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LOS ANGELES TIMES: Political Landscape: Laguna receives $1M from state to remove and modify vegetation that could fuel wildfires

Excerpted from Los Angeles Times

Laguna Beach will receive $1 million from the state to fund local efforts aimed at removing or replacing vegetation that could provide fuel for wildfires, officials announced this week.

“The city of Laguna Beach worked closely with Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris to secure this $1-million appropriation ... for much-needed fuel modification work in Laguna Beach,” Mayor Bob Whalen said in a statement Monday. “Our number one priority as a city is to reduce our current level of high fire risk and exposure to wildfires. This funding is a tremendous help to those efforts.”

Fuel modification — a catch-all term for efforts to remove, alter or replace combustible vegetation with more drought-tolerant or fire-resistant plants to remove the “fuel” for potential wildfires — is one of 29 short-term goals recommended in a 132-page report the city’s Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Subcommittee released earlier this year.

The additional state funding will go toward fuel modification along Laguna Canyon Road, which is one of only three exit routes out of the city.

“Over 70% of our Laguna Beach neighbors live in a high fire hazard severity zone and we’re working to mitigate this risk,” Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) said in a statement. “I am proud to have partnered with Mayor Whalen to secure $1 million in state funds to protect lives, property and our community.”

Nearly all of Laguna Beach and its 16,000 acres of open space are classified by CalFire as a “very high” fire hazard severity zone. The city has 23,000 residents and attracts an estimated 6 million visitors each year during the summer tourism season.

In July, the City Council earmarked nearly $23 million to expand outreach and emergency alerts, underground power lines along Coast Highway and refine local evacuation plans — as well as remove dry brush and vegetation, with the goal of clearing the entire city within 10 years.

“Given the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires in the state, the city of Laguna Beach needs to be proactive in mitigating our wildfire-related risks and preventing fire-related air pollution,” said Fire Chief Mike Garcia, in a statement. “This [additional state] funding will help us do both.”