Our View: Alisal Fire a reminder of need for insurance reforms
The Alisal Fire in Santa Barbara County is big and nasty, and it has proven to be hard to contain. As the Business Times went to press on Oct. 13, it had consumed 15,000 acres and Highway 101 was shut northwest of Goleta. (The highway reopened Oct. 15.)
So far, the Alisal Fire has lacked the devastating punch of the Thomas Fire or the Woolsey Fire, conflagrations that caused mass evacuations and wreaked havoc across many communities. But it has threatened Rancho Cielo, the retreat that Ronald Reagan used as his Western White House in the 1980s, and forced evacuations of campgrounds and ranches along the Gaviota coast and in the hills that separate the coast from the Santa Ynez Valley.
It also is a grim reminder that we are once again looking at a fire that’s gotten big enough to require a federal disaster declaration. And we are still in the middle of the extreme drought circumstances that brought us here.
Among the things that have changed since the Thomas Fire broke out in Ventura County four years ago: Utilities have gotten more aggressive about cutting off service before high wind events. In San Luis Obispo County, for example, thousands of residents have lost power in recent weeks as part of PG&E’s precautionary measures.
And on Oct. 12, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara proposed improvements to California’s FAIR plan, the state’s insurance safety net, for farms, wineries and other outdoor businesses. Worked out with the California Farm Bureau, the plan would boost coverage limits for the first time in nearly a quarter century and provide a backstop for businesses that can’t get commercial coverage.
He announced the proposal during a visit to Santa Paula, where Limoneira’s citrus and avocado operations were disrupted by the Thomas Fire, which eventually raged across a 70-mile front stretching from Goleta to Fillmore.
With luck and dying winds, containment of the Alisal Fire increased and Highway 101 reopened. And the alternate route — Highway 154 — remained open to provide some connection between Santa Barbara and points to the north, such San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and Lompoc.
But the cumulative effect of large fires on our communities and business owners is not to be denied.
A WIN FOR PATAGONIA
The decision by the Biden Administration to restore protection for the Bears Ears National Monument echoed all the way from Utah to Ventura.
At Patagonia’s headquarters, CEO Ryan Gellert heralded the move to protect some 1.36 million acres as a gift to Indigenous tribes, conservationists and rock climbers.
“We have a shared responsibility to conserve these important cultural landscapes for future generations,” Gellert said in a statement.
It also reflects nearly a decade of work for Patagonia, which used protection of Bears Ears as a springboard for its first-ever TV commercial, a film, and advocacy in its stores and online.
Patagonia took the rare step of suing the Trump Administration, after it reversed Obama-era protections and reduced the monument’s boundaries.
Not all of Patagonia’s causes are as popular as its efforts on behalf of Bears Ears. But it has shown perseverance and respect for the rule of law in a big win for the environment.