October 25, three days before clearance was to begin, because of a resident’s legal “Cease and Desist” order. The homeowner was worried that once the brush was gone, it would cause mudslides on the hillside below the resident’s house.
“If it is done correctly, the roots should not be removed,” Vogler said. “The roots will hold the soil.”
Quick mediation enabled the project to go forward, but “the day we were going to start with cutting, the Getty Fire broke out (October 28),” Vogler said, and the project had to again be halted. This week’s L.A. Times story noted that in California, “more than 90 percent of wildfires are started by people or their equipment.”
Given all the delays, some people asked for their money back, but Vogler persevered.
“My concern was about protecting the community from fire,” she said, and her resolve was strengthened when she spoke to fire officials after the Getty Fire and they told her that “the brush clearance that had been done had saved homes.”
Vogler contacted about 20 brush clearance companies and finally hired Greenleaf. “They have bent over backwards and given us discounts,” she said. “They have been unbelievable.”
Using the money that was donated by about 50 households, brush clearance began on January 2.
Young wrote to homeowners that donations are still being accepted. “We cannot complete all of the work as we are still short of funds.”
Vogler said that the first phase was clearing brush along Los Liones Drive and parkland brush clearance 100 feet from habitable structures.
The dead pine trees, which are highly flammable, should be removed. In general, “The biologists would like us to remove the pine trees, which are non-native,” Vogler said, but “some residents like how they look.”
Vogler said she understands that, but if the trees stay, they should be “lollipopped,” which means that they should be trimmed starting six feet up from the ground – which will require more funds.
Additional money raised would allow for tree removal and trimming, as well as provide ongoing maintenance.
“Think about the amount of money spent on fighting fires in this state,” Volger said. According to Accuweather, California fire departments spent $1 billion fighting wildfires in 2018 alone.
“It has to be a lot cheaper to prevent them,” she said. “Why isn’t the state doing that? Why is it up to residents who are already paying taxes—especially on state-owned land.”
Volger’s practical approach to a problem, working with multiple people with differing ideas and then moving forward with solutions, have led some in her neighborhood to say she should run for Councilman Bonin’s seat.