Twice in the past four years, Thousand Oaks, California has experienced devastating wildfires. To mitigate the risk of future damage and loss, the local REALTOR® Association used polling and a Consumer Advocacy Grant from the REALTOR® Party to help convince officials that maintenance of the open space surrounding the city should be a priority.
By design, the city of Thousand Oaks, California is surrounded by a ring of protected open space that sets it apart from the rest of the sprawling Los Angeles region. As much as its residents appreciate the natural buffer, however, in these recent years of drought, that 15,000-acre zone has become a serious wildfire hazard of highly flammable brush. The local REALTOR® association stepped up to convince the City Council that, while residents value the open space, they want it to be maintained with brush removal and prescribed burns, rather than left as an untouched wilderness waiting to feed a fire. REALTOR® Party polling services confirmed this public opinion, and a Consumer Advocacy Grant has helped steer the city toward wildfire mitigation measures.
Thousand Oaks is the second largest city in Ventura County, which has lost 2,706 structures in two devastating fires in the past four years. Chuck Lech, Government Affairs Director of the Conejo Simi Moorpark Association of REALTORS® (CSMAOR), explains that the damage affects everyone: “Insurance costs have skyrocketed for all the area’s homeowners, and rebuilding is painfully slow: we know, because one of our REALTOR® members lost his own house three years ago and is still putting the pieces back together.” So, while the City Council believed the public desired the open space surrounding Thousand Oaks to be an uncontrolled wilderness, in late 2021, the REALTORS® sought a direct response through a poll supported by the REALTOR® Party. It revealed that 94% of the voting public favored targeted brush removal from the open space to restrict the spread of wildfire. “Our instinct was correct,” says Lech, “but we needed a way to show the Council that voters thought that removing the fuel from the surrounding area was a good idea.”
“The REALTOR® Party team worked with us to develop an effective method to get our message out,” he continues. “Their expertise and guidance were very helpful, and with additional support from a Consumer Advocacy Grant, we were able to mount a campaign to publicize these attitudes.” The centerpiece of the effort was a full-color, full-page ad on the back of The Acorn, a free weekly newspaper delivered to all residents, which is known to be a trusted local news source, says Lech. The grant also helped to create a website link to steer readers to the CSMAOR website, and a PowerPoint presentation that Lech used to deliver the information to the City Council, the mayor, and the city agency in charge of the open space, with a plea for change.
The City Council responded by including wildfire mitigation in its stated top priorities for fiscal year 2022-23. “We deeply appreciate the funding from NAR,” says Lech. “The polling, in particular, gave us the ammunition we needed to achieve this important goal.”
While the City tackles the open space, CSMAOR is also working with the Ventura County Fire Department to help individual homeowners harden their properties against wildfires. The REALTORS® are developing a ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ brochure with helpful lists, important contact information, and a QR code directing readers to additional resources; it also has a space for members to attach their business card, and Lech anticipates it will be widely distributed in door-to-door visits – a popular year-round business-development practice in the southern California climate.
To learn more about how the Conejo Simi Moorpark Association of REALTORS® is working to protect the region it serves from wildfire devastation, contact Government Affairs Director Chuck Lech at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805.551.1162.