All Junipers Must Go Says New OVA Firewise Policy

Al Haggerty

            The Oakmont Village Association reversed course at its Oct. 20 virtual meeting by changing its Firewise Landscape Policy from encouraging the removal of junipers to requiring the removal of junipers “from the entire property” in less than a year, by Aug. 31, 2021.

            While the resolution adopting the change passed 7-0, Noel Lyons said he was opposed because he feels the requirement for a 5-foot defensible space around homes takes precedence over juniper removal. He said he voted for it because it still has to be submitted to the membership for the required 28-day comment period.

            Director Marianne Neufeld, who submitted the resolution, said there are junipers in the yards of more than 500 Oakmont homes, She said a Junk the Junipers program is being organized by the Firewise Safety Committee, which hopes to offer volunteer help to remove the plants. She said she would help residents that are not financially able to achieve the 5-foot defensible space. 

            Director Marianne Neufeld, who submitted the resolution, said there are “hundreds” of homes in Oakmont with junipers. She said she is going to form a “Junk the Junipers” program to encourage removal by offering financial help to those who can’t afford the removal and providing debris boxes for the torn out plants. She said she would also help homeowners achieve 5 feet of defensible space with donations and volunteers.

            “This is a crisis,” warned Iris Harrell, chair of the Building Construction Committee, calling junipers “a gasoline plant.” She said that while her own home has been made fire safe, an inspector told her she’s still vulnerable because her neighbors on either side have junipers.

            OVA Vice President Tom Kendrick asked how confident the board is that “we can do this.” “Pretty confident,” responded President Steven Spanier, adding that OVA’s attorneys have said it would stand up to legal challenges. Although he voted for the resolution, Kendrick said he favors encouraging, rather than requiring, the removal of junipers. “We can do both,” Spanier said, referring to the juniper removal and defensible space program.

PERIMETER FENCING

            Tackling the issue of thousands of feet of fencing behind Oakmont homes backing up on Highway 12 destroyed by the Glass fire, the board unanimously approved spending up to $15,000 for 4,000 feet of temporary fencing for three months between Oakmont Drive and Pythian Road.

            Meanwhile, OVA asked homeowners whose fences burned not to replace them by erecting new wooden fences.

            Addressing the overall issue of fencing on Oakmont’s entire perimeter, the board approved the formation of an Oakmont Perimeter Fence Committee to investigate the feasibility of developing a fire resistant fence policy. 

            The committee will consult with homeowners whose property was impacted by the Glass Fire and other community members interested in reducing wildfire threats to Oakmont and with firefighting, insurance and building professionals involved in managing risks in the wildland urban interface (WUI).

            Noting that the Glass Fire destroyed a significant portion of Oakmont’s perimeter fence, the resolution said that before lost fences are replaced with flammable wood fences, “we have an opportunity to build a perimeter fence with long-lasting fire resistant materials.”

            Among the benefits of fire resistance perimeter fencing, it said, are eliminating wooden fencing which acts “as a wick” carrying the fire into home siding, reducing the risk of the domino house fire effect, enhanced security and privacy and creating a uniform appearance with perimeter fencing.

            The board approved a resolution requiring a membership vote of a majority of a quorum of at least 40 percent of OVA voters to amend OVA bylaws and protective restrictions (CC&Rs). The vote was 6-1. Spanier opposed the move because he favored requiring a membership vote of 55 percent (a super majority) of a quorum of at least 40 percent. 

            The resolution reflects a long-held belief that the current thresholds requiring more than 1,600 affirmative votes for making bylaw changes and more than 2,400 yes votes for CC&R amendments are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

            The vote followed withdrawal of a previous resolution requiring a majority of a quorum of at least 25 percent of the membership. The change followed “some community interest in establishing a higher quorum,” according to background provided by the board. 

            OVA directors unanimously approved a resolution providing dues relief for the owners of two Oakmont homes destroyed in the 2017 fire and six destroyed in this year’s Glass fire. The new policy states that Oakmont members who lose their homes due to fire shall not be required to pay dues from the time their home is lost for either three years or whenever the rebuilt home is ready for occupancy, whichever comes first. 

            Also approved without opposition was changing OVA’s purchase of power from PG&E “to the cleaner, more competitive rates of Sonoma Clean Power, effective immediately.” The major benefit to OVA, the resolution states, “is to ensure that nearly all of the electricity we buy comes from non-fossil fuel sources. SCP electricity comes from a mix of wind, photo voltaic and geothermal sources and is regarded as some of the cleanest power available in the nation.”