American River Watershed Institute
Fire Safety Project | Pilot Project

Using Neighborhood Self-organization

Incentives and neighborhood self-organization were the innovative approaches used to identify the project area and site. Rather than a mandated or regulatory approach, the project used educational outreach, cost share incentives, and administrative support to create the conditions that would catalyze a neighborhood to self-organize and propose their neighborhood project for consideration.

Colfax contracted American River Watershed Institute (ARWI) to implement the outreach and organizational phase of the project. ARWI researched self-organization and consulted a USFS sociologist, Ron Hodgson, to refine an incentive approach.

Key elements of self-organization are motivation, means, and opportunity.

The Colfax Project demonstrates that a community will self-organize and take action as a community to increase fire safety if there is motivation, means (resources: financial and logistical support), and the opportunity to take action is offered.

ARWI conducted a series of community workshops and public outreach through the press and mailings to provide citizens the motivation to organize their neighborhoods to compete for the cost share funds. Neighborhood meetings were held to further support interest. Finally, a leader from neighborhoods served as the "sparkplug" to increase motivation.

ARWI then provided the information that described the opportunity. The elements of the grant opportunity were:

  • A two-thirds cost share to supplement landowner investment in fire safety
  • Services of a Registered Professional Forester to assist in landowner decisions, and to finalize the design
  • Environmental analysis, so California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) work could be completed for the City-sponsored project
  • Administrative support, to help guide landowners through necessary paperwork, and to respond to problems or disputes

The Hillcrest Blvd. neighborhood near Colfax High School emerged from almost a dozen neighborhood candidates with the most robust response, linking 19 consecutive parcels and landowners into a partnership that culminated in a successful neighborhood shaded fuel break that significantly increases fire safety. The successful neighborhood is also in proximity to Colfax High School and Colfax Elementary School, magnifying the importance of the increase to fire safety. The discussion of this approach is detailed in the Final Grant Report (PDF*, 5.2 MB).