Dear Supervisor Ryan Gregory,

This letter is in response to the October 18, 2022, BOS meeting about the Board of Forestry (BOF) Fire Safe Regulations. We are disturbed by several statements by the County about the 2022 Regulations.

It was stated that the interpretation in the previously certified 2019 Road and Street Standards should be used as the current interpretation, but according to the BOF Fire Safe Regs, § 1270.04, unless a local ordinance is re-certified after being amended, it is no longer certified. If the 2019 Road and Street Standards were amended in April 2021, as county records show, a re-certification is required. A re-certification is also required if the BOF amends the Regs as it did in 2020 and again now in 2022, and also as became effective in July 2021 from the SB 901 mandate of inclusion of the VHFHSZ in the LRA. See Local Ordinances, § 1270.04 (d):

The Board’s certification of local ordinances pursuant to this section is rendered invalid when previously certified ordinances are subsequently amended by local jurisdictions, or the regulations are amended by the Board, without Board re-certification of the amended ordinances. The Board’s regulations supersede the amended local ordinance(s) when the amended local ordinance(s) are not re-certified by the Board. Amendments made by local jurisdictions to previously certified ordinances shall be submitted for re-certification.

The county’s definition of “access” continues to be at odds with California regulations. The county defines access to be from the nearest public right of way to the building, thus only covering private roads and driveways within a private parcel. This interpretation already conflicts with Napa’s Road and Street Standards, which define roadways as public and private roads, with private roads having the same requirements as public roads. It also conflicts with state regulations in the California Fire Code (CFC) and the BOF regulations. The CFC defines access as from a fire station to the building. The road/driveway needs to be at least 20 feet to allow concurrent ingress and egress for first responders and exiting vehicles. The BOF Fire Safe Regulations require that the extensive road standards in Article 2 apply equally to public and private roads (see BOF definition of Road below), with the standards to enable safe concurrent fire apparatus ingress and civilian evacuation, and unobstructed traffic circulation. One-lane roads even with turnouts do not and cannot provide concurrent ingress and egress (eg, if one vehicle must back up to reach a turnout or even just pull over, ingress and egress are not concurrent); dead-end roads longer than 1 mile do not provide unobstructed traffic circulation.

Road: Vehicular access to more than two (2) parcels; more than four (4) residential units; or access to any industrial or commercial occupancy. Includes public and private streets and lanes.

Referencing Sonoma County, the Board of Forestry put a moratorium on new certifications in November 2020, after Sonoma County spent 10 months trying unsuccessfully to get a certification of its ordinance that exempted existing roads. As exempting existing roads was clearly less stringent that the BOF regulations, the BOF added language that Local Regulations must fully comply with the corresponding section in the state regulations and that no new exemptions could be added (§ 1270.05 in updated regulations). This provides guidance to local jurisdiction on what local regulations must include at a minimum, without formal certification by BOF.

In conclusion, Napa County no longer has a BOF certification for its road standards/fire safety ordinance, and it must comply with all the standards in the BOF regulations. This encompasses public as well as private roads, and no new definition limiting access.

While it is also true that not much has changed in the Fire Safe Regulations since 1991, what has changed is the Board of Forestry’s language discussed above on what must be included in local ordinances to be at minimum equal to the BOF regulations. Also as discussed, Article 5 was revised to add protection for undeveloped ridgetops and provide more guidance on fuel breaks and greenbelts to comply with SB 901.

The county should clamp down on the use of “same practical effect” for which the regulations require the provision of material facts demonstrating that they actually do provide the same practical effect as the regulations; this includes safe concurrent ingress and egress and unobstructed traffic circulation (ie, meeting those standards enumerated in Article 2). Anything, it appears, can and has been mitigated by Napa County, and this has resulted in dangerous situations for residents, tourists, workers, and first responders.

What was also left out of this discussion on October 18 is that the Board of Forestry will be conducting training for the counties in 2023. This is contrary to the Director David Morrison’s characterization of the Board of Forestry’s stance as that of a “bystander”: “…all the local jurisdictions will have been thrown on their own, as the Board of Forestry sits back and watches the chaos from afar as a bystander.”

We are in a climate crisis of the likes we have never seen, and it is only going to get worse. Our best hope is to change how we treat the environment, and this includes where we build our homes and businesses. If development interests eclipse common sense, threatening the lives of everyone, then you as our governing body, have failed us.

Eve Kahn and Gary Margadant
Co-presidents, Napa Vision 2050

Cc. Edith Hannigan, Executive Director BOF,
Jeffrey Slaton,
Barry Ebeling,