FOG UPDATE – How Cal Fire Rules may affect your safety and your property values
The California Board of Forestry is in the process of re-certifying Sonoma County Fire regulations. If you live on a narrow, sub-standard or dead-end rural road and have concerns about fire safety, you may want to get involved with this issue. Having a cannabis/hemp project on your road could affect your safety in the event of wildfires. Below is a summary of the issue prepared by the Neighborhood Coalition.
– In response to increased wildfires, CalFire Board of Forestry (BOF) enacted minimum road requirements for new development after 1991 in the State Responsibility Area (SRA)- which in Sonoma County is most of the unincorporated area. These regulations include 20 ft wide roads, no one-lane roads (12 ft wide plus shoulders) longer than ½ mile, no dead-end roads (still 20 ft wide) longer than 800 ft (parcels <1 acre) to 1 mile (for parcels >20 acres). The purpose is to increase fire safety for new development in the wildland-urban interface- to prevent situations such as Paradise- and ensure safe fire engine access and concurrent civilian evacuation, and unobstructed traffic circulation during a wildfire emergency. Thus after 1991, there could be no new development (which includes homes as well as commercial cannabis operations) on unsafe roads such as dead-end or one-lane roads in the SRA.
Sonoma County would like to ignore these requirements and allow new development on substandard roads. “No new development” would not affect anyone re-building after a fire. It would only affect NEW development, not re-builds.
If this concerns you, please email comments to CalFire Board of Forestry Matt.Dias@bof.ca.gov and BCC me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Below are two sample letters. If you don’t have time to create an email just ask that the BOF not re-certify Sonoma County Fire Regulations because they would threaten public safety as written. These letters explain the issue clearly.
Re: Sonoma County request for Re-certification of its Fire-Safe Regulations
Dear Members of the Resource Protection Committee and the Board of Forestry,
I am writing to express my concerns about Sonoma County’s refusal to conform to the State Fire Safe Roads rules/regulations. Sonoma County is not following the State’s requirement and wants to continue to allow NEW development on roads that don’t meet these standards. In the past, it appears that the Board of Forestry signed off on the County’s ordinance, an ordinance that was in violation of these state standards. That must stop now.
It is clear that we are in a new environment as far as the fire danger for rural residences and other rural operations are concerned. Those impacts can be clearly seen in the disastrous fires our county, among others, has experienced in last three years. The home of my own County Supervisor, Susan Gorin, was burned to the ground because the fire trucks could not drive up her road or turn around once they got to the top. Nevertheless, she voted to accept the Sonoma County regulations which would allow more development on such unsafe roads. Frankly, at times, due to the myriad of issues they are dealing with, I’m not sure the Supervisors are actually aware of the details and impacts of staff proposals they are asked to vote on.
Sonoma County officials may not have awakened to these facts or at least have refused to acknowledge them, but others certainly have. Sonoma County realtors are aware. One told my neighbor, who has recently listed her house which is located in the wildfire/urban interface, to be prepared if prospective buyers are unable to buy insurance rendering them ineligible for a bank loan.
In another example, my insurance agent told me that his company, State Farm, has declined to accept new homeowner/fire policy applications north of Hwy 12 from Santa Rosa to Sonoma because of the greatly increased fire risks involved. The result is going to be that people who develop in these areas will have to seek insurance from the state-run insurance pool. This last resort to acquire fire insurance is not a good option both from a public safety or a financial standpoint.
I have personally driven on some of these roads on where the County is allowing new development and have not been able to pass oncoming traffic unless I drove off into the ditch. These roads were dead end and lacked turnouts.
It is time for the BOF to stop allowing Sonoma County to continue to disregard the State’s standards and require the County to conform to them for NEW development.
Re: Re-certification of Sonoma County Fire-Safe Regulations in State Responsibility Areas
I was unfortunately unable to attend the online meeting April 7th regarding the adoption/rejection of Sonoma County’s fire ordinance. I live in a rural area where high speed internet (like many other resources) is not available. I was able to listen to the recording however and I was greatly disappointed by the presentation put on by Sonoma County representatives.
I am going to be blunt. Sonoma County’s finances are in trouble. We have experienced two catastrophic fires in the east County and severe flooding in the west County, all in a period of 3 years. Now the County is contending with the collapse of its main economic engine, tourism, due to COVID 19. For years this County has looked to development and its associated fees and taxes to balance its budget. Any restriction on development, even for safety reasons reduces the County’s budget. This is the REAL reason the County needs to retain the exemption in its fire regulations for pre 1991 roads.
As I stated in my earlier letter, allowing the County to exempt pre 1991 roads from fire safe standards guts the fire safe standards, allowing more commercial and residential development in areas with substandard roads. It decreases safety for those of us already living in these areas, expands building in the urban wildland interface and makes evacuations more difficult and hazardous. These are all of the things which the State’s fire regulations are trying to prevent.
Sonoma County’s fire regulations are for NEW CONSTRUCTION. There is nothing in the regulations which would prevent the rebuilding of a home lost in the recent fire storms. While I support those who have been “burned out” in rebuilding, I do not support any additional commercial or residential building in unsafe areas, and I urge the State to hold firm on this issue. It is a matter of life and death. Sonoma County will have to look for another way to balance its budget which does not put its citizens at risk.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Anna Ransome for Friends of Graton (FOG)