Sparks Fly in City Fire Maps Debate

How Mission Viejo homes should be designated leads to heated discussion..

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.

AmandaM August 22, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Thank you! Interesting issue. I tend to think the city attorney's correct in that this info won't be disclosed in a standard real estate transaction. But, where will it be disclosed? Is it simply for ocfa usage?
Dan Avery August 22, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Schlicht thinks whatever she believes is the truth. And I'm glad Council Member Reardon called her on lying to MV's citizens. That said, fire is a major issue when it comes to homeowner insurance in this state and for a bunch of good reasons. It's also a shifting landscape and insurers will keep moving the limits on brush and so on as long as these fires keep burning hotter and hotter. There is a lot of money on the line when it comes to a major fire. In the last big fire that came close to MV there were embers the size of half-gallon milk cartons being blown up to a half mile. You get a few of those far enough apart in a populated area and that's a fire that would be very hard to put out. Mainly because the existing homes are very close together.
Peter Schelden (Editor) August 22, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Good question, Amanda. As I understand it, these maps are on the city website--but city staff said they would remove them at the council's request. They're also on the Orange County Fire Authority website, and they're there for new construction. But apparently the city can ask them to remove that, too, because there isn't any new construction planned for the area--it's built out.
Peter Schelden (Editor) August 22, 2012 at 02:38 AM
The deputy fire marshal made a similar point in February: http://missionviejo.patch.com/articles/new-fire-maps-are-you-at-risk-b6c2c489
Sharon Cody August 22, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Cathy Schlicht rarely has her facts straight. This is for her about getting votes. I attended the last meeting where the Fire Marshal explained that Mission Viejo is now not going to have this high fire designation (thanks to Rhonda and Trish). Call it what you want but Cathy's comments on this subject are completely fabricated. Her behavior is frightening. Hopefully voters are paying attention and she will soon be gone.
Shripathi Kamath August 22, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Nice coverage of local goings on, Pete. From what I had understood, the state of CA wanted to designate some areas as "really, really hazardous", so what the city council did was work with the OCFA and got one of the "really"s dropped (or something like that), but more importantly they got it under city control and away from the state. In this part of the world where the battle cry is often "local control" times seven, I'd think that such would be welcome. So what exactly was Ms. Schlicht's alternative? That we let the state define it? If so, that is fine, but then a vote decides it. A vote that need not have taken 6-8 months. It is not professional to accuse others of deception, especially when they seem to have worked diligently, with the OCFA, and with the counsel and oversight of an experienced city attorney. Insurance companies probably will raise rates anyway, I think the council's moves distribute the increases over more homes, and given that the OCFA was involved, probably better for safety, rather than the state defining it. Maybe you can ask her to explain her objections, and her proposals (another blog?), but more importantly, Ms. Schlicht should either back up her public accusations of deception or apologize.
Desi Kiss August 22, 2012 at 04:09 AM
Just another example of how council members appear to be deaf to the constituents they represent. The maps were created by state fire officials, who are required by law to update them periodically using the latest data, science and technology. However the maps appeared to be obsolete and inaccurate. These concerns presented by residents, were addressed during the 03/05/12 council meeting. There was an option to challenge the State, but the council majority went another direction. Several insurance underwriters expressed mixed opinions on this matter and it appears most likely that we the residents will ultimately pay the price. The maps delineate fire hazards, using criteria – some of which was verified by local officials – such as fire history, terrain, weather, and existing and potential vegetation that could fuel a fire. New science about how far flames can reach and how far embers might blow also was/is considered. Roofing and re-roofing materials and technology have advanced these days. Clay tiles used in re-roofing are also fire-resistant. Some roofs use linings made from fire-resistant materials, such as fiberglass or a fiberglass laminate, which will prevent any fires from spreading down throughout the attic areas. I strongly believe that a more comprehensive understanding to evaluate unintended consequences is called for. It seems that politicians and bureaucrats have decided 4-1 to influence our property values and increase our insurance costs!
