California experienced an explosive wildfire season in the Fall and Winter of 2017, as hundreds of fires devastated large swaths of the state. The fires in Northern California alone cost at least 44 lives, at least $9 billion in insured damages, and may have cost the U.S. economy at least $85 billion in total.1 Clearly, wildfires present a massive danger to the population and economy of California nowadays.
Fortunately, local and state legislatures have responded to this danger to some degree by putting forward legislation designed to further mitigate the damage of future wildfires. One of the more significant developments is the state legislature’s push to give homeowners greater power to remove flammable materials on state-owned lands that are adjacent to the homeowner’s residence.
California State Assembly Bill 28962 attempts to do just this. Introduced in February 2018, the bill proposes to add Section 51182.1 to the Government Code and Section 5007.8 to the Public Resources Code. Existing law requires a person who owns or otherwise controls an occupied dwelling or structure adjacent to or on wild land to maintain a nonflammable “defensible space” of 100 feet from each side of the structure. However, some homeowners own dwellings which are directly adjacent to or within state-owned lands, such that the homeowner does not have a legal right to clear away all flammable material within 100 feet of the dwelling. In this situation, the existing state of the law fails to incentivize the true owner of the flammable material (the state) to act, while improperly punishing the homeowner for failing to do something which the homeowner had no legal right to do in the first place.
Proposed Section 51182.1 would enable homeowners to send a binding request to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to clear the state-owned land adjacent to the dwelling. Once per year, the homeowner may request that the appropriate department create a sufficient “fuel break” area in the state-owned land. The filing of this request obligates the Department to determine the necessary length of the fuel break and to then forward the request to the state agency that manages the land.3 The state agency must then begin the work within 90 days of receiving the request.4
Proposed Section 5007.8 provides an even greater protection for dwellings adjacent to land owned by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Where a person owns, leases, or otherwise maintains an occupied structure on or adjoining such land, Section 5007.8 would enable such a person to send a binding request to the Department to force it to clear fire hazards on the Department’s land within 300 feet of the homeowner’s structure.5
In essence, these proposed additions would give homeowners adjacent to publicly-owned lands a necessary tool to protect their dwellings from wildfires. It is a step in the right direction, towards further mitigation of the economic and human losses caused by wildfires in California.
1 http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/fires/article188377854.html; http://www.foxnews.com/weather/2017/10/13/devastating-california-wildfires-predicted-to-cost-us-economy-85-billion/
2 Assem. Bill No. 2896 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.).