With a potentially dangerous fire season ahead this year, local State Senator Steve Glazer's (D-Orinda) proposal to create a pilot program that would give former inmates the opportunity to clear vegetation and help mitigate wildfires throughout the state has recently gained traction.
Following an April 13 hearing, the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 804, which would pave a pathway to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals, who would become eligible for an entry-level forestry position with the state after being trained in forestry management.
California already allows inmates to work on firefighting crews, who spend about 3 million hours fighting blazes along with performing 7 million hours of community work each year.
"We've had a string of devastating and deadly wildfires, and they are likely to continue for years to come," Glazer said in a statement. "We need to increase the number of qualified individuals who can help prevent these wildfires, and my bill would do that. It would also open the door to people trying to get a second chance in life with good, constructive work."
A proactive approach to forestry and vegetation management is needed to help reduce the threat and impact of wildfires, but one of the greatest obstacles to doing so "is a lack of a trained workforce," according to Glazer.
Moraga-Orinda Fire District Chief Dave Winnacker told the committee that it makes more sense to use "highly trained and experienced people" from the immediate area who are overlooked "simply because their experience and their previously held qualifications were gained while wearing Orange Nomex on a (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) crew."
"What is needed is access to trained fuel mitigation and fire line hand crews which can undertake the laborious process of thinning concentrated fuels and creating control lines," Winnacker said. "In our area, as in most urban areas of the state, these resources simply do not exist and bringing crews in from out of state or distant rural areas increases the cost and makes their use on small to mid-sized projects impractical."
Winnacker added, "The opportunity to address these two critical issues at the same time is too good to be missed."
Glazer's staff told the Weekly that it's "difficult to estimate without a current site in mind, but generally a (California Conservation Corps) residential center has the capacity to serve up to 80 Corps members at a time."
Orientation and basic training would make up the first month of the program, followed by another 11 months of field work and on the job training such as chain saw operation, wilderness first aid and CPR, and fire science and forestry health classes.
Another bill presented by Glazer earlier this month would add a second voting student member to the University of California Board of Regents.
Currently only one voting student member sits on the 26-member board. The student is selected by the board to represent other students for a one-year term; a second student regent also serves on the board but does not have voting privileges.
Glazer's Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 would "strengthen the influence of students" on the Board of Regents by adding a second voting student member to its ranks. The amendment, which is supported by the UC Student Association, would take effect if approved by the legislature and voters.
Noting that students "are the ones who are directly affected by decisions that the UC Board of Regents make," Glazer said a second voting student regent would strengthen and amplify "the important student perspective in Board of Regents' decisions."
"When budget decisions are made, student fee increases are discussed and other educational policies are established, it's critical that they are given a stronger voice to have an impact on what the Board decides," Glazer said.
Jamaal Muwwakkil, the current UC student regent, said, "Having a stronger student voice at the highest levels of university governance is vital to effectuating an equitable future for public higher education."
"Expanding the voting power of students on the board is aligned with UC values, and will hasten that more equitable future," Muwwakkil said.
UC student regent designate Alexis Zaragoz said giving students a second voting power "on a board that decides the fate of over 285,000 students is vital to ensure we live out the values we hold as the University of California."