Fire-Hazard Blackout

This is a guest post by Tom Daly.

PG&E has announced a plan to shut off power to vast areas of its service area in high wind events in dry conditions as a measure to insulate itself from the financial risk of its power distribution system starting wildfires. In June, 22,000 customers in California’s wine country and Sierra Nevada foothills lost power unexpectedly.  So now NV Energy is proposing a similar state-wide plan here to terminate power in ‘high’ and ‘extreme’ wildfire zones during ‘Red Flag’ events. See the Washoe County wildfire zones here https://gis.washoecounty.us/wrms/firehazard.

This plan was briefed to Mt. Rose corridor residents in a community meeting on June 1st, sponsored by the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District (TMFPD). In addition to our fire officials reviewing wildfire prevention protocols and evacuation plans, NV Energy representatives announced the power shutdown plan. This plan, if approved, would affect thousands of residents with little to no advance warning and with no defined schedule for restoring power.

What could possibly go wrong?

Consider a few issues. Washoe County’s most devastating wildfires, the 2011 Caughlin Ranch fire and the 2016 Little Valley fire, occurred in the wee hours of the morning. If you think organizing the evacuation of your family, pets and home at night is a challenge, try also doing that in darkness. Can you open your garage door without power in the dark?
Our reverse 911 system, to provide a wildfire warning to potentially affected homeowners, is not robust and much delayed in activation, when needed, so your notice to evacuate could be short or non-existent.
Residents who depend on medical equipment or devices needing power, will be further challenged dealing with whatever ‘Plan B’ they have, while also trying to simultaneously evacuate.
Our water system, needed by area fire departments and homeowners to fight wildfires, is dependent on pumps which, in turn, need power. Those pumps do not have backup generators, so turning off the power mostly turns off the water.
Not all critical facilities needed during a wildfire emergency, including fire stations, have backup generators.
Alternatives to NV Energy turning off the power would be to begin the long process of placing the most high-risk power lines underground in critical wildfire zones, replacing wooden power poles with metal or concrete poles, strengthening supports for power line towers, reducing the distance between poles to reduce the arcing potential and implementing fuel reduction projects along its power line rights-of-way.
Those measures, however, would require a more robust investment in NV Energy’s infrastructure and operations, likely reducing bonuses for its executives and returns to its bondholders and stockholders or, more likely, increasing your electric bill.
NV Energy’s plan to shut down power would threaten its customers while protecting its stockholders.
Let’s hope Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission Chairwoman Ann Pongracz considers this plan with citizens’ safety, not corporate profits, as her first priority.

Moratorium Motion Movement

There was little relating to development on today’s agenda at the Reno City Council (July 24).  Most of the 27 speakers came to speak on item D-1 relating to enforcement actions against the homeless.  That item was pulled from the agenda at the last minute.

Councilwoman Brekhus had announced that there would be a moratorium motion discussed at this meeting, but it was not on the agenda.  She made this commitment following the joint Reno/Washoe County meeting on April 29 that covered flooding in Swan Lake.  Speakers from the North Valleys felt betrayed.

Speakers during general public comment made the following points.

  • A moratorium is long overdue: there is no plan to address the flooding, and construction continues unabated.
  • Reno does not appear to have done anything to address the flood risk since the April meeting with Washoe County.
  • What is Reno doing to prepare for the coming rainy season now that the flood waters have receded?
  • Do repairs to the Hesco barriers mean that these are seen as a permanent fixture around Swan Lake?
  • Why do we need to keep building?  Is it really a benefit to the residents?
  • The North Valley’s plan for development is insane.  The sewer plant is already non-compliant.
  • Fire and police services are not keeping up with growth in the area.
  • The city should be firing people responsible for the flooding and the recovery effort including the city manager (Sabra Newby) and public works director (John Flansberg).
  • The city lost the class-action suit: the city knowingly flooded the Swan Lake neighbors.  How would the council redeem itself to regain the trust of all residents?

Mayor Schieve announced that there would be a special meeting dedicated to the topic of a moratorium on August 5 at 5:30PM in the city council chambers.

