• City Council Reviews Fire Hazard Zone Ordinance


    By Cameron Douglas

    VHFHSZ. What is it? Some new-fangled television signal? No. It sounds ominous, but Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone is the California Department of Fire’s designation for areas where certain factors – thick, flammable vegetation, hilly terrain and abundant housing – could result in many homes being destroyed in a fire.

    CDF is obliged to work with local authorities in identifying these areas. This is done “using subjective criteria for fuels, fire history, terrain influences, housing density, and occurrence of severe fire weather designed to delimit areas where urban conflagration could result in catastrophic losses.” (CDF website)

    In short, CDF is the agency responsible for fighting fires in these areas. The localities are required to enact ordinances to bring a level of cooperation so that CDF can do its job and prevent property losses.

    On their website, Cal Fire recommends 100 feet of clear, defensible space. Why? Because it can mean the difference between losing your home and saving it. And besides, it’s the law. The thirty feet immediately surrounding the house requires the greatest reduction in flammable vegetation. This is critical. Trees must be trimmed at least ten feet away from the chimney. Maintaining the outer seventy feet depends on the terrain and the types of vegetation. Tall trees must have lower branches trimmed, but do not have to be cleared as long as the shrubs and bushes beneath them are removed. To learn more, log on to: www.fire.ca.gov 

    This matter came again before the Pacific Grove City Council on May 20, mainly regarding a small strip of land near the edge of Pebble Beach. Council addressed several questions that had been raised at the April 1 meeting:

    Q: Will the VHFHSZ in Local Responsibility Area affect the cost and availability of fire insurance?

    RESPONSE (condensed): A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Insurance Commissioner and the Director of Cal Fire in October, 2007 to mutually promote awareness and collaboration among fire officials, the insurance industry and the public. Ultimately, it is up to each individual insurance company how they choose to interpret the meaning and intention of the VHFHSZ.

    Q: Are Forest Grove or David Avenue Schools included?

    RESPONSE: Forest Grove is not, but David Avenue School is.

    Q: What are the requirements?


    •       Identify areas where ignition resistant building standards will be required for new construction.
    •       Identify properties requiring defensible space maintenance.
    •       Sellers to disclose natural hazards at the time of property sale.

    Q: Loss of property value?

    RESPONSE: Staff is unable to determine if there would be any loss of property value.

    Q: Will the General Plan need to be modified?

    RESPONSE: No, the Pacific Grove General Plan only addresses “State Responsibility lands,” which are unincorporated lands outside the City limits. This report proposes the establishment of fire hazard severity zones for “Local Responsibility Areas,” which by definition are entirely within the City limits. Thus, there is no conflict with the City’s General Plan. When the General Plan undergoes its next comprehensive update (planned within the next couple of years), City staff will propose adding fire prevention maps to the Plan if required by the state guidelines.

    Q: Will the zoning ordinance need to be modified?

    RESPONSE: No changes are required to Title 23 Zoning, of the City’s Municipal Code.

    In comparing VHFHSZ’z in the tri-city area of Carmel, Monterey and Pacific Grove, PG has the smallest high-hazard area. (See map.)

    City Council approved the measure. For more information, go to:

    Or contact City hall at (831)648-3100.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on May 28, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition, Front PG News, Cameron Douglas


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