Jessica Cejnar / Wednesday, April 14 @ 5:49 p.m. / Community, Fire
Del Norte County Supervisors Protest Fire Safe Regs Short Timeline, Questions Potential Impacts to Development
Del Norte County supervisors are taking issue with proposed state fire regulations they say are being rushed, leaving staff with little time to determine how to implement them.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to send a comment letter to the State Board of Forestry and Fire Prevention regarding the State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations 2021. The county’s letter outlines several concerns, including how the new regulations would impact Del Norte’s obligation to have adequate land available for housing.
According to Del Norte Community Development Director Heidi Kunstal, the Board of Forestry approved a draft of the regulations, which are under review by the California Office of Administrative Law.
Del Norte County Board Chairman Chris Howard, who represents District 3, said he was disappointed in the BOF’s “rush to put out a fire that doesn’t exist.” He also noted that 32 other counties indicated they weren’t comfortable with the new fire safe regulations either.
“We said, ‘Put on the brakes, you’re not implementing this, we are,’” Howard told his colleagues Tuesday. “Heidi’s staff is challenged at this point in time and has been for years. Nothing in (SB 901) says you guys have to come to this agreement now.”
According to Yana Valachovic, forest advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension, updating the state’s fire safe regulations was triggered through a legislative process outlined in State Senate Bill 901 from 2018. This is the reason for the fast-tracked process, she said.
Kunstal said her department’s concerns included the lack of a grace period, leading her to question if projects are currently going through the permitting process will they be subject to the new fire safe regulations if they go into effect July 1.
Requirements for improvements to meet “road standards” from the building site to a collector road could mean significant costs for property owners as well as the need for improvements on county-owned roads, Kunstal said.
There are also questions of how the new fire safe regulations could impact future housing development in the county, Kunstal noted. In an earlier discussion about an update to Del Norte County’s Housing Element, required through the California Department of Housing and Community Development, Kunstal said her department were focusing on developable land outside the state responsibility area that would be subject to the new fire safe regulations.
The Board of Supervisors’ comment letter to the Board of Forestry also points out that 80 percent of land in Del Norte County is public land.
“A significant share of the remaining land is either timberland, agricultural or sensitive habitat areas that are not suitable for development. Additional time and inclusion of more commonly used metrics would help us evaluation (sic) the impacts if we are going to meet the needs of our community and other state mandates,” the letter states.
According to Valachovic, the new fire safe regulations “bifurcated” two types of development — the “infill-style” development commonly found in rural communities and new subdivisions with new roads and infrastructure. She noted that while there’s broad agreement about fire safe regulations and their impact on new developments, the regulations as it pertains to developing vacant land “is not worked out very well.”
“It’s a little bit of a work in progress,” Valachovic said. “The Board knows what they got is not quite right, but they moved forward because of the pressure of time.”
In other matters, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with Mintier Harnish for professional services in drafting updates to the its Housing Element.
According to Kunstal, the California Department of Housing and Community Development will provide a Regional Housing Needs Allocation for Crescent City and Del Norte County, which determines how many units each jurisdiction must have suitable land for during the planning period.
Del Norte County is paying for Mintier Harnish’s services through a $160,000 SB2 Planning Grant and a $150,000 Local Early Action Planning Grant. According to Kunstal’s staff report, the county may also be the recipient of a Regional Early Action Planning Grant that would be used scan permits and maps.