Permit Sonoma working on draft multijurisdictional hazard mitigation plan

By Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, July 22, 2021

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Permit Sonoma is in the middle of creating a draft multijurisdictional hazard mitigation plan, a plan that identifies hazards for specific areas and mitigation measures/projects that can help reduce the risk of those hazards and can help local government agencies access federal funds for those projects.

“It allows us to access certain types of federal funding,” said Lisa Hulette, the grants department manager for Permit Sonoma. “This is different from policy, but it will inform general plan safety elements and other county or community policies that may have to do with risk reduction. This plan itself is an action plan for our local governments and county to seek funding.”

Permit Sonoma, the county agency that’s heading up the project, held a virtual webinar on July 21 to provide an overview of the draft plan and to answer questions.

During the meeting, Hulette explained what the plan is, why it’s important, how it was created and what the process is for getting the plan approved and adopted.

“There are five phases of emergency management, prevention, protection, response, recovery and mitigation. We are talking about mitigation … risk reduction actions that local governments can seek funding for to reduce risk to natural hazards. Mitigation funding comes from the disaster mitigation act,” Hulette explained. “This plan is a way for the local government to ensure that federal money is put to ground to reduce risk to hazards in the county and in specific communities.”

Why is the plan multijurisdictional?

According to Permit Sonoma, the multijurisdictional approach was chosen because it enhances public awareness and understanding across multiple jurisdictions, it creates a decision tool for community leaders, it promotes compliance with state and federal programs and provides opportunities to obtain federal grants for mitigation projects and it provides inter-jurisdictional coordination.

Additionally, Hulette said, “The different towns and cities that comprise Sonoma County determined that a coordinated effort toward risk reduction was a much more sophisticated approach to hazard mitigation planning.”

If a plan is multijurisdictional, it can also help inform each jurisdiction’s own plans and provide more of a specific approach to hazard mitigation for one area, for instance, the coast, which may have different risks than an area that’s further inland.

For instance, the county-specific hazard action plan items include conducting a systematic fire safety analysis of all county owned assets that are known to be in wildfire zones and identify site specific mitigation actions, funding emergency water storage and supply projects and funding fire flow booster pump system, among others.

About the draft plan creative process

Permit Sonoma and county personnel applied for and received a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) planning grant and the county contracted with a consultant, Tetra Tech, to help with the draft creation process.

For the past 12 months, the county worked to assemble a jurisdictional partnership, established a steering committee that met monthly, assessed the risk of multiple hazards of concern, crafted goals, objectives and actions and identified and prioritized over 200 mitigation actions that the county may seek funding for.

Examples of risk reduction actions include amending General Plan Safety Element Hazard maps to reflect updated mapping of hazard areas identified in the hazard mitigation plan, integrate climate adaptation actions across the region, request a FEMA prepared updated flood insurance study and analysis of the Russian River and Laguna de Santa Rosa floodplains, develop a model ordinance that would provide the regulation of land uses in areas that may be affected by sea level rise, and others.

Jurisdictions that participated in the creation of the plan include the County of Sonoma; the city of Santa Rosa; the town of Windsor; the city of Cotati; the city of Sonoma; Sonoma County Ag + Open Space; the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District; the Northern Sonoma County Fire Protection District; the North Sonoma Coast Fire Protection District; Cloverdale Fire Protection District; Timber Cove Fire Protection District; Sonoma County Fire Protection District; Sonoma Resource Conservation District and the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District.

The creation of the draft plan was also overseen by a steering committee of emergency management experts and community members.

About the draft plan

The draft plan has two volumes. Volume 1 provides more of an overarching, regional approach and applies to the entire county, while volume 2 is more of a jurisdiction specific approach and provides actions and mitigation measures for each participating jurisdiction.

The plan is over 300 pages long and consists of guiding principles, eight goals and five objectives. The plan has a five-year performance period.

“For me, it really hits home. My home was destroyed in the Tubbs Fire and this was not just a project of a professional passion, it was a personal passion, so I brought to it a spirit of, ‘what can I bring, who can I pull together to reduce risk so this doesn’t happen again?’” Hulette said.

Jeff DuVall, the deputy director of the Sonoma County Office of Emergency Management, said the biggest benefit of having a hazard mitigation plan is risk reduction.

“If we should have a disaster we’ll move into response and into recovery, but one of the things that comes out of having emergencies and disasters is we learn from them,” DuVall said.

For looking at potential hazards, Tetra Tech used a risk rating score number system to assess and rank risks for different areas of the county.

“For this plan we have done a quantitative analysis using GIS mapping data where we navigate the extent and location of a hazard, identify the assets that are inside of that hazard and then we actually estimate what we think will happen to those assets when something happens like an earthquake or dam failure or a fire. It is purely quantitative and we are using loss estimation models,” said Rob Flaner, the project manager for the draft hazard mitigation. “We’re not saying this is what is going to happen, we’re saying it is what could happen and it is not meant to be resolute.”

The risks were broken down and ranked per supervisorial district, District 1, which encompasses the city of Santa Rosa, Rincon Valley, Sonoma Valley, Kenwood, Glen Ellen and other Sonoma Valley communities; District 2, which encompasses the city of Petaluma, Cotati, Penngrove, a portion of Rohnert Park and Two Rock; District 3, which encompasses most of central Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park; District 4, which encompasses the Fulton and Larkfield-Wikiup areas, the town of Windsor, city of Healdsburg, the city of Cloverdale and Geyserville; and District 5, which encompasses northwest Sonoma County, the Sonoma coast, the lower Russian River area, Sebastopol and the west and southwest Santa Rosa areas.

The biggest risk for District 1 is wildfire, followed by landslides and earthquakes. The biggest risk for District 2 is earthquakes, followed by severe weather and landslides.

District’s 3, 4 and 5 also face high wildfire risk, but the biggest risk for District 5 is actually landslides. For unincorporated portions of the county the biggest risk is earthquakes.

On all of the risk assessments, drought came in as the lowest ranked risk.

Flaner said this is because when looking at hazards, the ones that have a higher risk of destroying buildings and infrastructure and killing people are typically the ones with the highest ranking and risk level.

Droughts typically do not destroy buildings, damage property or kill people.

“When we look at loss in a FEMA context, a loss is a loss to a known asset and we don’t see structural damage or property loss from droughts,” Flaner said.

Next steps

The public comment period runs from July 12 to July 30, a two-week period which is required by FEMA.

To view the draft plans in their entirety, click here.

The public can send their comments via email to PRMD-HazardMitigation@sonoma-county.org or by postal mail to Sonoma County Multijurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan, C/O Lisa Hulette, 2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA 95403.

The plan will then be submitted to California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) on Aug. 6 and will then be reviewed and submitted to FEMA.

It takes around 45 days for the plan to be approved by FEMA and CalOES. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will then consider adopting the plan at the Dec. 7, 2021 board meeting.

This article was produced by SoCoNews. See more news at soconews.org