THE WASHINGTON POST
The Feb. 10 news article “Gentrification by fire” raised valid points but did not address some important issues on building housing in California’s wildland-urban interface.
California’s policies concerning development in the wildland-urban interface are incoherent. The Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, whose members are appointed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), has issued minimum fire-safe regulations. For more than 30 years, the rules have required roads accessing new development to be wide enough so that incoming firefighting apparatus and fleeing civilians can pass each other concurrently. New development on dead-end roads more than a mile long is forbidden. In the past two years, the board was heavily lobbied by counties (including Sonoma County) and developers opposing road limitations for building in the wildland-urban interface, and the board proposed to eviscerate the regulations to allow commercial and residential development in fire-prone areas without safe evacuation routes. This approach failed when a group of retired firefighters lambasted the board’s willingness to jeopardize the safety of firefighters and the public.
Sound regulations remain in place, but the state does not enforce them, letting local jurisdictions ignore many of their protections. California’s housing crisis will not be solved by building in fire-prone rural areas; rather housing needs should be addressed by building as infill near transit hubs and safe evacuation routes.
Deborah A. Eppstein, Santa Rosa, Calif.
The writer is founding director of the State Alliance for Firesafe Road Regulations.