State Board of Forestry Rejects Sonoma County’s Flawed Fire Safety Ordinance

At its meetings on April 7-8 and May 5-6, the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF) refused to certify Sonoma County’s Fire Safety Ordinance. The county will work with BOF staff to cure the problems. The Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the ordinance on December 2, 2019, despite objections from the public concerning its exemptions.

Counties may adopt fire safety ordinances, but the requirements must meet or exceed the CalFire regulations in the State Responsibility Area. Because Sonoma County’s ordinance exempts developments on roads built before 1991 (essentially the entire county), it cannot be certified. In addition, board members were skeptical that the county consistently implements its own ordinance or follows the law.

In support of the BOF’s regulations, last October Attorney General Xavier considered this issue in Monterey County, and wrote to officials there that exempting pre-1991 roads would undermine the intent of the CalFire regulations. The BOF is also developing emergency regulations to facilitate rebuilding by fire victims. Those draft regulations indisputably reject the county’s argument that old, pre-1991 roads are exempt from road safety standards.

Under the CalFire regulations, Sonoma County cannot issue permits for developments on narrow, dead-end roads. However, the county has permitted commercial cannabis grows on multiple dead-end roads with widths as narrow as 8-12 feet. Even under the county ordinance and standards, roads must allow for unobstructed access for fire engines and cars and be wide enough to allow concurrent evacuation and fire engine ingress during wildfires. In addition, development on dead-end roads longer than one mile is never allowed.

Former Governor Jerry Brown observed that fires in the wildland-urban interface are the “new normal.” Sonoma County should cease its efforts to allow and encourage development on narrow, dead-end roads where residents can be trapped during a fire. CalFire anticipates an early and above normal fire season this year. Sonoma County should take protecting its firefighters and residents from wildland fires as seriously as it takes protecting them from the virus pandemic.

SOSN is a coalition of neighborhood residents and neighborhood groups advocating common sense cultivation of commercial marijuana in Sonoma County. Learn more at and