Thank you for visiting this web page. If you live in California on a dead-end road located in a designated Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone (VHFHSZ) then your property owner rights and property value may be affected.
Do you live on a dead-end road? Click here to see the California Code of Regulations (CCR) as it relates to dead-end roads.
Do you live in a VHFHSZ? Click here to see CAL FIRE’s Fire Hazard Severity Zones in LRA Map.
If you live on a dead-end road in a designated VHFHSZ then you may not be allowed to build a new home on your property. It’s an evolving situation and this page will be updated as more information becomes available. We encourage you to join the group created on NextDoor if you’d like to receive real-time updates.
Pursuant to Public Resources Code 4290 the Board of Forestry (BOF) is required to “…adopt regulations implementing minimum fire safety standards related to defensible space” applicable to “the perimeters and access to all residential, commercial, and industrial building construction. 2018
In 2018 the Legislature passed and the Governor signed SB 901 (Dodd), which expanded the applicability of the regulations promulgated under PRC 4290 to land in the Local Responsibility Areas Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone (VHFHSZ). This expansion went into effect on July 1, 2021. Previous to that date, SB 901 applied to the State Responsibility Areas (SRA) only. SRA is managed by Cal Fire. Cal Fire, however. was not consistently applying these State Minimum Regulations. Beginning in January 2021 though, they “reinterpreted” the regulations and began applying them in the SRA. If you live in the County of Santa Clara then you fall under the jurisdiction of SRA. If you live in the Town of Los Gatos, Monte Sereno or Saratoga, for example, you are under the LRA which is the town or city planning departments and County Fire Departments.
The threat to homes from wildfire is well documented, and major wildland fires in California threaten a wide range of public and private assets. We are not disputing this fact. However, it’s clear the the legislation was passed without any foresight and the State Minimum Fire Safety Standards as drafted by the Board of Forestry (BOF) are not feasible to implement in LRA.
As a result of this legislation, the St Santa Clara County Fire Department (SCCFD), cities and counties are now responsible for applying the BOF Regulations in the LRA.
Here’s What Happened
We submitted our design for a new home to the Los Gatos Planning Department on June 30, 2021. We worked directly with the Town Planning Department to design a home that fit within their existing codes and regulations. It came as a complete surprise to us when the Santa Clara County Fire Department released their “Developmental Review Comments” to us on 8/5/2021. Citing California Public Resources Code (PRC) 4290 to deny our permit and effectively block us from building a new home on our property.
Our property is located on a dead-end road located in a designated VHFHSZ. SCCFD is applying the regulations “as mandated by the State of California” and applying PRC 4290 in the LRA, VHFHSV. It’s our understanding that only Article 1 has been approved but the remaining Articles 2-5 are being upheld under an emergency authorization. Here is a link to the BOF Regulations as it relates to properties in VHFHSZ.
The BOF Regulations that SCCFD are enforcing have been rewritten “a couple of times” already. We’ve been told by several sources that, “There may be beneficial language to come regarding existing roadways.” Check back here as I will post a link once any new draft of the BOF Regulations become available. There will be a mandated public comment period at that time. Legislation moves slowly so even if the language is revised, it must pass through the California Legislative process which could take months.
In the meantime, it’s been our understanding that only the Town Planning Department may grant or deny a permit. The BOF may lack the legal authority to compel local governments to even enforce these Regulations. According to Edith Hannigan from the BOF, “Los Gatos City Planning Department may decide to override the Fire Department’s analysis, but they are not required to, and that decision is completely up to them. I cannot require a local agency to approve (or deny) a project.”
The County of Santa Clara voted just this past week to establish a specific appeals process for fire exception appeals. The ordinance establishes that the Fire Marshal’s Office handles Exception requests on the LRA VHFHSZ and creates a process to appeal Exception determinations. While the County has known about these Regulations and its possible impact on their residents for several months, the Town of Los Gatos was informed on 8/3/2021 which is a full month after the July 1, 2021 date as referenced above and has no specific appeals process in place at the moment.
1270.06(b).1 Exceptions shall only be granted where the Exception provides for “Substantial Compliance” with the minimum standards provided in this Subchapter. Substantial Compliance – Nearly complete satisfaction of all material requirements consistent with the purpose of the applicable State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations even though the formal requirements are not satisfied.
Please join us and voice your concern to the Town of Los Gatos Planning Department. They need to allow their residents to build newer, safer structures with better access and defensible space. The preservation of older housing that is overgrown, has poor access and limited defensible space is NOT a path towards building a more fire safe Los Gatos. Our existing building and fire codes have the same practical effect to protect our homes in the event of a wildfire and likely exceed these Minimum Fire Safety Regulations as created by the BOF.
Here’s a list of individuals who may be able to provide further information:
California Board of Forestry
Edith Hannigan, email@example.com
Los Gatos Planning Department
Jennifer Armer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Santa Clara County Fire Department
Robert Campbell, email@example.com
This information is not intended to serve as legal advice. Please consult your land use attorney to determine your rights as it relates to your individual property.