Update on Board of Forestry Meeting for fire safe roads exemption

The short story is: The Board of Forestry declined to adopt the Draft Emergency Regulations and also declined to certify the Sonoma County Fire Safe Ordinance.

Thanks to all who “attended” the virtual meeting. A special thanks to those who spoke for us and who wrote the supporting analysis and documents for us. Thanks also to all the “troops” who wrote emails. We flooded the inboxes of the BOF members!

Complete update below prepared by the “Fab Three”, Debby, Steve and Craig. Bravo!

The CalFire Board of Forestry (BOF) held a Joint Committee Workshop this morning and discussed two issues of interest to us, but took no immediate action. 

First, the board discussed the BOF’s proposed Emergency Regulations to amend the existing Fire-Safe Regulations to clarify their applicability and meaning. The proposed finding of emergency states this action is needed to increase the availability of affordable housing in the state, clarify how the regulations apply to reconstruction of homes damaged or destroyed in wildfires, as well as to improve the safety of communities developed in the State Responsibility Area.

Among other things, the Emergency Regulations would:

  • provide protection for owners of legal homes and buildings lost to fire to rebuild without having to upgrade roads;
  • exempt accessory dwelling units (ADUs) from needing to follow the SRA regulations;
  •    provide an indisputable legal basis for not certifying Sonoma County’s current version of its Fire Safe ordinance; and
  • require all new development accessed by pre-1991 roads to meet the minimum safety standards in the CalFire regulations.

Neighborhood advocates supported adopting the emergency regulation. We provided one modification to require ADUs to have safe concurrent evacuation and fire engine ingress.  Developers, Sonoma County, and an association of rural counties objected to what they characterize as a change in the meaning of the CalFire regulations. They want to be able to develop on unsafe roads without bringing them up to current standards. They also objected to having short notice to comment.

The BOF decided to schedule a workshop, probably later in May, to further discuss the Emergency Regulations before reaching a decision.  It seems likely to adopt some form of the revised regulations.

Second, the BOF discussed Sonoma County’s plea to certify its Fire Safety Ordinance as meeting or exceeding the CalFire SRA Fire-Safe regulations. The BOF’s legal analyses and staff report are skeptical that the ordinance could legally be certified. This would mean the CalFire regulations will apply in most of Sonoma County. Several board members expressed concern that what the county claims it does is not what it actually does.  Some board members did not find the county counsel’s arguments to be persuasive, and one said her concerns are not relevant.

As it did in April, the BOF declined to certify the Sonoma County ordinance, but did not yet refuse to do so. In response to Sonoma County’s plea that it has gone 5 months without a certified ordinance so could not “provide the more stringent protection,” BOF staff suggested that the county could implement the portions of its ordinance that were not flagged by BOF as being less stringent.  It appears that BOF is starting to work with Sonoma County on what revisions must be made in order for the Sonoma County ordinance to be certified.