Desi Kiss August 22, 2012 at 01:15 PM
While there are others, here is one that any City council member should explain to the public: Stoneridge is outside of the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone, but City bureaucrats have decided to add it to their contrived new Special Fire Protection Area. Where did these council members get the information to make them “experts” or “scientists” on what is or is not a hazardous location?
Dan Avery August 22, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Desi, Where is your evidence for your claims that "politicians and bureaucrats have decided 4-1 to influence our property values and increase our insurance costs"? You don't cite it above. The council spent 8 months on this. That is due diligence. They held open meetings on it and went to great pains to be transparent. Your accusation is a baseless and as crazy as Ms. Schlicht's. In the first place, it won't affect the price of a home. People love views of undeveloped land and are always willing to pay for them. It will affect insurance prices. But insurance price is regulated by California's Commissioner of Insurance. Each admitted insurer in this state has to petition for a rate increase and they have to show real reasons to justify the increase. They must do the same thing for decreases. The city council has nothing whatsoever to do with any of that. You ask me you and Schlicht are completely clueless and neither of you belong on the council.
Desi Kiss August 22, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Dan, Your comment does not even pass the laugh test. It is okay if you're a surrogate for F & W. It is really funny that I don't have anything in common with any politicians on the City Council. I'm rather a citizen/engineer/ educator/author/ business person/etc. Diligence and transparency for 8 months? really? While there are others, here is one question that any City council member should explain to the public and especially to the Stoneridge residents: Stoneridge is outside of the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone, but City bureaucrats have decided to add it to their contrived new Special Fire Protection Area. Where did these council members get the information to make them “ fire hazard experts” or “scientists” on what is or is not a hazardous area/location? Was there any study done by some independent party and published? Get a life Dan and have a wonderful week. All the best.
Desi Kiss August 22, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Dan, And one for your homework: are you aware that fire area maps are reported in title reports when homes are sold?
sharon girulat August 22, 2012 at 08:02 PM
So, who is responsible for the housing 'bubble' and bursting: the PEOPLE! Here we go, again: People, trying to protect their own 'special interest' want to hide the truth, the facts, the RISKS from those who determine value! THAT is disingenuous, frankly dishonest, and PEOPLE should consider should have NO say in what designations are given or required. FIRE is a big and costly issue, to lives, homes, families, insurers...and the rest of the insured as prices rise! NO ONE has a right to 'expect' that their factually risky area 'not' identified as such. Anyone want to know why the economy will NOT survive? Look at the people....not the government, not wall street, not the world.... the people who feel 'entitled' to lie and cheat for personal reasons! Disgusting!
Desi Kiss August 22, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Hello Sharon! Well said and welcome to the dialogue! Perhaps if you may have a chance this blog was recently published in the Patch by the Editor : http://missionviejo.patch.com/articles/dissolving-city-agency-to-cost-94-0000 Your comments are greatly appreciated. We already owe the State 2.6 million and if this number is accurate it will bring the total up to: 41.6 million. Thank you for your contribution and have a good week. Sincerely, Desi
Dan Avery August 22, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Hey Dezi, You ought to drop the Larry Gilbertesque personal attacks. Unless you don't mind people seeing that level of disrespect from a council candidate. Just another thing you and Schlicht share. And by the way, I'm not a surrogate for anyone. When people are wrong I speak out is all.
Dan Avery August 22, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Desi, yes I was aware of that. And it doesn't matter unless you have a fool for a realtor? What you clearly are not aware of, nor is Schlicht, is that when you quote a homeowner policy the fire zone is filled in automatically. That fire zone is mandated by state insurance regulations. It plays a part in the price of the policy. The largest part of the price of a homeowner policy is determined by the square footage and what sort of materials were used. For example a home with granite countertops is going to cost more to insure than a home with a Formica counter. It's all figured out on a price per square foot to determine the price to rebuild the home. Then most insurers, but not all, will go about 20% to 25% over the structure limit if they need to. A couple of the older policies, like the one we have on our home will go 50% over. The dumbest thing you can do as a homeowner these days is shop your homeowner policy based on price if you've had it for more than 8 years because your new policy won't come close to the level of coverage you currently have. So whatever you think the council did really won't affect the home's value. It will affect the homeowner insurance, but not as much as other factors.
