Meeting notes for 5/5/2011

Grand Neighborhood Alliance Meeting Notes for May 5, 2011 (taken by Wendy DeBoer, GNA Leadership Team)

Deputy Chief of Fire Michael Esparza, Riverside Fire Department

Spoke about the way in which RFD responds to a fire. They have a response team and management team that respond to all fires, whether large or small. Try to establish a stronghold around fires and surround it. Operate “surgically” and focus on the firefight, each group has a specific task. Have one of the top investigative teams and arson canine who train with ATF and FBI.

When fighting large fires, resources may have to be brought in from elsewhere, such as crews and bulldozers.

In the case of the Oct. 2010 riverbottom fire, still not clear what caused it. They evacuated 5-6 homes near Anza Narrows.

Question: Can the city or county do a better job of clearing brush?

Answer: Not really. There are so many organizations that have jurisdiction along the river. Can’t make firebreaks and paths through the riverbottom because that habitat and ecosystem is protected. The bike path is the main access but fighting fires from that position can also trap firefighters.

Question: Why not take back the brush when doing the sewer project?

Answer: Can get into trouble with the federal government due to protection of habitat issues.

Question: In recent fire, seemed to be confusion about how to navigate the riverbottom. Can RFD do a mapping system?

Answer: They do have a mapping system, but the real challenge is being familiar with the river, for example, when bring in crews from other areas. They have aerial photos that are about one year old, but the river also changes shape with rains and other events.

Question: Residents are frustrated with the city’s lack of attention to its own responsibility for brush clearing in areas that are not habitats, but just empty lots.

Answer: Unfortunately, the Grand area is not designated as a high danger zone for fire. It would be great if it were because there would be more resources to address the overgrowth. There are general rules for maintaining properties, but RFD can’t do enforcement. Other agencies are in charge of that. They have cleared debris like palm fronds and can put fire break around the growth.

Question: Can have people who are required to do community service at work to clear brush and make fire breaks?

Answer: They’re generally not in good enough physical shape to do it! RFD has contracted with the conservation corps, but they haven’t used “weekend warriors.”

Question: What about the problem of the homeless who start fires in the riverbottom?

Answer: Esparza says that RFD is aware of homeless problem and campfires. There is enforcement, but they can’t do much if the fire is started accidentally rather than as arson. Mike Gardner says that the City has great programs to address the homelessness issue but they only work if people want to stop being homeless and there are many people who choose to be homeless. There is a new court ruling in CA that encampment is squatting and grants rights to homeless, and requiring that they be formally notified and allowed time prior to eviction.

Question: Can people be prosecuted for having grocery carts which are stolen property?

Answer: Mike Gardner says that several cities have adopted ordinances to keep carts on commercial premises. Riverside is considering adopting such an ordinance. The City does try to keep them out of the riverbottom. He reiterated that the homelessness issue is very complex but encourages residents to report the problem.

Fire Marshall William Schellhous, Riverside Fire Department

RFD’s goal is to protect lives of residents first. A challenge that they face is getting resources together quickly and coordinating crews who may not be familiar with the area. Troops get sent to homes first. In the case of the riverbottom fire, it is hard to do preparation on state-owned land.

A strong form of prevention is improving one’s own property. The “Ready, Set ,Go” booklet (passed out at meeting, copies available) offers valuable advice regarding how to keep one’s property safe and how to prepare for evacuation. Some important guidelines: don’t have flammables near the house, embers can blow a long way and ignite in vents and attics, can ignite the entire roof. Need to have a plan and be prepared.

With the geography of the riverbottom, this area in particular needs to be prepared because the fire will blow into these neighborhoods.

Question: When resident was renewing home insurance, they asked him if he would allow them to put fire retardants on the house in the event of a fire. What does that mean?

Answer: Can spray a gel that makes home fire-resistant. Prevents embers from taking hold and is sprayed before a fire endangers home. Some fire teams have this product as well. Now insurance companies are coming out to homes with crews who prep homes and this method is very effective. (For more about this method, see: http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080919/news_1m19insure.html)

Question: How do you protect vents from bringing in embers?

Answer: Can simply nail/place a wood board over the vent. Also, residents should be aware that RFD will come to your home and conduct an assessment to let you know how fire safe your home is or isn’t.

Mike Gardner, City Councilman, Area Update

Shopping center is currently in escrow with the Hopkins group. They have 140 shopping centers around southern California. It is privately owned. Mike Gardner met with them and they want to meet with a subcommittee from GNA. That should happen in about a month or so. They plan on attending our large GNA meeting eventually. (Mike Gardner is going to see if it might happen at our next meeting in August.) See the Hopkins Real Estate Page and their other developments here: http://www.hopkinsgroup.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=dsp&page=about&section=0

They have gotten the “no loitering” signs up and Mike has the strong impression that they care about the problems at the center currently and want to make it better. He feels encouraged.

A good sign is that they are pre-managing it now, even prior to escrow closing. They are talking to tenants and have a good sense of which tenants are good and who are problem tenants. Mike informed them about the empty lot for sale behind the shopping center and it may be possible that they will buy it. They do not seem to be short of capital.

RPD and the City have been working on some problem houses in the area, taking additional steps by having the city attorney contact the owners. One of the houses was put up for sale yesterday and the other house is also moving toward a positive resolution.

The City acquired the Martha Mclean Anza Narrows park from the county. Mike would like to see the park go back to its original design with a working well. Currently it has no irrigation system and the winter rains did substantial damage to the banks along the bike path. The toll booth will close.

Question: What happened to the playground?

Answer: It did not meet current safety standards.

The city council election is on June 7. Ballots will be mailed on the 9th of May. Every vote counts, especially in this ward where elections have historically been very tight, with just a few votes determining who is elected.

Question: There was a lot of police activity at the end of Tower the other day. What was going on?

Answer, Lt. Chris Manning, RPD: A stolen car driven by two parolees was pulled over and one suspect set off an on-foot chase on Tower Rd.

Lt. Chris Manning, Riverside Police Dept., update

(Officer Dillon was unable to attend. His family was in a car accident just prior to the meeting, but they are OK.)

The Wood Streets group has an excellent e-mail chain and have been sending alerts about burglaries in their area. RPD is aware of what’s going on there.

To address the homelessness issue raised earlier, the homeless are shifting and are using the bike path. They have been cutting fences to get access to the riverbottom. There is a lot of pedestrian homeless traffic to and from the river. They are working to shift them away from this area, toward other side of river.

Trash diving is also a problem. Encourages people to put trash out the day of collection rather than the night before. (Mike Gardner encourages people to call and report when trash diving is happening.)

There have been car break-ins at Mt. Rubidoux. Advise folks not to leave things in your car, not even if they are simply bags because thieves think you are hiding something valuable and will break in to find out. Better to have it totally empty.

Comment: Thanks to RPD for their efforts in addressing problem homes in our area. They have been very successful and have exceeded expectations.

Answer: Manning says that Mike Gardner has done an outstanding job of working with RPD and other entities in addressing problems in our area.

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