The Board of Forestry (BOF) public hearing on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, brought no immediate decision to approve the SRA Fire Safe Amendments which would further weaken roadbuilding regulations in the State Responsibility Areas (SRA) as well as in the high to very high fire risk severity zones in the Local Areas of Responsibility (LRA). Still, the two-hour meeting reflected the great divide: Many of our rural counties, development interests, and the Governor’s office support the further weakening of the existing regulations. The oft-stated reasons were the economy, limitations on development through what is seen as an effective “taking” of private property, and the need for more housing in the state, presumably in these fire-prone areas. Counties asserted that local governments make the best development decisions as they know the local circumstances. However, one was hard-pressed to hear anything in these counties’ comments about fire safety.

As many as two-thirds of those commenting stated that the proposed April 2021 amendments had already been weakened too much. The Fire Chiefs Working Group consulted by the BOF recommended tighter regulations, including shortening allowable dead-end roads to 1/2 mile and insisting that road width allow concurrent ingress and egress in the event of a wildfire. These recommendations were included in the BOF’s December 2020 draft but ignored in its April 2021 draft. Groups supporting tougher standards for roads and development in fire hazard zone areas include California Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenbelt Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRSC), State Alliance for Firesafe Road Regulations (SAFRR), Growers and Vintners for Responsible Agriculture, and Napa Vision 2050.

Will development win? In counties addicted to development funds such as Napa County, can local governments be trusted to act on behalf of the safety of the people and the environment? Will the insurance industry have the final say, refusing to insure in fire-prone areas?