Tomorrow sees the launching of the latest committee to investigate the region’s fire protection needs in the wake of the wildfires of October 2007.

Last year, I spent weeks poring over various reports issued by various committees and commissions and other groups over the last five years and wrote this story, which focused on what the city has done since the last spate of reports to better prepare itself.

One thing I found when I was writing that story was that a lot of people have spent a lot of time and effort figuring out what needs to be done to better protect the region from wildfires. For example, the San Diego Fire Department’s After Action Report lays out, in excruciating detail over 89 pages, what the city needs to do to ensure it’s prepared for wildfires.

As I pointed out in my story, significant gaps remain in the city’s wildfire preparedness.

The new commission will be staffed by bigwigs from all over San Diego County. It will be jointly led by Mayor Jerry Sanders and Supervisor Ron Roberts. I called Fred Sainz, the mayor’s spokesman, and asked him what the point is of another committee that will issue another report.

Sainz said the new commission will see the city “joined at the hip” with the county and other cities in the region. All the players in the county will be working together to figure out how to better prepare the region for wildfires, Sainz said.

I asked him how that’s different to the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission, formed in the wake of the Cedar Fires and composed of several local, state and even federal officials, and which released a 247-page final report in 2004.

Sainz switched tack and posed his own question: “Even if we were to accept all the recommendations made in reports four years ago, is that the right thing to do?” he said.

Sainz said any recommendations need to be updated, which means there’s a need for the new committee. And he had another question: Where are the plans for implementing the recommendations of the previous reports? It’s all very well pointing out what needs to be done, Sainz said, but there needs to be a plan showing how the government can actually implement the changes that need to be made.

Sainz said the new committee won’t just come up with recommendations but will come up with an implementation plan too.

“How they go about achieving these objectives is as important as the objectives themselves,” he said.

The unifying conclusion of all the reports I have read on wildfire preparedness is that the city of San Diego and the county need to pump a lot of money into the aging fire protection network. With the city heading into 2009 with a $32 million deficit, I asked Sainz how the city will afford any of the proposals the committee comes up with.

He said the city has to live with its financial situation, and that any new demands on the general fund will simply have to be hard fought. But he said public safety will always take priority for the mayor.


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