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You may remember this story I wrote last summer about city of San Diego canyon brush thinning a few months before the October wildfires hit. The point I made in the story was that the city of San Diego, which owns a significant amount of land locally, was way behind on its brush thinning and had cut staff significantly to manage brush in the city’s canyons.

Well, at a press conference this morning, Mayor Jerry Sanders announced that the city has been awarded a $2.36 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to spend exclusively on brush management over the next two fiscal years.

As I pointed out in my story last year, the city thinned about 70 acres of its land in 2007. That was about 12 percent of the ideal amount of brush it should be thinning, calculated at 590 acres in a report issued after the Cedar Fire in 2003.

Fred Sainz, the mayor’s spokesman, told me the city is on track to clear about 210 acres of open space in the 2008 fiscal year, at a cost of about $1 million. When the FEMA grant kicks in next year, the city will thin the requisite 590 acres, Sainz said. That’s about half the open space the city owns. The following year, Sainz said, the city plans to thin the remaining acres.

After that, the FEMA grant runs out. But Sainz said once the city has made a concerted effort to thin all of its open space over the next two years, future brush thinning will be easier, because the city’s open spaces will be less densely vegetated.

“It’s like giving someone a haircut who hasn’t had a haircut in a year, versus giving someone a haircut who cuts their hair every week,” Sainz said.

After an intensive two-year brush clearing program, it will also be cheaper for the city to clear its brush going forwards, Sainz said. The city’s Water Department spends about $100,000 clearing roughly the same acreage the city will clear this year at a cost of $1 million because the Water Department has been regularly thinning its open areas, Sainz said.

WILL CARLESS

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