Early in 2018, after the 2017 Nunn’s Fire, the Oakmont Fire Safety Committee was formed.  I was one of four members of that Committee.  The other members were Dan Milhollin, Julie Cade and Warren Bowers. 

We put our hearts toward working on the Committee, meeting once and sometimes twice a week, sharing the findings of the research we had conducted, which was focused not only on Sonoma County, but also extended to other counties in California, and quite literally, all over the world.  Our mission was to learn how others handled the threat and experience of wildfires in their areas.

We, at all times, made sure that we were in total agreement about the information which would be given to residents.  Not too many people know this, but our committee, as directed by Kevin Hubred, divided Oakmont in four sections, with each of us choosing a section to document, while walking or driving by each property. 

The lists we made were to include egregious amounts of Junipers, trees overhanging roofs, lack of defensible space around homes, overgrown properties and trees and shrubs growing up to eaves.  Both Dan Milhollin and I turned our lists in to Kevin Hubred, general manager.

Christel Antone (Architectural Office) has copies of our lists.  And I still take daily morning walks in “my” area.  I have been saddened to see that most of the properties, noted as being the most alarming to Oakmont, have continued to be so.  In fact, they are worse. 

After the FSC agreed on the contents of the “Do Not Plant/Remove” list, I volunteered to be the typist.  I sent drafts to Dan, who had taught high school English before he retired, so he could edit them.  The final list was submitted to the BOD for approval

I suggested to the Committee members and Kevin that we could not tell Oakmont residents what they could not do, without giving them positive information in the form of a “Suggested Plants” list.  So, the Committee went back to the drawing board.  We followed the same process with this list as we had with the prior one.

Once again, I was the typist and Dan was the editor.  When we felt we were close to being ready to publish this list, Dan and I sat down at his house to go through the document with a fine-tooth comb. 

We had stacks of gardening and plant books on the table.  Dan was a Master Gardener, so he was a great resource.  It took about 5 hours to complete our task.  The final list was submitted to Kevin.  I, quite honestly, don’t know what became of it?

One event which I have not shared with many folks, maybe only a handful, is that one day, while Dan and I were in the OVA Office on another matter, we noticed that Kevin Hubred was alone in his office, so we decided to talk to him. 

Dan asked why he (Kevin) had not made sure that the articles, such as the list about what not to plant, how to harden one’s home, how to create fire safe landscaping and other FSC topics would be featured front and center of each issue of the Oakmont News, as Kevin had promised they would be.

Kevin said that Agnes Reznikov (publisher of the ON) made those decisions.  Dan’s anguished response was: “Kevin, we are talking about people’s lives here.”  But we received no answer – only a not listening look that we had, unfortunately, encountered before in FSC meetings.  Dan repeated his comment with tears in his eyes.  Silence followed.  We left. 

We all kept each other going when one of us would become depressed, dejected and discouraged.  Dan told me he would never serve on another Oakmont committee.  I could tell his heart was broken.  He kept his promise.  He died a month later from a heart event.

It bothers me that a whole year was spent and nothing came of it?  Today a new committee has been formed under Iris Harrell’s leadership.  The wheel is being reinvented. 

Recently, I sent Tom Kendrick an email saying that Oakmont could have been much further down the road as to fire safety, if the FSC had been taken seriously back in 2018-2019. Residents could have been spending what they could afford, prioritizing along the way according to what CalFire recommends.

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  1. Lyn Cramer on November 8, 2020 at 6:17 am

    Thanks, Brenda, for a story that chronicles both the best and worst of Oakmont. It’s a story that needed telling.

  2. Yvonne Frauenfelder on November 8, 2020 at 7:14 am

    With candor and regrets, Brenda Steele writes of the valiant efforts made by the Oakmont Fire Safety Committee, formed two years ago in June 2018.

    For the better part of a year, the members researched, compiled and filed information about fire safety measures from around California, indeed, the world.

    “We put our hearts toward working on the Committee, meeting once and sometimes twice a week …” Brenda writes.
    “ … our committee, as directed by Kevin Hubred, divided Oakmont in four sections, with each of us choosing a section to document … “

    Having finished their task, they turned their work product over to the general manager. Hoping to have the important information prominently displayed in the Oakmont News, they were to be disappointed. Brenda continues: “We all kept each other going when one of us would become depressed, dejected and discouraged.”

    It is almost inconceivable that management and the board did not follow through with the recommendations and plans for wide community involvement – including rallies – developed by the 2018 Fire Safety Committee. The hardening of our homes and yards would have been both facilitated and advanced by now.


  3. Peggy Dombeck on November 8, 2020 at 8:31 am

    This reminds me of what went on with the Landscape Improvement Committee.

