SAN DIEGO — Using San Diego as a backdrop Monday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued state guidance, along with best practices and mitigation measures for local governments to use when they consider approving development projects in fire-prone areas.

“Wildfires are part of California’s present, and as a result of climate change, increasingly part of California’s future,” Bonta said during his press conference. “Eight of the 10 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in the past 10 years.”

Bonta hopes to help stop the impact of wildfires in California with the distribution of his guidance.

The guidance proposes mitigation measures for the following topics:

  • Project density
  • Project location
  • Water supply and infrastructure
  • Evacuation and emergency access
  • Fire hardening structures and homes

“The document we are presenting is a proactive tool for local governments, providing them with clear and consistent guidance to address wildfire ignition risk, evacuation and emergency access at proposed developments,” Bonta said. “Local governments should require developers to upgrade building materials and use installation techniques to increase the development’s resistance to heat, to flames and to embers.”

According to Bonta, since 2005, wildfires in California have destroyed more than 97,000 structures, and killed 150 Californians since 2010.

While some worry this could deter new real estate in rural areas, which is generally cheaper, the Building Industry Association of San Diego (BIAS) said the vehicle miles travelled (VMT) requirement is more restricting. The VMT places restrictions on areas where new developments can be built and aims to fight climate change, encourage walking or biking and reduce vehicles on the road.

The BIAS said the VMT struck down the regions building capacity from 58,000 to 5,000 homes.

It’s not clear if any projects currently underway could be impacted by the new guidance.

“Attorney General Bonta’s guidance is a helpful tool for local lawmakers; it aligns with the preventative actions our Board of Supervisors have taken to mitigate wildfire risk,” San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said in a statement Monday. “These actions include updating our CEQA guidelines to better incorporate wildfire impacts and emergency access, a comprehensive approach towards implementing Vehicle Miles Traveled to better cluster housing in infill areas, and stopping approvals of large-scale sprawl housing developments. He identifies important considerations all jurisdictions and developers should make to protect our environment and keep communities safe. I appreciate Attorney General Bonta’s leadership on the issue.” 

BIAS said it is evaluating the guidance document issued Monday from the attorney general and issued the following statement:

“San Diego homebuilders have and will continue to build to the highest safety standards for construction, landscaping and overall site development. Protecting individual homes and communities from fire focuses on a two-pronged defense – creating a defensible space around the structure and building with fire-resistant materials. Master-planned communities often add new fire and emergency response resources like fire stations, as well as better defined evacuation routes in parts of the state where none previously existed. New homes built to today are much more resilient than the homes built prior to 2008.”

In 2021, the attorney general won a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court that forced San Diego County to take back its approval of a project in Otay Ranch after the court found that, “among other issues, that the County’s EIR (Environmental Impact Report) did not adequately disclose or analyze the increased wildfire risk, did not adequately mitigate the significant project-related increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and failed to properly analyze the cumulative impacts of the Otay Ranch project,” according to the attorney general.