April 13, 2021
To: Honorable Scott Wiener, Senate Housing Committee, CA State Capitol, Room 2209, Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: Support-If-Amended SB 12 (McGuire) – “Local government: planning and zoning: wildfires”
Dear Chair Wiener and Members of the Senate Housing Committee,
Sustainable TamAlmonte’s position on Senate Bill 12 (McGuire) “Local government: planning and zoning: wildfires” is “Support-If-Amended”.
ABOUT SENATE BILL 12 (MCGUIRE) "LOCAL GOVERNMENT: PLANNING: WILDFIRES":
Senate Bill 12 imposes certain fire hazard planning responsibilities on local governments and requires cities and counties to make specified findings on fire standards prior to permitting development in very high fire risk areas, which the bill defines to be the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones (VHFHSZ) in both the State Responsibility Areas (SRA) and the Local Responsibility Areas (LRA).
SB-12 imposes new planning requirements on local governments. SB-12 requires each city or county, upon the next revision of the housing element or local hazard mitigation plan on or after July 1, 2024, whichever occurs first, to review and update its safety element to include a comprehensive retrofit strategy that includes specified contents.
Wildfire risk reduction standards:
SB-12 prohibits cities and counties from approving any new residential ministerial or discretionary permits, discretionary entitlements, tentative subdivision or parcel maps, or development agreement in VHFHSZ unless the city or county finds that the project and all structures within the project are protected from wildfire risk in accordance with specified “wildfire risk reduction standards” contained in this bill, or standards adopted by a local jurisdiction that meet or exceed those standards.
Regional housing needs allocation:
Beginning with the seventh cycle for revising local housing elements, SB-12 amends the regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) process to:
- Direct each regional housing needs allocation plan to include as a factor the amount of land in each member jurisdiction that is within a very high fire risk area by allocating a lower proportion of housing to a jurisdiction if the jurisdiction would otherwise need to identify lands within a very high fire risk area as adequate sites to meet its housing need allocation, as specified.
- Requires the regional housing needs allocation plan to further the objective of promoting resilient communities. Furthering this objective must include reducing development pressure within very high fire risk areas.
SB-12 clarifies that local governments may impose more stringent standards than those set out in the bill, and clarifies that a local government may issue a final subdivision map without making the findings in the bill if the tentative map or parcel map met the required standards when it was deemed complete.
SB-12 also directs CALFIRE to distribute grant funds, upon appropriation by the Legislature, to provide assistance to small jurisdictions in updating planning documents and complying with other provisions of the bill, as specified.
SB-12 modifies the standards adopted by the Board under PRC 4290 to access from the perimeters to all residential, commercial, and industrial building construction, and requires the Board’s regulations to conform as nearly as practicable with the wildfire risk reduction standards adopted by the State Fire Marshal under the bill.
SB-12 makes other technical and conforming changes.
REASONS TO SUPPORT-IF-AMENDED SB-12:
Senate Bill 12 is a step in the right direction to protect high fire risk areas but needs to be amended. This is because the bill protects communities in "Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones" (VHFHSZ) but it does not protect those in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) or "High Fire Hazard Zones".
Many communities across the State are in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) and High Fire Hazard Zones. These high-risk areas are extremely perilous and should be protected from more intense development too.
The Marin Community Wildfire Protection Plan states; “Homes and structures located anywhere in and around the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) are at a higher risk for exposure to wildland fire. Fire can spread rapidly throughout WUI areas through adjacent structures and/or vegetation, or by ember dispersion.”  “Because of the mix and density of structure and natural fuels combined with limited access and egress routes, fire management becomes more complex in WUI environments. Many of the access roads within the WUI are narrow and winding and are often on hillsides with overgrown vegetation, making it even more difficult and costly to reduce fire hazards, fight wildfires, and protect homes and lives in these areas.” 
If development is only restricted in "Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones" (VHFHSZ), then, when cities and counties are updating their Housing Elements, they may designate even more housing density to areas in the dangerous Wildland Urban Interface or High Fire Hazard Zones, since housing in the VHFHSZ zones would be restricted or prohibited.
Please amend Senate Bill 12 so that communities situated in the Wildland Urban Interface and High Fire Hazard Zones are protected to the same degree as those in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones.
Thank you in advance for your conscientious consideration.
Very truly yours
Sharon Rushton, President