After the public comment, we saw the sparks fly on the dais.  Councilwoman Brekhus expressed her dismay that her moratorium motion was not on the agenda after she had specifically requested it to be.  She then requested that it be on the next meeting’s agenda for July 31.  She made the point that “moratoriums are of the essence.  They are a suspension of regulations and activity for a period of study and evaluation and planning.  Since May, there have been additional hookups (Lemmon Valley) and a lot of earth-moving.”  She is concerned that not only will it be detrimental to the community up there that is bearing the brunt of the un-managed growth and inadequate infrastructure, but that it will disrupt new business when the city runs out of capacity to support new additions up there.  She doesn’t want to wait till the August 5 meeting to “start to queue-up the process”.  She expects that implementing a moratorium will take multiple steps and that we need to start the process now.  Mayor Schieve responded sharply (presumably regarding putting items on the agenda).  You can see the exchange at the 1:59 time mark on the meeting video.

Note: there is now security screening with a metal detector to get into the city council chambers.  It is new today and caused a big delay for attendees to the city council meeting.

Unincorporated Fire News: TMFPD

The following is a report from the recent Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District meeting by Tom Daly.

Highlights from the July 16th TMFPD meeting and other intel follows:

Wildfires and firearms – The discharge of firearms caused the recent ‘Jasper’ fire (west of Spanish Springs) burning two square miles and destroying two single-wide trailers and one out building. About 100 homes were threatened but the multi-agency response (TMFPD, BLM, RFD, SFD and USFS) saved most homes. Costs to battle the blaze at about $750K, with TMFPD to be reimbursed by BLM. Suspects arrested and charged. In public comment one citizen suggested keeping the County owned shooting range open daily for target shooting (the range is now closed on Tue, Wed and Thu) to preclude shooting in unmonitored areas.

Wildfire evacuations – Chairman Hartung requested a future agenda item to discuss the plans for wildfire evacuations.

Staff – BFC Alex Kukulus was promoted to Deputy Fire Chief (unclassified position ) with an employment agreement (2 years) and salary of $170K. The Fire Marshal position remains vacant but there are several well qualified applicants. Look for that position to be filled in November.

Labor issues – A potential new contract with the IAFF local was reviewed with potential pay increases over two years and other enhancements, including an educational allowance for those with an Associates or Bachelor’s degree. No action was taken, so look for this issue on the September agenda.

Fires – From July 3-5, TMFPD responded to 172 calls, 48 of which were fires occurring in 24 hours. Multiple agencies (RFD, SFD, CCFD, BLM & USFS) assisted given the volume of calls.

Plans – The TMFPD ‘Strategic’ plan and ‘Facilities Management’ plan, laying out a 5 year needs assessment for the District, will be presented for review and comment at the September TMFPD Board meeting on September 17th.

Ambulance – The Board approved on a 3-2 vote (Hartung and Jung dissenting) the purchase of a second ambulance to handle surge issues when REMSA is ‘out of ambulances’. This second unit will be located at TM#45 Sun Valley. The other ambulance is stationed at TM#30 West Washoe Valley.

Agenda Items 11 (Dashboard items review) and 12 (CAD/AVL Dispatch) were pulled due to time constraints and the self-serving and unrelated diatribes during public comment by Kathy Brandhorst and Sam Dehnay. These items will be on the September Board meeting agenda.

Next TMFPD Board meeting is Tuesday September 17th, time TBD (may be earlier than the normal 0900 starting time given the number of agenda items.)


The following is an open letter to Vaughan Hartung from Tom Daly regarding the locking of gates on fire-evacuation routes.

Vaughn:

Per our conversation today, to my memory the last multiple communities evacuation drill in the County was in 2008 and included the Mt. Rose corridor neighborhoods of Arrowcreek, Saddlehorn, the Estates at Mt. Rose, Callaghan Ranch, Timberline, Montreux, Galena Forest and St. James Village.

The drill was organized by the late SFPD Fire Chief Michael Greene.

While the conventional wisdom for such a drill would have been for a wildfire coming down the mountain, forcing those neighborhoods to flee east via Mt. Rose Hwy and Arrowcreek Parkway to the safety of the valley floor, Chief Greene instead posed a scenario of a chlorine tanker truck accident at the intersection of Fawn Lane and Mt. Rose Hwy., with the toxic plume spreading west forcing a west bound evacuation, save for the neighborhoods of Saddlehorn and Arrowcreek.

