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June 28, 2022

Fire-zone building progress

Year after year, state and federal firefighters risk their lives
protect homes in remote canyons and forests of California that lack
adequate local fire protection.
Year after year, state and federal firefighters risk their lives protect homes in remote canyons and forests of California that lack adequate local fire protection.

And year after year, localities approve new subdivisions in these areas assuming that outside firefighters will jump in to help, if and when disaster strikes.

This has to stop. As Gene Zimmerman, the retired fire supervisor for the San Bernardino National Forest, wrote in these pages in February: “When the next mega-fire strikes, heroic efforts will again be expected of firefighters. We cannot continue the current planning processes that allow local government to permit building near rugged, hard to access areas and then not be responsible for the higher firefighting costs.”

This week, the state Assembly will have a chance to approve a measure that, with a few revisions, would go a long way toward improving public safety. Assembly Bill 2447, by Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, would make three changes in state law to ensure better planning in fire zones:

In approving new subdivisions in these high-risk areas, cities and counties would have to receive certification from a local fire department that adequate fire protection exists, or will exist by the time the structures are built. …

For the first time, localities would also have to certify they are following CDF regulations on water pressure, road lengths, turnouts to facilitate the work of fire crews.

Lastly, the bill would prohibit cities and counties from approving “dead-end” subdivisions that lack an alternative way in or out for evacuations.

The intent is laudable. …

There’s only one aspect of AB 2447 that deserves some rethinking. Jones amended his original bill so that fire districts instead of the counties themselves would be the entities certifying if adequate fire protection existed for a new development. … This authority should rightly be left to the counties, which by law should be prompted to work with fire districts on fire protection. …

If anything, Jones’ bill isn’t strong enough. But it’s a step forward in sane fire planning. With a little more work, it deserves to be on the governor’s desk.

This editorial first appeared in the Sacramento Bee on Tuesday.

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