  4. Myrtie on November 8, 2020 at 8:56 am

    How sad this valuable information was buried. Please have it published!!!!
    Where can we get a copy of things to plant.?
    I admire your work on behalf of the community.

    • Brenda Steele on November 8, 2020 at 9:10 am

      I would be happy to email copies of either, or both, to any resident who would like for me to do so. To ensure confidentiality, pls send me a PM on NextDoor.

      • Bruce Bon on November 8, 2020 at 2:24 pm

        Why not publish both the Do Not Plant/Remove list of plants and the fire resistant list of plants in the Oakmont Observer? You should, of course, include a disclaimer saying that the lists have not been approved by the OVA Board, but as long as you do that, I don’t think anyone has the right to complain about your publishing the lists. In fact, it would be a real public service to Oakmont residents.

        If you do so, it would be nice to let us know whether or not there is any conflict between your lists and the recent Firewise Landscape Policy approved by the OVA Board. I suspect that there is little conflict, though your lists may be more specific than the OVA policy.

        • Brenda Steele on November 10, 2020 at 8:41 am

          Bruce, The “Remove/Do Not Plant” list which the FSC submitted to the BOD, and was approved by the BOD, is the same one which just appeared in the 11/09/20 eBlast. I am hoping that the list will be featured on the front page of the ON, not just once but at least several of times.

          The “Suggested” plant list is not being used by the Architectural Office or the FireWise Committee because there is a concern that residents will believe the listed plants are the only ones which they can use, or choose to plant. The FSC created the “Suggested” list to give residents options and suggestions at a time when residents might be thinking, “Now what do I do with this barren property?” All plants will burn eventually so residents ought not to believe that by setting out any of the plants on the “Suggested” list that they will survive. It’s important that residents use the “Remove/Do Not Plant” list to get the most volatile of plants out and off their properties. It’s also vital that residents create Defensible Space around their homes. Julie Cade wrote an excellent article for the ON which explained and showed in pictures how one can create Defensible Space which is attractive. I am also hoping that the FireWise Committee will resurrect and republish the articles which the FSC members wrote and were buried in the back pages of the ON.

  5. Bob Cortelyou on November 8, 2020 at 9:40 am

    Interesting that the FireWise Safety information was sent to all of the Meadowstone HOA members on October 26th, and I printed it out and am in the process of implementing the information. I just had all of our Junipers removed this past week. Other actions will be implemented as time moves on.

  6. Malka Osserman on November 8, 2020 at 10:11 am

    This is exactly what have just happened to us the Education and Transparency Committee, CETC, With our board liaison director we worked hard on a resolution to conduct a survey of the current priorities and desires of the residents. The last survey was done in 2015. Much have happened since then. We worked hard on the resolution only to be rejected by the board with the ludecrious excuse that it cost too much money and divisive. Than we asked for a permission for a short survey of only choosing 3 priorities from a list of 10 priorities. We were going to tabulate it and do the math by ourselves. The communication committee rejected that too. I am deflated and discouraged. This board became completely detached and uninterested in US! This April I urge people to consider running to fill the 5 seats vacant on this board. This board is not serving us right. Their agenda is not compatible with our needs and agenda.

  7. Andrea C. Bond on November 8, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    Brenda Steele, What is a “PM”? I’m very interested in both lists. Thank you!


  8. JF Lewis on November 9, 2020 at 10:54 am

    I am disappointed that this board would disregard the efforts and findings of the 2018 Fire Safety Committee. No wonder Oakmont residents are reluctant to volunteer on a committee. This is the way they are treated when the information they present is not what the board wants to hear. This is what happened to the thorough Voices of Oakmont survey and the committee who drove that effort. How many other committees have fallen to the same culture of Board cherry-picking?

    Iris Harrell has too much influence over OVA’s expenditures and now the board has expanded her control to landscaping. Is OVA practicing a three bid policy for any of the costly construction and landscaping taking place?

    Fire is not the only risk we face as Oakmont residents!

  9. Bob Kalsey on November 16, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    I certainly appreciate and applaud the hard work and great intentions of the Fire Safety Committee. I suggest, though, that OVA ask a botanical authority to re-examine the flammable and fire resistant lists that the Committee put together in 2018 if they have not done so already. There are a couple plants that are listed both on OVA’s “Fire Resistant” list and its “Flammable Plants” list. There are others on the Flammable list that authorities such as FireSafe Marin list as fire resistant. And at the risk of being dismissed as a grammar Nazi, I think someone should check the spelling of the botanical names as 5 of them appear to be wrong. It’s a small point, but little things like that don’t inspire confidence in the thing.

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