California Wildfires Spur New Real Estate Development Guidelines

By Joel Rosenblatt | October 12, 2022

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced guidelines for local governments weighing real estate development proposals to protect against the growing hazard of wildfires, telling municipalities his suggestions could help them avoid costly litigation and save lives.

At a news conference on Monday, Bonta outlined best practices and mitigation measures to help municipalities shape projects while taking into account wildfire ignition and emergency access and evacuation to protect residents and the environment.

Bonta described the guidance as a “developmental blueprint” and a “proactive tool” that should be used to help municipalities and developers mitigate fire risk and avoid lawsuits.

The Attorney General encouraged local governments to take the guidance “to heart, not only to prevent potential litigation from my office or others and save taxpayer dollars,” but to save lives, adding that since 2010, wildfires have killed almost 150 people.

“I fear this number can creep exponentially higher as the climate crisis worsens if we continue to develop our lands like it’s business as usual,” he said. “The climate crisis is here, we must adapt to that.”

Bonta recited a list of recent fires that have destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres, including Paradise, Grizzly Flats, and the Cedar, Witch and Harris fires. Since 2005 wildfires have destroyed 97,000 structures, he noted, adding that eight of the 10 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in the past 10 years, making them the “new normal” for the state.

Among his specific recommendations, Bonta urged local governments to increase housing density and “consolidate project design.” New development should consider the fire history of the area, topography and wind patterns, he said. It should avoid steep slopes and rugged terrain to prevent the rapid spread of fires. It should also weigh proximity to existing roads to increase accessibility for firefighters.

Bonta also urged local governments to require developers to upgrade building materials and techniques to increase construction resistance to heat, flames and embers.

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