The drill was on a sunny Saturday morning with advanced notice to all communities. Locked gates from Callahan Road to Montreux and from there through additional locked gates to Galena Forest were unlocked in advance with temporary signs at each unfamiliar (to the evacuees) intersections directing fleeing residents (mostly from Callahan Ranch and the Estates at Mt. Rose, about 450 homes) to the safety of TM#39 Galena Forest, the designated ‘safe zone’. All went well and several dozen residents participated.

The County’s reverse 911 system was challenged as it was not able to contact many residents with cell phones to warn them.

Consider the same scenario today.

Assuming a more robust reverse 911 system, still few, if any, fleeing residents would know how to unlock those multiple gates. In my own neighborhood of the Estates at Mt. Rose, evacuation gates are controlled by the TMFPD, not by our HOA. Montreux and Galena Forest gates, some or all, are controlled and locked by their HOAs. Similar locked gates limit access from West Washoe Valley to St. James Village.

As we have learned from the multiple wildfires in CA in recent years, minutes not hours, are the time you have to make an evacuation decision. We cannot wait for the Sheriff, CERT teams or TMFPD units to arrive and unlock evacuation gates.

If residents are to have a chance to successfully evacuate, those gates need to be unlocked all of the time. They can be closed and latched to provide the normal limitations into those restricted communities, but need to be unlocked in the interest of public safety.

Only a county-wide ordinance requiring unlocked evacuation gates will ensure citizens’ ability to successfully evacuate.

Consider.

Thanks

Tom Daly

No Summer Break

With no regular Reno City Council meetings scheduled for July, residents might think we would get a respite from the malfeasance … no such luck.  The Reno development train-wreck continues unabated with the following items.

Angela Fuss represented the monstrous Stonegate development before Reno’s North Valleys Neighborhood Advisory Board to request a change in the Stonegate plan on July 18.  The developer (Barnes) wants to remove the requirement for landscaping along the streets presumably to cut costs.  Ms Fuss is the public face of the project as a planning manager for Lumos (a development engineering firm).  She also advocated for the non-compliant Ascente development approved by Washoe County in 2016.  Her presentations have been shamelessly deceptive supporting the developers’ plans.  She has been hired by Reno as a planning manager.  Unbelievable!  This represents a total capitulation by Reno to the developers and special interests.  We do not know when she will first report to work at Reno.  This is akin to having a convicted car thief in charge of the parking garage.  Remember, the Stonegate developer suggested that traffic problems could be addressed if Reno would build a light-rail line to the development.  I hope the city council is working on building that train.  Ms Fuss could help.

Where is the agenda item for the moratorium on any new water or sewer hookups in the North Valleys? There is still no plan to address flooding in Swan Lake.  Council member Brekhus promised there would be an agenda item on this topic that would be debated in public.  She said it would be on the agenda at the next meeting.   The city council will meet on July 24, and there is no moratorium on the agenda.  What is behind this failure to deliver? The city has been convicted of causing the flooding in Swan Lake as seen in their loss to the neighbors in court.  They are apparently committed to making things even worse.  The “water year” starts October 1 which is the start of the rainy season.  It’s only 10 weeks away.

The agreement with the Paiute Tribe is that water from the Fish Springs well (Vidler pipeline) would not flow into the Truckee.  But, the Stead sewer plant is now sending some of its sewage to the TMWRF plant for treatment.  The TMWRF plant discharges treated effluent into the Truckee.  There is an additional concern that TMWRF is not meeting its discharge standards regarding “total dissolved solids”.  This is a problem for the threatened Cui-cui fish which are hatched in Pyramid Lake.  Maybe, the water quality monitor at the Pyramid hatchery will provide illuminating data.

 

New County Planning Commissioner

This is a guest post by Mike Lawson.  He was interested in his replacement on the planning commission and had a meeting with her to understand her perspective and to share what he as learned from serving on the commission. 

