Kenwood Press


Serving the communities of Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Oakmont

email print
Guest Editor: 02/01/2019

Sonoma County should protect its residents by abiding by the State SRA Fire Safe Regulations



By Deborah A. Eppstein and Craig S. Harrison

Last November, the world watched with horror as residents of Paradise tried to escape from an oncoming wildfire on clogged roads, some so desperate that they abandoned their vehicles and fled on foot. Government can reduce the risk from wildfires. Our county government should properly enforce the stateís fire safe road regulations to stop new development in fire-prone areas and better enable emergency access and evacuation.

State regulations require minimum standards for developments in State Responsibility Areas (SRA, most of unincorporated Sonoma County) that are accessed by long, narrow and often dead-end roads. Standards include minimum 20-foot road widths, periodic turnouts, no one-lane roads unless under half a mile and connect with a two-lane road at both ends, and dead-end roads only if 20 feet wide and no more than one mile long.

Thirty years ago, in an instance of prescience, the California legislature became concerned about development in fire-prone locations. It directed the Forestry Department to issue regulations to require fire-safe roads for development. It did so in 1991. The county has chosen to exempt SRA regulations for roads built before 1992. This decision excludes most of rural Sonoma County from protection. Yet a 1993 California Attorney General opinion clearly says that state law pertains to all roads, not just those built after 1992.

Sonoma Countyís approach is contrary to other California counties. Napa County applies SRA regulations to all roads. In San Diego County, itís difficult to get a building or business permit at properties without two ways out. Our lawyer, Kevin Block, has informed the county that any permits issued in violation of the standards are invalid.

Our interest began with the location of commercial cannabis cultivation in unsuitable rural areas that impact residents. But the regulations govern all new development in SRAs, including new homes and wineries (but not rebuilding homes after the fires). We didnít discover these regulations until cannabis program managers, eager to promote this industry and hungry for revenue, slammed door after door in our faces. They refused to allow us to establish exclusion zones even in fire-prone areas, failed to stop projects that donít meet the ordinanceís criteria, and promoted projects that donít meet zoning requirements or land-use policies.

The county has allowed inappropriate cultivation projects for two years under its amnesty (ďpenalty reliefĒ) program on roads that do not even approach meeting SRA regulations. Among them are Cougar Lane, Los Alamos Road, Palmer Creek Road, Matanzas Creek Lane, and Bunnell (Grange) Road. All are dead-end roads over one mile long that are very narrow, some under 12 feet wide. The October 2017 fires burned through many of these areas and destroyed homes. This is not a theoretical issue. For many of these locations, the county is prepared to allow a third growing season without permits being issued.

PG&E has declared bankruptcy because it may be liable for damages caused by large destructive fires. But some of the blame also lies with a county government that allows development in remote areas with inadequate roads. PG&E is obligated to service those areas once the county allows development, but should the county allow development there at all?

Last month, retiring 30-year Cal Fire Chief Ken Pilmot suggested that California consider going beyond the current fire-safe regulations to ban new home construction in all areas prone to fires. Even if the county continues to disagree with the SRA regulations and excludes most pre-1992 roads from regulation, does issuing cannabis and other permits on unsafe roads make any sense? What can county leaders be thinking?

Deborah Eppstein PhD is a scientist and retired biotech entrepreneur who lives on Cougar Lane. Craig S. Harrison is a retired lawyer who lives in Bennett Valley.


Recently Published:

02/01/2019 - Sonoma County should protect its residents by abiding by the State SRA Fire Safe Regulations
01/15/2019 - Oakmont East Recreation Center is a sound investment
12/15/2018 - OVA struggles to control escalating East Rec Center costs
12/01/2018 - GEFD Ė Setting the record straight
11/01/2018 - Where is Oakmont headed?
11/01/2018 - Yes on Measure T
11/01/2018 - No on Measure T Ė No blank check
10/15/2018 - Remembering Guardians in the Land of Fire
10/15/2018 - For SDC, letís try something different
09/01/2018 - Yellowstone wolves: What happened when they came back, and what could happen here
09/01/2018 - The promise of SDC: A community call to action
09/01/2018 - Sonoma Development Center update
08/15/2018 - Donít gamble with Oakmontís future
08/15/2018 - Apothevert should be granted a use permit
08/01/2018 - Keep commercial marijuana away from our parks

Community Calendar

Oakmont Farmers Market
02/16/2019
more...
Calling all bookworms
02/16/2019
more...
Winter concert for your Valentine
02/17/2019
more...
Oakmont Sunday Symposium
02/17/2019
more...
Family nature hike
02/18/2019
more...
Challenge yourself at local ropes course
02/18/2019
more...
Food Bank comes to Sonoma Valley
02/19/2019
more...
OVA Candidate Forum
02/19/2019
more...
Fire resiliency summit
02/20/2019
more...
Rotary Club of Glen Ellen-Kenwood meeting
02/20/2019
more...
Bingo at Star of the Valley
02/20/2019
more...


Weather Underground PWS KCAKENWO2