Setting a precedent for wise land use planning, the Board of Supervisors limited the expansion of new development into dangerous fire zones.

Scientists tell us that loss of life and property due to wildfire will continue to worsen until we stop expanding the “wildland-urban interface” and putting more and more housing in harm’s way. Evacuation routes are already past the breaking point, and homes build to new building codes burn anyway. Human-caused ignitions are occurring so frequently that native chaparral and coastal sage scrub are turning into non-native weeds.

In 2019, EHL wrote to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors about the dire need to reverse course and site new development in safe locations. Whether related or unrelated, a subsequent initiative by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl set in motion a process that culminated in updates to the safety and land use components of the County’s General Plan which achieved this important goal. EHL commented extensively on draft documents and organized other groups around the effort.

The fire safety provisions were part of a comprehensive effort by the Department of Regional Planning to address the many ramifications of climate change, including sea level rise and extreme heat events. There was a particular focus on the effects of climate change on disadvantaged communities. 

The approach to fire safety was grounded in the “Housing Element,” a plan for accommodating population growth required by the state. The Housing Element sited all needed housing capacity – for all income levels – in safe locations. Within fire zones, creation of new lots and increases in density are now limited to locations within existing communities or to housing plans with an advanced level of prior approval. While a compromise, it is good one, as it eliminates the most harmful practice, which is expansion and “leapfrog” into currently undeveloped wildlands.   

We commend the Planning Department and the unanimous action by the Board of Supervisors. The rest of the state should now follow suit.