The Real Deal Los Angeles

In the wake of wildfires, experts call for stricter zoning in risky areas

Some say a state-led commission should oversee development
November 19, 2018 12:00PM

Scorched hillsides are seen where the Woolsey Fire reached the ocean on November 14, 2018 near Malibu, California. (Photo by DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images)

A pair of wildfires burning across the state have claimed more than 15,000 structures and at least 80 lives, breaking records and causing massive amounts of damage to communities, families and businesses.

And while some have already made pledges to rebuild, others believe they should take a step back.

Experts in academia, wildfires and urban planning say the state should explore other ways to deal with the fires, rather than simply rebuilding in the same affected areas, the Los Angeles Times reported.

One option could be implementing stricter zoning laws. Similarly to the way the California Coastal Commission reviews projects along the state’s coast, a state commission could review developments proposed for high-risk areas, suggested Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

In L.A., that could mean limiting development in places like Malibu, which has some of the most expensive — and fire-prone — real estate in the country. It might also make the process of building in the city, already notorious for its outdated zoning, even longer and more difficult.

Another option could be to incentivize people to stop building in hazardous areas, suggested Bruce Cain, director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. One way to do that could be to withhold government insurance from people who have seen their homes burn more than once, he told the LAT.

Insurance providers are already taking matters into their own hands. Some companies are choosing not to renew coverage for homes that aren’t even in high-risk areas, but are near potentially flammable wildlife, like a brush, Maxime Rieman-Croll, head of insurance research at data firm ValuePenguin, told The Real Deal previously.

As of Monday, the Woolsey fire burning in L.A. and Ventura counties had claimed 1,500 homes and businesses and the lives of at least three people. Up north, the Camp Fire has wiped out the entire town of Paradise and killed at least 77 people. Close to 1,000 are unaccounted for. [LAT] – Natalie Hoberman