SACRAMENTO, April 24, 2019 –As California prepares for the next catastrophic wildfire season, legislation by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to strengthen local planning requirements in high fire hazard areas and encourage local governments to pursue more fire-resistant and home hardening strategies in their communities passed the Senate Housing Committee last night. The vote was 8 to 3.
Senate Bill 182 reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire damage to fire prone communities by requiring strategic local planning for fixing existing at-risk structures; modifying local planning requirements to reduce fire risk through design; and reducing development pressure in high fire risk areas without compromising on regional housing goals. Senate Bill 182:
• Conditions new construction in identified high fire risk areas upon cities and counties meeting specified Wildfire Risk Reduction Standards;
• Requires local jurisdictions to verify ongoing compliance with defensible space, vegetation management, and local fire plan/wildfire hazard mitigation plans, including documenting compliance for each impacted property at least every three years; and
• Directs counties, in tandem with updating their general plan safety element, to develop a comprehensive retrofit strategy for infrastructure vulnerable to wildfire within its jurisdiction.
Flying embers can destroy a home up to a mile away from a wildfire. Home hardening improvements make a home more resistant to wildfires by replacing a wood roof with fire-resistant materials such as composition, metal or tile, covering vent openings with mesh wire, installing dual-paned windows, and other changes. Defensible space is the buffer between a building and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surround it.
“California’s persistent threat of wildfires poses tremendous risk to lives, homes, and businesses throughout our state. We must do more to make our homes more fire-resistant and improve land use decisions in regions that are high fire risk, and we can do that without compromising on California’s need for more housing. Too many lives have been lost and too many communities have been left behind by these deadly wildfires to continue with business as usual in California,” said Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, Vice Chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management and State Senator representing the district impacted by the devastating 2017 Thomas Fire.
At a March 13, 2019 hearing focused on development in fire prone regions, the Senate Committees on Governance and Finance and Natural Resources and Water recommended legislation to “bolster local planning efforts to design more resilient communities; condition development approvals to ensure that structures and communities are adequately protected from fire; or encourage development out of harm’s way.”
SB 182 now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.