UC tells FEMA: “Give us the money!”
For those who don’t know, HCN is currently involved as a side party in the lawsuit filed by UC against FEMA. UC is attempting to overturn FEMA’s settlement agreement with HCN on the Environmental Impact Study that would have enabled UC to clearcut the entire Hills Campus.
At this time the matter is being briefed in the 9th District Federal Court in San Francisco, with the judge expected to issue a decision in mid-November. At this point HCN has consulted with EBRPD and FEMA/DOJ in order to develop and file a brief supporting FEMA against the UC assault. We have filed one brief and expect to file a second response brief in October.
A little background on how we got here.
UC originally made a proposal to FEMA for three projects on 284.3 acres. In developing its EIS (Draft Environmental Impact Study), FEMA combined those proposals with three other projects (121.9 acres) proposed by Oakland, and a 592.3 acre project with another project of combined actions, totaling 1,653 acres, from EBRPD. The UC proposal was for fire risk reduction work on UC owned property in Strawberry Canyon, Claremont Canyon and the area below Grizzly Peak called Frowning Ridge. UC’s “vegetation management” to reduce fire risk involved taking out tens of thousands of drought resistant, healthy, carbon-storing non-native trees.
Killing these trees would have removed the shade that prevented flammable weeds from thriving. What was UC’s plan for dealing with those weeds? Spray them again and again with thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals. The result? UC’s “Hills Campus,” mostly in Claremont and Strawberry Canyons, would look like a sea of dead stumps--until some time in the future when UC might choose to develop it. (Although they won’t confirm this, they also won’t deny it)
But the grant to UC was intended to reduce the risk of wildfire―not increase it! More than 90% of the 13,000 public comments FEMA received on its EIS did not believe UC’s plan would work. Converting the hills to grassland and brush with oaks here and there (if that transformation ever happened) sounded more like native plant restoration than fire risk mitigation. Grassland, brush and oaks have a bad fire history in California because they burn like an inferno, as evidenced in recent Northern California fires. The plan did not sound like fire risk mitigation to FEMA, or to HCN, or to the fire scientists who reviewed UC’s plan.
Ultimately, HCN filed a lawsuit against FEMA in July, 2016, challenging the EIS. Also named in the suit were UC, EBRPD, Oakland and CAL OES. After nearly a year of negotiations, FEMA settled the lawsuit with HCN by eliminating funding for UC and Oakland (which had copied UC’s methods), but keeping EBRPD’s funding intact.
Pursuant to the settlement agreement, FEMA terminated the grants to UC in 2016.
But now UC wants this agreement overturned. UC’s main claim is that it never agreed to the termination! In the end, taxpayers will pay the bill for all those attorneys (except HCN’s attorney) who have submitted briefs on all sides of the case. The lawsuit will be heard before a federal judge in mid November.
Recently, UC received a major new grant from CalFire, but in order to satisfy CEQA requirements, they still need the Biological Opinion that was rescinded as part of the HCN/FEMA settlement. If FEMA/HCN loses this case, UC’s ability to clearcut the hill campus will be significantly enhanced. It is for this reason that winning this case is so important to saving this forest.
HCN has put much time and money (from your donations) into this conflict with UC. We think we have a strong case and, with continued financial support, we expect to prevail. HCN continues to fight for our forests. Please help any way you can. Donations can be made via PayPal on our website https://hillsconservationnetwork.org or via check to Hills Conservation Network, P.O. box 5426, Berkeley, CA 94705.