In order to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used effectively toward reducing the main drivers of wildfires and improve the resilience of increasingly vulnerable communities, Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris has introduced Assembly Bill 788. As devastating wildfires have ravaged the Golden State, California has appropriated $2.7 billion* for wildfire and forest resilience. AB 788 will provide state policymakers and taxpayers with comprehensive data and information on state and federal investments into wildfire and forest resilience programs. This bill would direct the California Wildfire and Forest Resilience Task Force to create and maintain a comprehensive data portal of wildfire projects and expenditures so communities, policymakers, and other stakeholders can ensure tax dollars are being used effectively to increase statewide climate resilience.
“Historic investments must deliver historic results. Californians expect these dollars to be deployed to keep our communities safe from catastrophic wildfires,” said Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine), Chair of the Assembly Chair of the Accountability and Administrative Review Committee. “As we develop and roll out programs, we must implements robust tracking and evaluation to ensure that we make smart investments to protect lives and property.”
The state and federal government in recent years have invested significant time and billions in resources into developing and implementing a comprehensive approach to wildfire-related disaster preparedness, mitigation, and forest resilience. But while these projects continue to be awarded to various communities, piecemeal data collection and an inadequate reporting system has led to confusion and a gap in understanding of the status of current resilience programs.
“Assemblymember Petrie-Norris’ bill should be a welcome sight for all Californians who are under increasing threat from wildfires,” said BuildStrong California Executive Director Natalie Enclade. “The resources committed to this issue have been significant, but until we better understand how this money is being used and how effective these programs are – on a city, county, and district level – we are not doing all we can to maximize our resilience and investment in these vulnerable areas.”
A 2022 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that “states should explore opportunities to better track and share data on wildfire spending. Wildfire spending data should be made more accessible, transparent, and comprehensive across all levels of government, which could improve intergovernmental coordination and provide policymakers with evidence to more strategically allocate resources.” By increasing accountability and transparency in state and federal investments, AB 788 will ensure that taxpayer dollars are used effectively toward reducing the main drivers of catastrophic wildfires and improve the resilience of increasingly vulnerable communities.
*$2.7 billion in state expenditures in wildfire and forest resilience programs have been authorized in the state budget since 2020-21. CalFire’s overall budget has also increased, with its combined budget for fire protection, emergency fire suppression, and resource management and fire prevention rising by roughly 45 percent over the past five years (from $2.5 billion in 2017-18 to $3.7 billion in 2021-22). LAO report.