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Fire Hazard Zones: How Do They Affect Laguna Niguel?

Zones are being put into place in order to prevent damage due to wildfire and other natural disasters. Cities must adopt the maps so state guidelines on construction and vegetation management can be implemented.

CAL FIRE, which is responsible for updating its fire hazard severity zone maps every few years, has designated much of the western portion of Laguna Niguel in its newly updated high-risk zone. This area includes about 3,300 property owners in the city. 

The map, which is required by state law to be adopted in an ordinance within 120 days of being sent to the city, continues to be an issue in the city. 

Once it is adopted, the new map will impose new fire safety building codes on property owners in the area that the city will be required to enforce.

And while few of Laguna Niguel’s surrounding cities recently voted on an ordinance to designate large portions of the city as Very High Fire Hazard Severity zones, a solution won't be reached here until November. 

For instance, last week, the Newport Beach City Council voted unanimously to approve a state fire map which pinpoints areas of the city most prone to wildfires.

In Mission Viejo homes in "very high" fire danger zones were rejected at a Council meeting in early July. On a 4-1 vote, council members instead created a Special Fire Protection Area that declares 12,000 parcels exempt from the state’s fire danger classification system.

What's It All Mean?

These zones are being put into place in order to prevent damage due to wildfire and other natural disasters. Cities must adopt the maps so state guidelines on construction and vegetation management can be implemented. With the rise in heat over the last few weeks, and a blistering record amount of triple digit degree days this year, the zones are beginning to pop up all over Orange County.

Laguna Niguel initially rejected the vote   Many who voted felt that the zones would cause a plummet in housing prices and a dramatic increase in insurance rates. Residents also felt that the cost should come from the state and not from the local cities. Council members are undecided as to how they will vote again on this issue.

"These zones and their implementation across Orange County is extremely important. Laguna Niguel City Council will be in further talks to discuss how they will affect our city," said Mayor Paul Glaab. "Fire prevention is a number one priority in Laguna Niguel. Safety is of the utmost importance, especially in the summer months. We are lucky in Laguna Niguel in that the OCFA is very active, as too are the O.C Sheriff's; they are vigilant in preventing any major catastrophes from occurring. Protecting the residents is a big responsibility.” 

In February, Glaab opened the proceedings by announcing that he had second thoughts about the consequences of adopting the map following Councilman Robert Ming’s objections and negative vote in early February.

CAL FIRE’S map, if it was adopted by the council, would require that builders in the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone of Laguna Niguel comply with extra building codes and requirements to prevent possible fires. 

Ming argued in February that these extra requirements could cause an unfair financial burden for property owners that were not in place when they had originally bought the property. 

In February the council decided not to vote on the ordinance at all due to the fact that the fire safety zones map and the associated regulations it will impose constitute an unfunded state mandate.  An unfunded state mandate is a law or regulation that imposes new requirements on local governments, yet provides no money for fulfilling the requirements. Since there has been no funding set aside by the state’s legislature for the requirements that would be established by the map, it is not necessary for the council to adopt the map or the associated ordinances. 

If the state funds this program in the next fiscal year then council may have to revisit the matter, said City Manager Tim Casey.

Councilman Joe Brown suggested that the approximately three dozen current property owners in the area that may potentially be affected by these regulations in the future be informed of the possible building requirements. The rest of the council agreed, so property owners will be given a list of fire-resistant building standards and encouraged to voluntarily incorporate them into their building plans.

In the midterm, all that Laguna Niguel residents can do is sit and wait to see what the City Council decides when the issue is revisited in a few months.

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