Guest Column on Fire Safety

By Barbara Tiberi:

Big Sur Businesses Can’t Do It All

I lived in Big Sur for 20 years, and when we first got there, traffic was insignificant. There were just enough visitors to keep folks in business, and the businesses could handle educating everybody personally about the delicate environment. The balance was perfect. But now it seems askew, there are way too many visitors and the businesses can’t possibly educate all of them, not with the number of inexperienced visitors coming. Everyone is waiting for one mistake to be made by just one “stupid tourist” that starts a fire that puts everyone’s life at risk.

The local businesses can’t be expected to carry the load of educating everybody that comes down the highway just because they’re already trying. They need help. The whole community needs to rally behind them on this, including Monterey County Government, State Parks and Cal-Trans, working with businesses and the great local artist community to come up with solutions for managing this tourist inundation. It’s time. Well, that’s an opinion from an ex-pat who’s worried you’re not doing enough to protect yourselves and your world. I’ve done some educational marketing in a past career, and I’ve included a starter plan/template to think about. I think it’s hard for a large group to come up with a plan, but, if you see a plan, you can instantly see the flaws in it, and a better plan comes to mind. So have at it.

1 – Educate people on the way in – Put up some signs.

When I went to Maui, there were signs everywhere telling me what not to do. There were enough signs to make it clear they valued their environment and wouldn’t take any shit, but it didn’t keep me from seeing the beauty of Maui, and didn’t keep me from wanting to go back.

You guys could pick a few turnouts on each road leading into Big Sur and label them proudly as “Big Sur Information Centers.” Put up some colorful fire-safety signs plus whatever info you decide on to help visitors make the right decisions. Put in some port-a-potties. Folks will stop to use the port-a-potties, and read the signs while waiting in line. You’ll keep the highway cleaner while exposing people to your message. Even illegal campers need to pee, and they especially need to know campfire safety.

You could also have more fire safety signs. The current no campfire signs are invisible. Last I saw, they are the same color as the dry grass and dust they are posted in. No wonder people ignore them. Make them award-winningly attractive, colorful and clear. Make them so fun, people WANT to take pictures of them. Make them so fun, the tourists clean them off themselves so they can get better pictures. You need to have a minimum of 3 signs on each roadway heading in to make an impact. Education requires repetition, and the lesson you need to make clear is a life saving, important message. Don’t skimp. Ask yourself, are you trying to protect the view or the environment, or the lives of the people? I think you have a better chance of doing it all if you exchange some of the view on the highway for better informed visitors. Most visitors want to learn about your environment, that’s why they come.

2- Make the fire-safety information valuable to visitors to have in their possession

Enter people who have taken photos of the fire-safety signs into a contest wherein the winner gets a free weekend in a Big Sur hotel or cabin. Notify the media about the contest and make it a huge deal. Have the contest twice a year for a few years to get the word out. Use the whole “37 pieces of flair.”

Also have fire-safety brochures that include a contest entry form in all the businesses and parks for folks who leave their devices at home. If they have the fire safety info on them while they are in Big Sur, they can enter the contest.

Most people from the urban world don’t have experience with wild environment fire-safety. To them, fire-safety means not getting their candle next to a curtain. The amount of moisture in the fuel load is a different language they don’t need to know about at home. You’ll have to teach them about it to protect your world.

Remember, any time folks are waiting in line, you have a chance to educate them, and government agencies have a responsibility to help you manage and educate the huge numbers of tourists, to reduce wildfire risks and costs for everyone. I’m sure you folks can come up with really great ways to educate your visitors. Only you can make it happen, though. Good Luck with the swarm!

Stay safe.
Enjoy the space.
Thanks for listening.

6 thoughts on “Guest Column on Fire Safety

  1. Wonderfully stated Barbara. Your Big Sur tenure and professional life provides great insight into the devolved state of land management balance. Your mention of “government agencies” is precisely the problematic imbalance the whole coast suffers from. If it weren’t for the private residents’ efforts, the trail around Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge might not have been completed to this day. Public agency irresponsibility and rhetoric of “not enough funding, not enough manpower” is a souring note even at the grassroots level. You have made the kind of suggestions that community-minded folks can rally around. Let us hope that the federal, state and county offices, commissions and departments get the message you present so clearly before another emergency.

  2. These are some great ideas, but I would take it a step further and suggest that we need a rest stop or 2. Perfect opportunity to educate people in a focused environment and keep them from being forced to answer those urgent calls of nature along the highways. I used to oppose the idea of restrooms at Garrapata beach, but how do you have a state park with no facilities? One porta-potty ( now inaccessible) at Soberanes just fundamentally flawed approach to this very real problem. I think we need to find the $ from the Ventana wedding fine, and recapture it from the Coadtal Commissions private slush fund and put it to use– as a beginning of the necessary ” war chest”. I think there is a million and a half that wasn’t specifically earmarked, and $1.5 million could probably be raised through donations by property owners wanting to protect the environment and their property values! Just try to sell a house where you have to disclose that tourists crap in your yard and or stuff used toilet paper in your mailbox, for instance. So there’s a pitch ( several really ) to be made for funds, but we need an action plan. Restrooms at S end of Carmel Beach as a model; Soberanes turnout for starters. Signs signs signs! What a total cop out that some Fire Chief says they won’t put up signs because they get defaced etc. NO EXCUSES! We need wildfire danger signs NOW!!!

  3. Nicely put. Education is the key. Knowing the mind set of the “audience” is paramount to be effective. And yes – repeat,repeat,repeat.

  4. I think a simple test of the English language should be given to those wanting to rent a car in Ca.. Understanding numeric symbols and simple direction signs is necessary. It has been my experience that many of the drivers do not read or understand English, and therefor could not pass a simple driver’s test, and should not be on the road.

    Lyndall Demere Ph.D., Msc.D.

  5. Excellent article. And I do not think the education component can be stressed enough. I am relatively new to the Central Coast. I am a respectful visitor to any area and very mindful of fire. BUT I have never lived in an area where fire is such a part of the life–and therefore I did not have a REAL understanding prior to witnessing the entire Soberanes cycle. Again, excellent suggestions.

  6. The County, in my opinion, should be the ones responsible for educating tourists since they are to blame. The Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, etc. has overpromoted this unique area all in the name of the mighty tax dollar.
    Yet they claim to lack the funds to manage the amount of visitors that seems to double every year. It’s not just Big Sur but the Monterey Penninula has changed so much in just a handful of years. We’ve all seen the traffic increase all over the County. It is so sad to see the amazing Central Coast we all live here for look more and more like Southern California each day. The County Officials tend to cater more to the tourist than its residents and our quality of life suffers for it.

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