Dan Avery August 22, 2012 at 09:40 PM
The housing bubble was caused by greedy bankers and mortgage loan "specialists," and most of the latter are now specializing in foreclosures. People by and large did not cause it. No one is hiding the truth. Residents have no value to add in determining what fire zones are where. That is just crazy. The fire department should set that. In combination with Insurance Companies. Unless you self-insure, you don't have any skin in the game. If your home burns down it will be rebuilt to the limit you insured it to by your insurance company. All you will be out is your deductible and after the insurance company pays out, they will never make any money off of you. The only reason your homeowner insurance is cheap, and believe me no matter what you pay it's cheap , is because we all pay in. It's called shared risk. That and FEMA make it affordable to insure a home. And that is what also makes it possible for developers to build huge housing tracts in flood plains, in Earthquake zones , in fire zones, etc.
sharon girulat August 23, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Dan, I thought the argument was homeowners who live in 'higher risk' fire areas not wanting them to be 'called' such....to preserve value! Sorry if I misread or misconstrued. As for 'bubble', if one didn't want a house they could not afford, no realtor or lender would be generating 'false' docs with hidden risk. That's the people and their greed; fueled and supported by the others. We all know 'those' who have done it.....and this is nothing different. The city should not even entertain having notations removed or rephrased to reduce the 'image' problem. Remove the 'image' problem by finding ways to reduce the fire risk..... now there's a solution! How about HOA controlled home-spray (wildfire suppressants) or wraps or ??? Real solutions, not hiding, would be the wise efforts. Again, sorry if I misunderstand.....truly.
Dan Avery August 23, 2012 at 04:54 AM
Hi Sharon, You say "if one didn't want a house they could not afford, no realtor or lender would" and that is where you lose your argument. Actually the lenders, the realtors, etc were all making so damn much money that they happily sold to people who they knew couldn't afford it. I was working in insurance at the time and we had these major banks calling us up wanting us to insure the home to the amount of the loan. That is illegal in this state. One can insure up to the cost of rebuilding the home. That is often hundreds of thousands less than the selling price. That is not the case in most states. So once again it wasn't people. It was greed on the part of a few wall street types. Just like this issue with the council. The council went to bat for the average person and they did so selfishly, because most people condemn government as not being able to get any thing right. Have you seen those photos from Mars, by the way? You ask me, Government gets an awful lot right.
sharon girulat August 23, 2012 at 06:11 AM
Dan, may we respectfully agree to disagree? I've been on all sides of of the above issues, in more ways than we can cover here. You are not wrong. The monsters were everywhere. But the personal 'greed' of people who KNEW they could not afford a given 'dream home', fed right into the monster's mouths. When a realtor tells me I can have an even BETTER house; "we'll submit the paperwork" for you..... and he moves a number or bit of information from here to there, etc..... and I sign the application..... I am ground ZERO of the problem. Sort of like 'who is responsible for the death of the lemmings'? The lemmings; for following! As for the government 'standing up for the homeowners'.... that story is WAY too long to discuss here. The irony is that by standing up for ONE group of homeowners, they adversely affect, long term, others! As for Mars: JPL, a non-political company of elite scientists; spectacular innovation, equipment and protocol and standards that would choke most folks, got it RIGHT! Run business and governments in the same way JPL runs and we'll all be better off. But there's no room for 'special interest groups'..... it is ONE mission, ONE goal, One team...focused together, not on their own needs. TEAM! I'll take my leave now; You are not wrong... Just a different view....
Dan Avery August 23, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Sharon, I know the bankers was greed. What I can't decide about those who bought the homes is if it was greed or just hope that they actually could share in the great American Dream of owning your own home. I'm leaning toward the latter. Most people without money are not exactly savvy about financial stuff.


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