California has a severe housing shortage and above-average housing costs that include a wide array of residential property types. Adding more housing units is the obvious solution to overcrowding and soaring real estate prices. Simple supply and demand economics, except for one thing: where to build the new housing units?
The truth is, California isn’t constructing homes in Wildfire Red Zones. It’s reconstructing them for people who choose to rebuild. Some of the new building codes will affect the wildfire readiness of rebuilds. Other parts of the code can’t be applied to existing infrastructure.
New building codes require infrastructure with multiple access roads and evacuation routes wide enough for fire engines to maneuver easily. Structures must be at least 30 feet apart with fire-resistant exteriors where 30 feet is not possible. Retrofitting communities that have suffered wildfire damage is not logistically feasible with existing lot sizes and infrastructure that falls short of new standards.
Lake County officials recently approved a billion (with a “B”) dollar resort and housing development with strategically placed fuel breaks, grazing cattle, sheep, and goats throughout the community vineyards and orchards.
High-definition cameras would provide an early warning system for additional wildfire protection, and a Cal Fire building would be the first to open.
Unfortunately, the state has decided the risk is too high and has filed a lawsuit to stop the development from moving forward. Several legislative efforts to enforce stricter building codes and require more thoughtful infrastructure for new developments have been blocked by lobbyists. Rebuilding as we always have is not sustainable. Developing new code and applying it to new communities requires us to trust the science and believe the lessons we have learned. It would be disappointing if we can only use the new standards when the risk is not “too high.”
Swan Score: C
Californians continue to buy and rebuild in wildfire areas
Fire Protection Association
New WUI building codes save lives with early warning systems
Center for Bio-Diversity sued Lake County, halting development
New code prevents urban conflagration and wildfire spread
Local govt approves best practices. State and Feds fight change