Campaign aims to challenge FEMA decision
El Dorado County continues its mission to override the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s decision to deny individual assistance for residents impacted by the Caldor Fire. Bringing the topic to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting Feb. 8, District 2 Supervisor George Turnboo led the discussion to determine what more the county can do to unify county communities and state government to make a “strong” effort to obtain FEMA individual assistance.
Turnboo brought to the table the idea of starting a public media campaign to raise awareness for El Dorado County’s need for individual assistance benefits.
“The people who were in Grizzly Flat and others who were impacted by this fire feel like we got that support,” Turnboo said. “I think it needs to get out there in the public so everyone knows what is going on.”
FEMA denied the county’s individual assistance request Oct. 8, 2021. The denial letter sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom states that while damage to infrastructure was “significant,” FEMA officials determined the impacts on residents and households “was not of such severity and magnitude to warrant the designation of individual assistance.”
Caldor scorched more than 220,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,000 structures and leveled hundreds of Grizzly Flat homes.
Cal OES sought to appeal FEMA’s decision later that month, and the county was yet again denied. President Joe Biden reportedly promised FEMA support to county Chief Administration Officer Don Ashton when he visited California Sept. 13, 2021, to view the damage caused by the Caldor Fire.
County supervisors wrote a letter to the White House Sept. 30 to remind Biden of his promise but have received no response.
Turnboo said other adjacent counties got FEMA support and even Colorado got $43.6 million in assistance from FEMA for the Marshall Fire.
“I just don’t understand why we didn’t get that support,” Turnboo said.
Congressman Tom McClintock and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla have also tried to help the get county individual assistance by sending letters to FEMA.
Turnboo said 32% of Grizzly Flat residents had no insurance because they could not afford it.
“I want to help these people as much as I can, as well as the people in Tahoe who were also affected, and also help the businesses that lost thousands of dollars in income,” Turnboo said.
District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel, in full support of Turnboo’s awareness campaign, said she agreed with everything as long as the county is not “pointing fingers” and placing blame on the federal government for El Dorado County not receiving the bipartisan support.
“I hope this can lead to something,” Novasel said. “As long as we keep it relatively positive and remind them of their promise. I think we are at that point after trying the letter writing and still not getting anywhere.”
District 1 Supervisor John Hidahl said it comes down to the president’s involvement.
“The only viable path that I don’t know if we tried is to try to get someone from the president’s office to present the case and show the fact that he did make a commitment to our community and to ask him to please honor that,” Hidahl said.
Ashton said federal lobbyist David Turch would be the best chance at reaching the president’s office and that Church utilized all contacts to try to get that support with no success.
Hidahl said having Feinstein and Padilla back their effort should be influential enough to get a hold of someone from the president’s office.
Chair/District 4 Supervisor Lori Parlin supported Turnboo on his idea of a media campaign to get a detailed perspective of how affected residents are.
“George is right. People do not realize that we got left behind,” Parlin said. “You hear about all these other counties and areas that were affected by fires that got help to recover from them and somehow we got left out.”
Kimberly Pruett, a representative for Congressman McClintock, addressed the board via zoom to show her support for Turnboo’s plan of action. She noted McClintock’s office has been getting hundreds of calls from cabin owners and residents looking for federal aid. She said she has tried to implement strategies to reach the president’s office quicker in a bipartisan manner.
“We are working with the U.S. Forest Service to implement some policies to try to solve some of the problems but unfortunately without that individual assistance we have that missing piece,” Pruett said.
While many details have not yet been worked out, the plan is for Novasel to collaborate with Turnboo on the awareness campaign, while the Board of Supervisors continues to push to get in contact with the president’s office.
The board voted 5-0, showing supervisors aren’t giving up on FEMA individual assistance.