As the outgoing planning commissioner for Washoe County district 2, I was more than a little interested in meeting my successor, especially considering that Commissioner Lucey’s decision not to recommend me for reappointment was politically motivated. I had made the wise but unforgivable choice to support his opponent (Steve Wolgast) in the recent election. Additionally, I voted in opposition to approval of development and zone changes which would benefit the special interests (many of whom contributed to Commissioner Lucey’s campaign), but don’t comply with the area plans. I was also concerned that Ms. Nelson’s appointment might have been influenced by the fact she is acting County manager Dave Solaro’s sister. So, it is not surprising that I was a little suspicious about my replacement and meeting with her would either corroborate or assuage my doubts about why she was selected to replace me.
I asked to meet with Ms. Nelson at her place of employment and she kindly obliged. I am pleased to report I found her to be a thoughtful and affable neighbor who shares the WRAP community concern about appropriate planning, or rather the lack thereof, demonstrated in recent years by Washoe County and the City of Reno. She was well informed about recent development along the Mt. Rose corridor and shared the citizens’ concerns about the safety and environmental issues, which have been exacerbated by poor land use development. She is informed and concerned about the flooding issues in the north valleys and the environmental concerns in Damonte ranch. She asked intelligent questions about my experience on the commission and was interested in my responses. I genuinely believe she is a well-intended citizen looking to preserve the character of the area plans while also ensuring technical reports supporting development are scrutinized to ensure the information is accurately represented, codes are complied with, and required findings can be met.
Nothing I have written is intended to suggest I speak for her. I am simply offering my impression based on a single conversation we had this week. However, I do believe she is both qualified to serve on the planning commission and has our existing communities and neighborhoods best interest at heart. I am also convinced her relationship to Dave Solaro had no influence on her appointment. WRAP and the citizens who read this blog and contribute to our cause are among the best citizens in our community. You have treated me fairly and with kindness and I thank you for that. I am asking you do the same for Kate Nelson unless or until she demonstrates she does not deserve it. We owe her that. Thank you.

Help Wanted

Dear Reader,

WRAP involves only a few people to monitor what is going on in the Truckee Meadows.  Like you, we have our personal challenges, health considerations, and day-to-day chores and obligations.  At the same time, we are faced with many development and related issues in the region that are worth following.  We could really use some help, even a few hours a week.

Following Public Meetings

Nevada has comprehensive open meeting requirements so that deliberations and decisions are in public view.  Unfortunately, some meetings have no attendees representing the public or the media.  As a result, there is no coverage of the deliberations or the decisions that affect our neighborhoods and our quality of life.  These meetings might as well be held in a back room among old cronies.  They say “Sunlight is the best disinfectant for political decisions.”  This is true, but it requires someone to witness what is going on.

What’s Involved

By statute, all the governmental bodies have to publish an agenda at least three days in advance.  Items may be dropped from the agenda within the three days before the meeting, but items can’t be added.  These agendas are available online.  This is the practical approach.

  1. Look at the calendar for the coming meeting for the specific government body and see when and where they will meet.  Regular monthly meetings are sometimes cancelled if there isn’t much to cover.
  2. Look at the agenda for the coming meeting and see if there is a major issue being considered.  If the issues look routine or minor, skip the meeting.
  3. Attend the meeting (or view on cable TV or online) and make notes about the major issue (or issues) being considered.
  4. Compose a blog post describing the issue, the concerns that are raised about it, the deliberations, who made points to consider, and what the vote was.  I will happily edit your blog post for clarity and brevity.  Alternately, you can send me your notes, and I will compose the blog post.  I can credit you with the work, or I can post it under my name.

Coverage Needed

We need volunteers to take up a “beat” like a newspaper reporter.  For simplicity, and to avoid duplication, I look for volunteers to follow a specific governmental body.  We need volunteers to cover the following entities.

Reno City Council (They meet from 0 to 4 times a month.  Their meetings are broadcast on local cable channels and are available quickly online.  The online format allows the viewer to skip to a specific agenda item.)

Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Authority (TMRPA) They meet typically once a month during the day, but their meetings are not available remotely.  You need to drive to their office or to the county chambers or to another location to see their meetings.

Washoe County Board of Adjustment (Meets monthly in the evening on the first Thursday at the county commission chambers.  I don’t think their meetings are available remotely.)

Truckee Meadows Water Authority (Meets roughly once a month.  Their meetings are in Reno and Sparks.  Some are broadcast.)

Citizens’ Advisory Board, North Valleys (Meets monthly in the evening at the North Valleys Community Center.  Their meetings are not available remotely.)

Why bother?

We’re all busy.  Why add something to our responsibilities?

  • We are all aware of the malfeasance and compromised ethics behind decisions that detract from our quality of life.  The first step to change this is to make these decisions public.
  • You will quickly become a citizen-expert regarding the body you are following and about the issues impacting us all.
  • Rather than feeling helpless about the bad decisions, you can make a difference and actively defend our neighborhoods and lifestyles.
  • You can be part of the success pushing back against the decisions of the “good old boys” network.  Neighbors and activists are changing the way decisions are being made.

