Last week, Oakland residents were reminded again of the dangers people living in the hills face when a 22-acre fire broke out on a hillside above Skyview Drive, threatening 50 homes. This was the second major fire in the hills in two months, after a 20-acre fire broke out near Grizzly Peak Boulevard in August.
Thankfully, no lives or homes were lost in either fire.
These fires will hopefully serve as a wake up call to city officials on the dangers of approving the Oak Knoll project, which despite going to the Planning Commission on Oct. 18, does not yet have a Fire Safety Plan (Fire Plan) or a Wildfire Prevention Area – Vegetation Management Plan (Wildfire Plan) ready.
The two plans are required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and are necessary to ensure that the city will be able to provide adequate safety and fire protection for Oakland residents prior to the approval of the Oak Knoll project. Though the city’s Supplemental Environmental Impact Report for Oak Knoll (SEIR) contends that the Fire Plan will specify “all of the fire safety features incorporated into each phase of the project and the schedule for implementation of the features” and that the Wildfire Plan “will incorporate several measures specific to minimizing fire risk associated with vegetation or wildland fires,” the SEIR contains no evidence to support these conclusions, and no analysis of the severity of the project’s underlying fire impacts without these mitigation measures in place.
The lack of these plans should worry everyone. Oak Knoll is only 1.6 miles from the fire that started last week and will include 935 homes, all made of wood. The development is surrounded by urban lands and vegetated open space areas that can get very dry during the summer months. These conditions create an increased risk of fires from dense and fire-prone vegetation.
The SEIR acknowledges that the project’s 935 homes will result in an increase in demand for fire protection as well as emergency calls. However, the SEIR concludes that this increased demand will not require the addition of new or physically altered fire protection facilities in order to maintain acceptable performance objectives for the city’s fire protection services.
The closest fire station to Oak Knoll is located at 2603 98th Ave, 1.3 miles away. Engines from the station would need to cross the I-580 freeway just to reach the entrance to the project site. This may prove difficult to impossible during heavy traffic hours. This station also already responds to roughly 3,300 calls yearly.
The SEIR’s conclusion that the project will not need additional fire project facilities is highly concerning. The SEIR relies entirely on the future development of the Fire Plan and Wildfire Plan to ensure that the project will not pose a significant fire risk or unduly burden existing Oakland Fire Department and Cal Fire resources. This is both improperly deferred analysis and improperly deferred mitigation.
The day after the Planning Commission reviews Oak Knoll is the 26th anniversary of the start of the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, a disaster that killed 25 people and wiped out nearly 3,500 homes.
We must take every precaution to make sure another disaster like the 1991 fire never happens again. SunCal is not planning to build any of the units on the Oak Knoll property. It will sell lots to individual merchant builders, who will thereafter build the project. The uncertainty of the timing, quality, and components that may be used in the project’s subsequent build outs make it even more crucial that clear fire safety standards be set for the entire project before final approvals are given to proceed with its development.
The city must require SunCal to prepare, and the city must meticulously review, a Fire Plan and Wildfire Plan to ensure that the plans will adequately mitigate all potential fire risks prior to project approval.
 Id. (fire safety risks are “Less than Significant with SCAs,” including SCA PSR-1: Compliance with Other Requirements, SCA HAZ-4: Fire Safety Plan, SCA HAZ-5: Wildfire Prevention Area – Vegetation Management.)
 14 CCR § 15126.4(a)(1)(B); POET v. CARB, 218 Cal.App.4th at 735; Comtys. for a Better Env’t v. City of Richmond (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 70, 95; Cal. Native Plant Socy’ v. City of Rancho Cordova (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 603, 621.