.Fire Inspections: Santa Cruz Fire Chief’s Problem With Grand Jury Report

Big changes could follow the CZU Lighting Complex fire, which is now 48% contained acres, having burned 85,746 acres, as of Thursday morning.

The fire has destroyed 1,490 structures, including at least 928 homes. Fire safety discussions will likely continue long after the flames extinguish.

Santa Cruz County Land Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) is paying special attention to a Santa Cruz County Grand Jury report, released two months ago, that examined fire risk in the county. LAFCO is getting ready to start an analysis in which it could recommend changes to fire services across the county.

In the months ahead, other aspects of fire safety are also sure to get a second look.

A separate Grand Jury report released this past June looks at the rate of fire inspections in the county. A state law that went into effect at the beginning of 2019 requires departments to file annual reports tallying up required inspections they’ve completed of schools, hotels and multi-family residences, including apartment buildings and residential care facilities. The Grand Jury found that nearly all fire districts in the county were behind on their required inspections.

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Santa Cruz Fire Chief Jason Hajduk has a few problems with the report: he points to a math error on a chart about the Central Fire District; he says the figure in the report for the number of schools Santa Cruz Fire officials inspected was wrong, and he doesn’t know where it came from. “What I’m saying is their numbers are bullshit,” he says.

The Grand Jury found that Santa Cruz Fire inspected just 15% of its apartment buildings, but Hajduk says his department is stretched thin. He says the city’s fire department has the same number of inspectors as smaller agencies that have far fewer investigations on their plates. He believes that a report designed to provide clarity may have muddied the waters.

The Santa Cruz City Council has tasked Mayor Justin Cummings with writing the city’s response to the fire inspection report and to six other Grand Jury reports released in recent months.

Rich Goldberg, the Grand Jury foreperson, says he’s open to criticism. He looks forward to hearing from all the agencies as they file their responses.

“If they have different or better data, that’s something we encourage them to provide,” Goldberg says. “If there’s other information or if we misinterpreted some data, they can clarify that.”

Follow continuing in-depth fire coverage here and in our live blog.



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