A Call to Action
You may not be aware of what the California Board of Forestry (BOF) is up to right now. And believe me, you should! They have proposed new Fire Safe Regulation changes that could have significant impacts in our county, including rebuilding and development efforts in fire-affected areas. Those fire-affected areas are in very high fire hazard severity zones (VHFHSZ) mostly within the State Responsibility Area (SRA) which is most of the County, although if there are any of these zones within the City of Sonora, or the Local Responsibility Area (LRA) these new rules would also apply. As you can see here: https://egis.fire.ca.gov/FHSZ most of Tuolumne County above Chinese Camp is in the VHFHSZ.
These proposed regulations, set to go into effect July 1, would apply to all parcels, improved or unimproved, within the VHFHSZ in our county, and within the SRA and within the LRA if it falls into the VHFHSZ. Therefore this would become a county-wide ordinance, if passed.
Many of these new rules are cause for alarm and would impede property development and rebuilding efforts. These proposed regulations apply to construction on both commercial and residential properties. Central to this regulation is the State’s desire to not increase the number of people living and doing business in the VHFHSZ. In BOF language, they want no “increase in land use density or intensity”. This means that businesses and residences would be limited in what they could do.
Here are some examples of proposed impacts:
- For properties located on “substandard roads” (any road less than 14’ wide), these proposed regs would negatively impact future subdivisions of land, applications for zoning changes or use permits that impact density/intensity. Basically, the substandard road would have to be improved at the private citizen’s expense.
- The regulations place strict prohibitions to further subdivide on existing parcels of land on long cul-de-sacs (also known as dead-end roads).
- Cul-de-sacs are defined as a system of roads that only have one way in or out from a major or minor collector road and the new regulations propose that they would only be allowed to be 800’ to half a mile in length, depending on parcel size.
- Examples of major collector roads here in the County: Ferretti Rd, Bonds Flat Rd, Tuolumne Rd, Standard Rd. Examples of minor collector roads: Wards Ferry Road, Campo Seco Rd, Draper Mine Rd, Willow Springs Rd.
- Even modest residential lot splits (3+ parcels) on substandard roads or business expansion on substandard roads would initiate requirements to bring potentially miles of public roads and bridges fully up to current standards, at the landowner’s expense. Lot-split projects located beyond the maximum cul-de-sac length limit, would be prohibited.
- Businesses wishing to increase their capacity within the VHFHSZ, could be prevented from doing so. Current proposed regulations remain unclear.
- The asserted “exemptions” for wildfire rebuilds and accessory dwelling units are vague. Certain provisions of the regulations purport to exempt these buildings from the regulations, while others appear to override or limit those exemptions and impose substantial burdens on homeowners.
- Such exemptions, to the extent they work at all, are overly narrow. The rebuild exemption covers only structures lost due to wildfire and consequently, owners whose homes or businesses were lost due to other causes (e.g., flood, mudslide, house fire, etc.) would be subject to the full suite of requirements.
- However, even wildfire rebuilds are not exempt if they cannot meet the new setback requirements – as is the case on many smaller lots.
- Existing roads less than 20’ in width would be required to have a turn out every 400 feet. The property owner would have to provide a turn out 12’ wide, 22’ long and have 25’ tapers on each end. These rules will have a negative impact on our ability to both rebuild and to develop as per our general plan land-use designations. There are also limits on how long dead-end roads can be.
- New driveway limits would be 480’ long with no discretion. Long driveways under 480’ would require turnouts. Existing driveways longer than 480’ would need to be improved when a construction permit is pulled for improvements.
- The BOF has failed to evaluate the economic or environmental impacts of these proposals, as required by state law.
This update to the regulations, if enacted, is overkill and an overreach by the State which will impact most people at some point and render our county an economic wasteland.
On March 22, the BOF held a meeting during which representatives from more than half of the counties in California spoke in opposition and asked them to slow the process down, allow more time to work together to clarify the proposed changes. Instead, the BOF voted to move forward very quickly with the proposal, and soon thereafter entered into a 45-day rulemaking period.
This attitude is truly shocking, as the BOF is not listening to the counties that would be impacted, and instead they are rapidly moving ahead.
These changes to the Fire Safe Regulations, if passed, will be yet another unfunded mandate from the State and one in which the counties will be expected to enforce.
Our County’s Board of Supervisors will soon submit a formal letter outlining all the specific issues we have regarding these proposed regulations. You can too! Please!!
If you are as troubled as we are…please submit comments before the 45-day comment period deadline, which is June 22, 2021, to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) by mail, fax or email, AND to the BOF’s specified contact, Edith Hannigan. (Yes, you must send comments to both!)
OAL Reference Attorney Fax: (916) 323-6826 Email: email@example.com
300 Capitol Mall; Suite 1250
Sacramento, CA 95814
BOF Edith Hannigan Land Use Planning Manager Fax: (916) 653-0989 Email: publiccomments@BOF.ca.gov
Board of Forestry & Fire Protection
PO Box 944246
Sacramento, CA 94244-2460