Laguna Niguel council rejects fire zone ordinance

The Laguna Niguel City Council on Feb. 21 did not approve implementation of a state-mandated ordinance that would allow the adoption of "Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones" in the city.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is required by the state to identify fire-prone areas in cities. The pinpointed area in Laguna Niguel is in the western part of the city, near the Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, South Laguna Beach and Dana Point.

The city had 120 days, with a February deadline, to pass the ordinance and adopt the zone. The ordinance would put a new building code in place that would have homeowners adhere to ignition-resistant building standards.

The standards would only apply to new buildings, so it would affect 37 vacant residential parcels in the zone. According to the staff report, the additional costs based on a 2,500-square-foot home could be $2,900 to $8,410.

Council members Linda Lindholm, Joe Brown and Gary Capata all live in the area and recused themselves from the vote. However, Brown was selected to help constitute a quorum so the item could be considered, City Manager Tim Casey said.

Initially, Casey wondered if the council would be able to get the 3-0 majority needed to pass it. But the Feb. 7 council meeting proved that only one member, Joe Brown, was in favor of adopting the ordinance.

Brown said he supported ignition-resistant building and maintaining defensible space. However, he said he did not know if a mandate was required in order to explore those options.

Mayor Paul Glaab, who served on the California Mandate Commission, said he made a "180-degree change" on the issue, due to the fact that it was an unfunded mandate.

Councilman Robert Ming, who has been vocal about his opposition in the past, maintained his stance.

However, Ming said he does think it would be wise to provide homeowners with the necessary information so they can form their own opinions as to how they'd like to build a home in that area.

The law says the ordinance should be adopted in 120 days, however, Casey said there is no written repercussion for a lack of adoption. He called Cal FIRE, but they similarly could not find consequences for not adopting the mandate.

According to the State Controller's Office, Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones is listed as a suspended mandate for this fiscal year, halting its required implementation.

Casey concluded that the ordinance would not be passed and devised a motion that stated that the ordinance would come back to the council when the state legislature provided funding or a new council was seated with members who do not live in the zone.

Casey said the city plans to monitor applications for building permits and will provide information on the building code and the fire resistant construction standards, strongly encouraging them to be followed voluntarily.

Twitter: @joannaclay

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