With Democrats and Republicans coming together to move a $1.5 trillion spending bill through Congress, thanks in no small part to the aid for Ukraine it contained, Los Gatos is one step closer to getting $750,000 to harden itself against wildfire.

The 2,741-page omnibus package includes $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian aid for the European country in Vladimir Putin’s crosshairs, and finally gives Democrats the chance to secure some of the priorities that were stymied by Senator Joe Manchin’s opposition to their Build Back Better agenda.

“It’s a great win for the Town,” said Arn Andrews, Los Gatos’ assistant town manager. “Getting a federal earmark is not easy.”

This money is in addition to the $7 million in State funding announced Sept. 18 to help West Silicon Valley municipalities prepare for wildland blazes.

Andrews says Los Gatos has been working to thin out dangerous fuels along 31 miles of roads, to prevent the possibility of “fire tunnels” being created.

It put half-a-million dollars into the initiative.

“That $500,000 got us through about six miles,” Andrews said, adding it doubled down on the project with another $500,000, this year. “The crews are currently up there working.”

‘Getting a federal earmark is not easy’

—Arn Andrews, Los Gatos’ assistant town manager

When Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo asked if there were any funding requests the Town had, local officials thought of this project.

“For us it’s very specific. It’s, ‘Let’s just keep chipping away at these roadways,’” Andrews said. “What this is, is large-scale landscaping.”

The idea of creating defensible spaces resonated within the Democratic Party, which had already scaled back its environmental ambitions, and is now—with gas sanctions in place against Russia—seeking ways to source more climate change-fueling oil for the country, not less.

After holding talks with Eshoo months ago, Town staff got a chance to practice patience.

“We were fairly certain that we were going to receive the funding,” Andrews said. “We were just waiting for Washington, D.C. to move through the cycle.”

Andrews says locals may have a sense of what the federal dollars will be used for, if they’ve headed toward the Pacific Ocean any time recently.

State money recently went toward removing easy-to-catch branches and debris stretching from the south end of Los Gatos all the way up to Summit Road.

“Our entire area got an example of what a shaded fuel break looks like,” Andrews said, reflecting on its additional educational benefits. “It was a great project.”

But, he adds, it isn’t just up to the government to fight off wildfire.

Andrews says everyone can do their part to make sure their own properties aren’t a tinderbox for the next wildfire.

“We take every opportunity we can to educate our public about the risks that are out there,” he said. “We can never educate our community enough.”

To stay up to date about wildfires and other public safety incidents, sign up for the county’s Alert SCC program: bit.ly/3q7qPVI

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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