Closing pitch

Do not be intimidated.  We will help you with links to the meeting calendars and online agendas.  If you can’t attend or follow a specific meeting, let me know and I’ll seek a substitute.  This is not a lifetime commitment.  If you can only volunteer for a few months, it’s still a benefit to the readers.

Beyond monitoring the Washoe County and City of Reno bodies, we need to be looking ahead.  We need to be thinking about how we might influence the coming elections for the county commission and the city council.  We also need to be planning what changes we want to see in the state laws to reduce the blatant favoritism shown to developers in the code.

 

 

A Conversation with Paul McKenzie

Tammy Holt-Still hosted a meeting with Paul McKenzie, George Still, and Steve Wolgast.  Paul McKenzie was the Reno City Councilman for the North Valleys.  This position is now held by Bonnie Weber.  McKenzie brought up a number of points that area residents may not know.

  • The storm drain systems for Silver Lake and Swan Lake are connected.  There is a rise between the two lake basins, but if the water gets high enough, it can flow from one to the other.  It does not look like this happened in the past two years.
  • Reno has a stop-loss liability policy which would apply to the class-action suit.  So, if the Swan Lake neighbors damages exceed limit (maybe $2M), the insurance company takes over the litigation and negotiation.
  • The settlement of the suit could include requirements relating to a plan to address the flooding in general.  This would be negotiated as part of the settlement.
  • Since the city was found guilty of “taking” (part of the “inverse condemnation” claim), there is no cap to the damages that could be awarded.
  • While only retention ponds can meet the mitigation requirements of the Regional Drainage Manual for development in Lemmon Valley, Reno does not use these in part because the Reno Department of Health does not allow such water to stand indefinitely.  This sounds like a fundamental problem since the water captured by the retention ponds is likely to take some time to percolate and evaporate.
  • Proposed Master Plan Amendments can not be summarily denied.  A Master Plan Amendment can only be denied by indicating that it does not meet the statutory “findings”.
  • The Western Regional Water Commission (WRWC) has responsibilities under NRS for responsible water management, water sustainability, and storm water management.  Some of these responsibilities are beyond TMWA‘s charter.  WRWC should be fulfilling its duty to develop a comprehensive plan to manage water availability, storm water run off, sewage collection and treatment, and flood control.
  • One promising plan to address flooding was to pump some of the RSWRF effluent  to Hungry Valley where the tribe would like the water for agriculture.  This plan broke down during negotiations with the tribe for unknown reasons.  TMWA appeared to be opposed to it.  TMWA sees effluent water as a valuable resource even as it causes flood damage.
  • Reno now uses drinking water for the landscaping of new developments in the North Valleys since the Public Works Director does not want to commit to delivering more effluent water for irrigation.
  • One concern with processing the RSWRF effluent through TMWRF is financial.  Reno and Sparks operate the TMWRF plant at a 66%/33% split (Reno/Sparks).  If TMWRF were to take RSWRF effluent, their percentage would increase so that the agreement would need to be re-negotiated.
  • Water is being provided for new development through the Vidler Pipeline coming from Fish Springs in California.  California has plans to limit the depletion of aquifers in the state.  This could impact the new Lemmon Valley developments.
  • Tentative map approvals expire unless they’re renewed.  Planned Unit Development (PUD) approvals do not expire.  The PUD specifies the number of dwellings to be built on a property, so once it is approved, the area is stuck with the size and density of development.
  • The area with the Amazon warehouse and other warehouses was originally zoned residential.  It was re-zoned to industrial following the Great Recession and the collapse of the residential housing market.  This includes the area on North Virginia Street and the area at Lemmon Drive and Military Road.

Going forward …

  • The City of Reno should be discouraged from moving forward with an appeal to the verdict in the Lemmon Valley class action suit.  Some progress may be possible in this regard through informal contacts.
  • There should be a moratorium.  There is no plan to handle the excess run off and the increasing waste water volume.
  • A strategy is needed to change the NRS in the coming session so that it grants more rights to homeowners.  As it is, it is blatantly biased in support of developers.  There are two parts to this effort.
    • Identify what changes need to be made to the statutes.
    • Identify a champion to promote these changes in the coming session.