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City Rejects State Fire Safety Maps

Mission Viejo officials create a "Special Fire Protection Area" designed to protect homeowners from insurance rate hikes.

State maps that show thousands of Mission Viejo homes in "very high" fire danger zones were rejected Monday by the City Council. 

On a 4-1 vote, council members instead created a Special Fire Protection Area that declares 12,000 parcels exempt from the state’s fire danger classification system.

Recently, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety released fire safety maps that labeled at least 5,000 buildings in the city in “very high fire hazard security zones."

However, according to city staff, because local building standards and vegetation-maintenance guidelines meet or exceed state guidelines, the city does not have to accept the maps.

After the state maps were released, .

Council members said rejecting the maps in favor of the local protection area would help protect against rate hikes.

According to a staff report, homeowners in the special protection zone will not have to disclose the state’s fire danger maps information during real estate transactions.

“I hope that this is going to be seen positively,” said Mayor Frank Ury. “The goal is ‘do not allow state control of our fire abatement areas.' … By rejecting the state maps, we have done that.”

Councilwoman Cathy Schlicht cast the sole no vote, saying her independent research showed that since the city had the met the findings required by the state, the Special Fire Protection Area was not needed.

“What I’m going to ask tonight is that we do not accept the Special Fire Protection Area as proposed," Schlicht said. "Because we have findings and those findings are not rebuttable."

Mayor Pro Tem Rhonda Reardon said some Schlicht's statements conflicted with the city attorney’s opinion.

“You are taking on the city attorney with your research and ... if I have to choose who has a better understanding of the municipal code, I’m going to pick [the city attorney],” Reardon said.

A handful of residents spoke during public comments on the item.

Resident Joe Tully said that he thinks that the state maps that classify part of the city as resting in high fire hazard zones are "material facts" that can be used against homeowners to raise their rates.  

To see images of the new city fire safety zone, click the PDF attached to this story. 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly paraphrased Councilwoman Cathy Schlicht's statements and also incorrectly paraphrased Mayor Pro Tem Reardon's statement. 

KC July 04, 2012 at 03:22 AM
So, basically the only reason they are rejecting research is that they don't want to worry about various fiscal impacts? Don't these sorts of surveys impact funding for things like fire-fighting equipment, training, prevention, etc? So they are basically going to take a gamble on public saftey?
Shripathi Kamath July 04, 2012 at 09:39 PM
You do not get off that easy! I had to sit through meetings and tiresome objections for this. The article does not (because it cannot) do due justice to what the city did. At least go to the cityofmissionviejo website, look at the council meetings on video, and see what the decision really means. Not much, other than WE CAN HAZ LOCAL CONTROL. A lot of people did not even want the council to take even that position. Some just wanted to say "up yours" to the state, as if that would do anything. There is nothing that the City really loses. There is really not much the city can do given that the state controls its very existence. The only thing that changes now is that the state will simply say "talk to the city" if one questions if some area will catch fire. The city now decides what is combustion-susceptible, and presumably enforce codes in new construction, or fines. Insurance companies will go bust if we actually have a big fire anyway, which is why they are lobbying the state to designate something as highly inflammable, so that they can raise rates. Or, flammable, to avoid confusion.
KC July 05, 2012 at 01:52 AM
No confusion there, they mean the same thing. So the survey in no way will impact funding for related services (city or county level)? Ok then. Anyway, what also is to stop the insurance companies from raising the rates or just ending policies like they did in NYC with people they said were in hurricane zones? This reeks of the same thing that North Carolina did where the lay-men (aka politicians) rejected the experts findings because they didn't like them (though theirs was that they refuse to agree that climate change exists). We already gamble enough with emergency funds considering we don't want low income housing (a FEMA requirement), it seems like we might want to at least heed the advice of experts.
Shripathi Kamath July 05, 2012 at 03:24 AM
"what also is to stop the insurance companies from raising the rates or just ending policies like they did in NYC with people they said were in hurricane zones?" Nothing can stop insurance companies from raising rates, or dropping policies. They are private companies. In fact, they likely lobbied the state to have them declare some zones as high risk, so that they *can* raise rates. "This reeks of the same thing that North Carolina did where the lay-men (aka politicians) rejected the experts findings because they didn't like them" No, the city is basically at the mercy of the state, but the state allows them to have some local control if they do X. The city did X. They did not formulate any new laws like NC. They cannot. Had the city left it to the state, insurance rates would have likely gone up (they still may), and the fire danger would remain regardless. This was basically the best the city could do (at least the ones who voted so) to let homeowners retain their property value, and have a chance of their insurance rates not go up. If the state had control, some homes would lose their value if they were designated as being in fire hazard areas. This way, the city gets to define that. PS, I did not say you were confused, I said that you need to sit through the council meetings to understand why they did what they did. It was painful, why should you not suffer? :-)
KC July 05, 2012 at 03:38 AM
What I meant was a government body comprised of, to be blunt, people ignorant on the subject rejecting the findings/suggestions of more qulified individuals. NC didn't create a law to ban climate change, they just refused to accept it. I honestly want to say that, all things considered with buyers/realators, it most likely wouldn't come up when it came to final sale price.

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