SAN DIEGO – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued guidance with best practices and mitigation measures for local governments considering approval of development projects in fire-prone areas. Wildfires are part of California’s present, and as a result of climate change, increasingly part of California’s future. Eight of the 10 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in the past decade. As local governments consider new development projects, it is imperative that they carefully analyze and mitigate wildfire impacts as part of the environmental review process required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Attorney General’s guidance is intended to help local governments design development projects in a way that minimizes impacts to wildfire ignition, emergency access, and evacuation, and protect California's residents and the environment.
“Local governments have a responsibility to address wildfire risks associated with new development projects early in the planning process when changes to these projects can still be made,” said Attorney General Bonta. “The climate crisis is here, and with it comes increasingly frequent and severe wildfires that force mass evacuations, destroy homes, and lead to tragic loss of life. We must build in a way that recognizes this reality. This guidance is intended to provide local governments with concrete considerations and specific mitigation measures for new developments in wildfire prone areas so that five, 10, or 20 years down the line, we aren’t faced with a catastrophe that could have been avoided.”
Recent changes in fire frequency, intensity, and location are posing increasing threats to the residents and environment of California. More acres of California have burned in the past decade than in the previous 90 years. While lightning has historically been a common cause of fire, in recent years, many of the state’s most destructive fires have been caused by human activity, with catastrophic consequences. Since 2010, wildfires have killed nearly 150 people in California, and since 2005, wildfires have destroyed over 97,000 structures, requiring mass evacuations and exacerbating California’s housing crisis.
Residential developments in the wildland-urban interface and other wildfire prone areas can significantly increase the risks of wildfires and the related risk to public safety. Introducing more people via additional development increases the likelihood of fire ignition, which may then develop into a wildfire. Building housing in the wildland-urban interface also puts more people in harm’s way, and may hinder evacuation routes and emergency access.
CEQA requires that state and local agencies disclose and evaluate the significant environmental impacts of locating development in areas susceptible to hazardous conditions – such as wildfire – and adopt all feasible mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate those impacts. The Attorney General’s guidance is based on the California Department of Justice’s experience reviewing, commenting on, and litigating several planned development projects in wildfire prone areas.
The guidance sets out best practices and mitigation measures for topics including:
A copy of the guidance is available here.