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Igniting a Culture of Change: Evaluating the Los Trancos Community Maintenance District Home Hardening and Defensible Space Incentive Program

Picture of a spiral bound "undergraduate practicum" booklet.
June 12, 2020
Brandon Alvarez
Patrick Kurzner
Jessica Reynoso
Matthew Sun

The state of California has experienced an increase in catastrophic wildfires in recent years, impacting our homes, environment, and economy. Wildfires, like the Tubbs Fire that burned in Northern California in 2017, are difficult to prevent, but as community members, we can ensure our homes are equipped to reduce wildfire risk and minimize destruction of our communities. Considering the particularly dry winter of 2019-2020, there is concern of an intensified wildfire season this year; additionally, because communities have focused their efforts on addressing COVID-19 instead of wildfire prevention, western states are more vulnerable to wildfires. For these reasons, it is crucial that cities address wildfire risk through education and accountability.

In San Mateo County, an incentive program exists for homeowners who proactively mitigate wildfire risk by pursuing vegetation management and home hardening measures. Residents of two hillside communities, Los Trancos and Vista Verde, are eligible for an annual rebate of up to $5,000 for approved wildfire mitigation measures. The program is administered by the Woodside Fire Protection District (WFPD), which conducts home risk assessments for eligible properties within the program area and makes specific risk mitigation recommendations for homeowners. The program is funded by property tax revenue collected by the Los Trancos County Maintenance District (LTCMD), which was repurposed after the dissolution of a water district.

At the request of the WFPD and the Town of Portola Valley (PV), we undertook an evaluation of the effectiveness of the LTCMD incentive program in encouraging homeowners to adopt wildfire prevention measures. To do so, the project analyzes: (1) home risk assessments performed by Fire Marshal Don Bullard, (2) home-hardening measures adopted by homeowners through the incentive program, (3) interviews with stakeholders, and (4) surveys sent to homeowners who have participated in the program. The report also includes an overview of existing literature on the effectiveness of wildfire prevention programs and social psychology to provide recommendations on how the incentive program can be improved.