Mission Viejo officials create a "Special Fire Protection Area" designed to protect homeowners from insurance rate hikes.
By John Crandall
July 3, 2012
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, a number of residents and council members said they feared the designations could raise homeowner insurance rates.
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.