In September and October of last year, SCC Planning held a couple of outreach meetings to discuss and gather feedback regarding the proposed changes to the State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations. This was following the adoption of Ordinance No. NS-1100.134 in August of 2021.
At the May 27, 2021 Housing, Land Use, Environment, and Transportation (HLUET) Committee meeting, the Department of Planning and Development, Roads and Airports Department, and Department of Parks and Recreation presented the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations, indicating that stricter enforcement of the regulations and resultant appeals were occurring in the wake of recent California wildfires and a change in State law. Additionally, the area covered by these regulations was expanded beginning July 1, 2021. The Departments also noted that most of the County’s road network and much of County Parks’ infrastructure were built prior to the current regulatory standards, and that compliance with these standards would potentially create a significant cost burden to a combination of the County, private developers, and affected residents.
In simple terms, CA Board of Forestry have tightened the rules and want to be stricter about enforcement.
State law requires the California Board of Forestry to adopt and periodically update regulations applicable to fire safety (Pub. Res. Code § 4290). These regulations are known as the Fire Safe Regulations. When the Fire Safe Regulations were originally adopted in 1991, they applied to building construction and development within the State Responsibility Areas (SRA). In 2018, the law was amended to expand the applicability of the regulations to all lands designated as Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones (VHFHSZ) as of July 1, 2021. Sixty-six percent of all land in Santa Clara County is in the VHFHSZ. The vast majority of this land is within the SRA, with the balance outside the SRA area known as the Local Responsibility Area (LRA).
Many of the roads in Santa Clara County that are under county jurisdiction (LRA) will be affected by this as many do not meet the new standards. In addition, many roads within the county are part of the state’s responsibility (SRA) and most of those roads also do not meet the new standards.
All of Higuera Rd and its offshoots are classified as SRA.
You can view the map that was used to generate the above screen grab here.
The new rule changes have already adversely affected a project on our road. See Item PLN15-10815, Findings – 14 Dec 2021 and other related county docs on the Appeals page.
From this it appears that anything beyond the HR/HHL split is beyond the specified distance limit for a dead end road.
Reading between the lines we also may be required to create and/or designate emergency vehicle turn arounds.
You can view the State Minimum Fire Regulations via this PDF which I grabbed via the link from the aforementioned SCC Planning webpage. There is currently no final word on if old roads such as our’s will be completely grandfathered (unlikely) or if we will have to just fix a few things, or if we will have to bring everything up to compliance. Whatever the case, we need to sort out funding, address our basic drainage and repair issues, and start planning.
One last thing to note at this time, according to the newly drafted Fire Protection Grants Program, if we were to ever form a proper road association with non-profit 503(c)(3) status we would be eligible to apply for Fire Prevention grants to cover the cost of things such as widening the road to regulation width, adjusting grades to be under the 16% maximum, adding additional turnarounds for emergency vehicles, etc.