Members of the Santa Clarita City Council grilled representatives from the California Department of Forestry and Fire and the Los Angeles County Fire Department at their meeting on Tuesday in regards to a new brush clearance program that council members argued was unfair.
Pat Sprengel, assistant fire chief for the Fire Department’s third division, and Bill Romo, assistant fire chief for the Forestry Division, were summoned to the meeting to answer questions in regards to the program within a resolution adopted by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 10 — which would require SCV residents to pay $100 to fund inspections of properties deemed to be within areas considered a fire hazard zone.
Among the council’s concerns were the increase of homes being inspected. During the staff presentation, the council said an average of 2,800 homes were inspected prior to 2021. In 2022, the average rose to 10,800 and this year that number is expected to increase to 22,900 homes.
Councilwomen Marsha McLean and Laurene Weste spearheaded the debate against the program and had several arguments as to why they opposed it.
Weste argued that if the county and state are going to continue to push the city to build more homes and, at the same time, say large swaths of the valley are unsafe, then something has to give when it comes to development.
“As much as I love the Fire Department, and I do, I love you guys, we just need to say this — people are voting with their feet, they’re leaving the state and they’re doing it en masse,” said Weste. “And if you don’t want Californians to have homes [or] you don’t want people to leave, then you need to stop telling us to have people build. Because there are no places that you’re showing that you could build and not be in that very high fire zone. Basically if you’re going to tell us to build, this is one of those things, you can’t have it both ways.”
Weste also questioned how areas were determined to be within the fire hazard zone and disagreed with the fact that condo and townhome owners, many of them first-time homeowners, would have to pay the same fee as single-family homeowners — since the process of inspection would be the same. She called it a “cruel and unusual punishment” against those who wouldn’t be able to afford the fee.
Sprengel and Romo noted the concerns but also pushed back against some of them. They argued the inspections were necessary to make sure a “defensible space” was present in the event of a fire.
McLean questioned Sprengel on what would happen to the aesthetically pleasing trees in her neighborhood and if they would be cut down if they were deemed a fire hazard.
“We’re going to make sure that all the deadwood is cut out of it and that it’s limbed up appropriately and what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to make defensible space for our firefighters to be able to get in and save your structure,” said Sprengel.
Sprengel also argued the human and property cost in the event of fire would greatly outweigh the inspection costs associated with the program, which he deemed as a potentially life-saving measure if a fire were to happen.
The program would remove flammable brush and vegetation within 30 feet of any structure or within 50 feet in “very high” areas. Remaining vegetation for the next 70 feet would be limbed and have its deadwood removed.
It would also enforce a 0 to 5 feet “ember resistance zone” that would prevent anything that could ember from being within the aforementioned range from a building.
When the item was concluded, the council direction was to have Mayor Jason Gibbs write a letter to the Board of Supervisors expressing the council’s concerns, requesting a hearing of protest in Santa Clarita and a request to postpone the public hearing for the item, which is scheduled for March 14.
To view a map from the L.A. County Fire Department of fire hazard zones in SCV, visit bit.ly/3YDAW3W.