More groups alerted to fire safe road issue Supervisors are fighting

From sister organization Preserve Rural Sonoma County (PRSC):

Fire Safety Action Alert -Email needed by Friday, September 18th

Once more, another fire has severely impacted our County.  Yet Sonoma County’s proposed new Fire Ordinance raises serious public safety issues as it does not comply with state-recommended fire safe road standards. We only have until this Friday to voice our opinion on the importance of fire safe roads.  Please consider writing an email and send to: 

After several denials, next Tuesday, the Board of Forestry (BOF) is considering certification of Sonoma County’s proposed Fire Ordinance, which exempts many recommended safe road standards for new development.
The heart of California’s July 2020 fire standards is to require safe and concurrent access of fire apparatus and egress of civilians. 

Action: Request the Board of Forestry take no action on certification of the Sonoma County Fire Ordinance at the Board of Forestry hearing on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Request Sonoma County’s Ordinance and administrative policy be reassessed given current Walbridge fire experience. Note: County Supervisors approved Sonoma’s proposed Fire Ordinance on August 4, 2020, before the lightning strike fires.
Request a Pause for Reassessment: Request that our Supervisors assess road access issues experienced by CALFire in August, and then amend the proposed Ordinance to ensure new development in watershed areas to support building Fire Safe Roads.

The August 21 Press Democrat article “Fire devastates stretch of Mill Creek Road” illustrates a core safety issue, “Because their (fire) trucks were too big to get into the remote stretches of Mill Creek Road, they were engaged in structure defense: cutting lines, bulldozing fire breaks around vulnerable homes.”

Also, this Ordinance provides the opportunity to ensure new commercial cannabis-growing operations be required to provide safe access/egress. This concern is amplified by the County’s new ministerial permit process – i.e. now Agriculture Commissioner- issues administrative permits.  Public input in this administrative permit process is more limited than in the previous discretionary use permit process.

Rationale for Denial at this time:  Sonoma County’s Fire Ordinance, which must be certified by the BOF, does not comply with the recommended California Fire State Responsibility Area (SRA) Fire Safe Regulations. 

For those of you who require detailed information, review this table (Comparison of SRA Fire Safe Regulations for New Development vs. Sonoma County’s proposed Ordinance and Administrative process.Key points are summarized below:

  1. Sonoma’s proposed Ordinance does not adopt the recommended 20-foot-wide road requirement for NEW development on existing private roads.

Instead, Sonoma reduces the requirement to a 12-foot “path of travel” and 1-foot vegetation clearance. NOTE: CALFire’s Type 3 fire engines are 8.5-9.5 feet wide, without mirrors. This creates a safety issue as vehicles cannot pass a fire engine on a 12-foot road.

  1. Sonoma’s proposed Ordinance eliminates all SRA requirements for new development on existing public roads, and fails to define “path of travel.” These existing public road exemptions allow new development on 9 foot to 11-foot-wide roads, as well as existing long, dead-end roads.
  2. Sonoma’s proposed Ordinance defines “existing road” so loosely that it raises the concern of new roads, built strictly for timber harvest, mining or agriculture, can be re-defined as “existing,” and thus be exempt from CALFire SRA Regulations.

    This exemption is a moving target in two ways: 1) there is no date specified for when ‘existing’ starts; and 2) once new sub-par roads “built exclusively for agriculture, mining or timber”, are defined as “existing roads,” under the Sonoma Ordinance exemption, which is outside the SRA regulations,  they can be used for other types of development, such as housing or commercial cannabis operations.

  3. Under Sonoma County’s proposed Administrative policy, non-compliant standards are separate from the Ordinance; thus, they can be changed without requiring BOF re-certification.

History:  The CA legislature directed the Board of Forestry (BOF) to adopt regulations implementing minimum fire safety standards for access to all residential, commercial, and industrial development within the State Responsibility Area (SRA).

The BOF held several hearings prior to adopting the SRA Fire Safe Regulations on July 28, 2020. Sonoma County community groups participated and sent substantive comments to the BOF prior to their adoption of Fire Safe Regulations. At previous hearings, the BOF rejected Sonoma County’s proposals, and community groups voiced their concerns to our Supervisors about the exemptions in the Fire Ordinance. Sonoma’s Ordinance needs amending before certification.

Send your email to the Board of Forestry and our Supervisors by clicking the button below. Please BCC PRSC so we are aware of your opinions:

Send An Email To The Board of Forestry!
August 26, 2020 Press Democrat Letter to the editor also raises the concern that Sonoma County Supervisors are encouraging other rural counties to exempt key fire safe road standards.

Narrow roads
EDITOR: Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore bemoaned the heartbreaking losses of his constituents in the Mill Creek area (“Fire devastates stretch of Mill Creek Road,” Monday, August 21). The following is a quote from the article:

“Because their (fire) trucks were too big to get into the remote stretches of Mill Creek Road, they were engaged in structure defense: cutting lines, bulldozing fire breaks around vulnerable homes.” Gore waved to them as he drove the last four miles up Mill Creek Road in his pickup.

This article illustrates the disconnect between what the supervisors say and what they do. Earlier this month, they voted to seek exemptions for Sonoma County from the state Board of Forestry’s Fire Safe Road Standards.

They unanimously want exemptions for our unsafe roads. They want to be able to approve additional (new) commercial and residential development on roads that don’t meet the state’s minimum widths, mandatory concurrent access and evacuation, alternate escape routes, etc.

These exemptions were most strongly promoted by Gore, who opined that he was working hard as a representative with rural county representatives of California so all counties could follow Sonoma’s lead.