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Legislation Impacting Fire Survivors

By Antonia Bradford

There are two proposed pieces of legislation pending that could have a major impact on fire survivors and rural residents and potentially could risk some of our chances of rebuilding: the proposed California Board of Forestry Fire Safe Regulations and Senate Bill 55. I include text to both documents below, as well as summaries from the Rural County Representatives of California (rcrcnet.org).

So far, it is unclear what exemptions for fire survivors are included or whether these exemptions would apply to those who built without or before permits. Regardless, I encourage everyone to contact their representatives about concerns or desired changes to these drafts.

Board of Forestry Regulations: rcrcnet.org/board-forestry-fire-safe-regulations-update

The new draft of State Fire Safe regulations is next set to be heard by the Board Of Forestry at its February 9 meeting for submission to the Office of Administrative Law. “The State Fire Safe regulations set forth basic wildfire protection standards for development in the State Responsibility Area (SRA) and, beginning July 1, 2021, the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones of the Local Responsibility Area (LRA). The changes made in the draft rulemaking, will have extraordinary impacts on housing production, not only in rural areas of the state, but also in more urbanized regions of California. For instance, the draft regulations would prohibit any future building construction on property served by a road that has not been upgraded, or that cannot be upgraded to meet current standards, such as dead-end roads. These upgrade requirements include road widening, re-surfacing, leveling grades and curves, and bridge improvements, from the property line to the nearest fire station, and apply to the building of a single residential unit or any business increasing its “service capacity.” All required upgrades would be at the expense of the property owner.”

Senate Bill 55: legiscan.com/CA/bill/SB55/2021

“SB 55 would prohibit all commercial and residential development in Very High Fire Hazards Severity Zones (VHFHSZ) and State Responsibility Areas (SRA).”

Here is a sample letter that you can edit and send.

Dear ________,

I am a (wildfire survivor/community member/etc) from the community of (your community) in (your county). I am writing in regards to the new draft of State Fire Safe regulations as well as proposed legislation SB 55. Both the new draft of state fire regulations and Senate Bill 55 could place immense burdens on those families already devastated by the wildfires this year. For many of us, the land is all we have left. These regulations put rural property owners, no matter their means, into the same category as property developers, who would ironically have the capital necessary to meet the new requirements. I strongly request that both pieces of legislation include the following:

  • Strong exemptions for current and future fire survivors and those looking to rebuild homes, including homes that were built without permits and legacy structures built before the permitting process was in place.
  • Alternative and leeway given to those property owners who cannot meet the road requirements, either due to cost or the impact on the surrounding environment. There should be flexibility in the available methods of increased fire resilience.

No one understands the importance of fire safety more than those of us who watched our homes burn down. Many of us have lived on our land for generations, while others were only in the beginning stages of creating their dreams. Regardless, we all want to go home and rebuild our communities to be long-lasting and resilient.

Sincerely,

Your Name

California Board of Forestry: Matt Dias, Executive Officer, publiccomments@bof.ca.gov

Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors: ryan.coonerty@santacruzcounty.us, bruce.mcpherson@santacruzcounty.us, manu.koenig@santacruzcounty.us, zach.friend@santacruzcounty.us, greg.caput@santacruzcounty.us

State Legislature:

State Senator John Laird: https://sd17.senate.ca.gov/contact

State Assemblymember Mark Stone: maureen.mccarty@asm.ca.gov

State Senator Stern, author of SB 55 Senator.Stern@senate.ca.gov

US House of Representatives:

Anna Eshoo: CA18AEima@mail.house.gov, Jimmy Panetta: panetta.house.gov/contact

US Senate:

Dianne Feinstein: feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/e-mail-me

Alex Padilla: (202) 224-3553

Photo by Julie Horner

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