Aug. 27—Local, state and federal leaders told U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla that more money is needed to rebuild infrastructure and help firefighters on the front lines heal emotionally from wildfires.
They made their plea at a roundtable Friday at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.
Padilla, D-California, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to replace Kamala Harris when she was elected vice president in 2020, told the group at his wildfire roundtable that he was there "to listen and learn ... to help us to prevent or mitigate future wildfires and other natural disasters."
He said he had been to Quincy to learn firsthand about the Dixie fire, and that there is "a tremendous opportunity in the infrastructure reconciliation bill coming up when I return to the Senate after Labor Day."
Top on the list of gripes was FEMA, and its slowness in processing disaster-assistance applications.
"FEMA needs to be faster and easier for folks to use," said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers. "The city's application was approved in 2018 and we got the funding this year for projects such as moving a fire station."
An application to FEMA for assistance after the 2019 Kincade fire was returned unapproved because firefighters didn't have standard lunch periods, Sonoma County Fire Chief Mark Heine said.
Local representatives, including Sonoma County Supervisor Chair Lynda Hopkins, lobbied for "climate-impacted counties" to be included in assistance available through the federal Stafford Act, passed in 1988 to help areas damaged by hurricanes.
Heine, speaking of the need for more money to pay for therapy to assist firefighters going through emotional distress, said, "The very fire department responding to the fires can be destroyed by fires.
"Young firefighters are being exposed to things it took me 35 years to see," he said.
Property insurance companies that raise premiums or are slow to process applications for homeowners also took a hit.
Padilla said he and his office would follow up on the group's suggestions and added, "I now know the 'F' in FEMA doesn't stand for 'fast.' "
You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at [email protected].
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