The way Mission Viejo names its fire hazard zones ignited a verbal firestorm at Monday night's City Council meeting.
During the second reading of a city ordinance—usually a routine matter enacted without debate—council members accused one another of misleading the public during a 45-minute discussion.
Ultimately, the council voted 4-1 to redefine "Fire Hazard Severity Zones" and similar terms to "Special Fire Protection Areas."
Councilwoman opposed the measure.
After the vote was taken, the council continued to debate. .
In February, to comply with the state's fire-map system, the Orange County Fire Authority asked the City Council to approve a new map saying 5,000 buildings—mostly houses—were in a "very high fire hazard" zone.
Residents spoke out against the designation, saying .
Removing the term required "some very clever and relentless efforts" from councilwomen and , according to City Attorney William Curley.
"I don’t say this lightly or with hyperbole: Rhonda and Trish worked a wonder—a miracle if you will—to get the city out," Curley said. "That’s a good thing in any book."
That's not how Councilwoman Schlicht saw things.
"I cannot disagree more strongly with what the city attorney has proposed," she said.
Schlicht said the name change was a matter of semantics. She said 15,000 homeowners stood to lose market value on their homes because of the city's decision. If houses in the affected areas are put up for sale, owners would need disclose to potential buyers that the homes sit in fire-prone zones, she said.
In the end, the houses will sit on the market longer, and sellers will have to lower home prices to stay competitive with nearby neighborhoods, she reasoned.
City Attorney Curley disputed Schlicht's claim that homeowners would have to disclose the fire hazard designations in their home sales:
"There will be nothing recorded against the properties. There will be nothing that shows up on title reports. There will not be anything that shows up on the permanent record that can be perceived by anyone as tainting or imposing some designation on your property."
Curley said the "bad boogie man taint" of a negative fire hazard designation was avoided when the city, along with OCFA Fire Marshal Laura Blaul, persuaded the state that city codes already accounted for fire dangers.
Councilwoman Reardon, who has often sided with Schlicht in the past, also disputed Schlicht's arguments. She told Schlicht that after reading her argument three times, "You have little pieces of truth, and then you take it and you go to a different place. And then people read it and they get very confused."
But Schlicht stuck to her guns, saying residents were being deceived by other council members' actions.
"I feel so sorry for the residents of Mission Viejo because you’re really being flummoxed here," she said.