Democrats who control the state Senate said Thursday they plan to present a 10-bill package to the assembly next week as California rushes to prepare for a drought that s ‘was escalating and what officials fear could be a repeat of last year’s record-breaking wildfire season.
The package aims, in part, to bolster the long-term ranks of state firefighters while also raising standards for new housing developments. It is also seeking to promote more prescribed burns and to step up efforts to protect individual homes from forest fires.
“We know there are no quick fixes. We need to deploy several strategies … to tackle what will be and what is an evolving crisis, not just in California but across the western United States, ”said Senator Mike McGuire, co-chair of the group. Seven member work on forest fires created. by Senate Leader Toni Atkins. “We know this evolving crisis is going to mean more forest fires, bigger, more destructive and more intense forest fires.”
The long-term average of land burned each year in California has doubled in the past five years to reach 4,000 square kilometers, he said. Last year’s fires burned 4% of the state – or 17,231 square kilometers, killing 33 people and burning more than 10,000 homes and other structures.
Yet there are already 8,000 homes in areas at extreme fire risk, he said.
He has a bill that would require cities and counties to create fire safety standards before allowing housing development in areas with very high fire risk.
This means things like improved primary and secondary entry and exit routes, with plans to quickly bring emergency supplies to the scene. Local governments should plan to maintain a defensible space around homes and fuel breaks around communities.
Developers should build in the least risky areas of the project and prepare evacuation plans. The state fire marshal should develop additional mandatory standards that local governments should meet before allowing new housing in the most vulnerable areas.
The bill is opposed by builders and other commercial and real estate groups. Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a different version last year.
“This is going to target almost half of production in California, the half that is most affordable for Californians,” said Nick Cammarota, senior vice president and general counsel of the California Building Industry Association.
Although the ideas seem logical, he said the bill is full of ambiguities, inconsistencies and redundancies in detail, creating “a maze of regulations that are truly impossible to achieve.”
A second unopposed bill would extend current building standards for high-risk areas to moderate-risk areas, while providing grants to promote a defensible space around homes.
This is meant to help protect homes from the embers of the wind that can turn a single vulnerable home into “a bomb in a neighborhood that changes everything” by setting those around it on fire, Senator Henry Stern said.
“It can’t just be prevention, we have to look at how we are developing in the state of California,” Stern said. “Blindly going deeper and deeper into areas of very high fire intensity without any of these safety standards in place will only exacerbate that risk.”
Two other measures aim to help former prisoners. One would promote the hiring of former firefighters by public services, while the other would create a northern California forest management training center for former inmates. A third would expand the legal rights of firefighters to include seasonal employees.
Another bill would create a new section within the State Emergency Services Office to test and promote the latest forest fire prevention and suppression technologies.
The state would legally make the use of prescribed burns less risky by requiring a standard of “gross negligence” liability for those trained to start preventative fires and for homeowners who hire certified burn bosses.
Two other bills aim to help landowners in areas prone to forest fires who can no longer obtain or afford insurance. One would extend the state property insurance scheme of last resort to farms, ranches and wine growers, while the second would prioritize vegetation management projects in areas that are at risk of disappearing or becoming unaffordable. insurance coverages.
Three-quarters of senators are Democrats, although they said they hoped for bipartisan support to move the bills forward before the Legislative Assembly’s June 4 deadline for initial passage of the bills. They also released a two-page “blueprint” outlining the long-term goals surrounding the bill.
They plan to include $ 1 billion for new wildfire mitigation efforts in the budget they pass by June 15, in addition to the $ 536 million approved earlier this year. This follows the governor’s $ 2 billion proposal, they said, but its higher figure includes ongoing spending on things like new firefighting helicopters and fixed-wing aerial tanks.
The legislative package also includes a $ 5.6 billion borrowing plan to prepare for the wildfires, droughts and floods that lawmakers intended to present to voters next year. But senators said much of that spending had been included in the current spending plan because the state enjoyed a record, albeit temporary, surplus in revenue.