Marisa Endicott, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Changes to the state development standards have sparked a heated debate.
The tension between development and safety in fire-prone areas is a hot-button issue in Northern California and my inbox.
A major factor that extends beyond a proposed project’s property lines is how new businesses and more people affect everyone’s ability to evacuate when the next big fire sparks.
Just last month, a judge blocked Lake County’s plans for a new luxury resort that failed to convincingly take into account how an extra 4,000 people on the roads might impact a fire evacuation in the area.
So, for today’s column, I want to focus on the state fire regulations going through a revamp that could dictate the landscape, literally, for years to come.
It’s a complex issue, which means I’m going to focus on just one piece of it — a piece that has raised alarms for some fire professionals.
Since 1991, there have been baseline safety standards for development in fire-prone areas managed by the state. As California faced increased wildfire threat, the legislature in 2018 expanded these rules — the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection’s minimum fire safe regulations — to very high fire hazard areas overseen by local jurisdictions, too.
This triggered a general makeover for the 30-year-old regulations that has led to 18 months of fierce debate and landed in a place that, according to a number of fire experts, weakens, rather than strengthens, safety standards.
The big fear: It could jeopardize safe escape from wildfires in the future.
“These regulations fail to provide adequate standards or State oversight and enforcement to ensure the safety of firefighters and civilians for firefighting and evacuation,” a group of wildfire professionals wrote about the latest draft to the Board of Forestry in a January letter.
Of particular concern are proposed changes to rules affecting the conditions and specifications of existing roads. Your eyes probably glossed over reading that sentence, but bear with me because the devil really is in the details.