City approves controversial new maps identifying local fire hazards

VISTA — City Council unanimously approved March 24 a series of Fire
and Resource Assessment Program Hazard Maps commissioned by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. The maps identify places where large, uncontrolled fires could result in catastrophic losses. They serve as a planning tool for local fire departments, and new construction in a high hazard zone must be built to a higher safety standard.
The maps have been controversial from the start. When the fire department first presented the proposed maps in two workshops last year, hundreds of concerned and angry residents attended. They were worried that having their houses listed as being in a “very high fire hazard severity zone” could push their insurance premiums up or property values down.
That opposition had largely evaporated by the City Council meeting, though it was not entirely absent.
“These maps are very poorly named and they have a lot of repercussions to the current homeowners,” resident Elizabeth Rodriguez said. Several speakers echoed her sentiments.
Fire Chief Gary Fisher said that he, too, had been concerned that insurance costs would go up. “After we did a lot of checking with a lot of folks, who really have more and better information than what we originally got, we found that it is very unlikely to happen because they do not use the Cal Fire maps.”
Fisher said that the hazard level of a property would be disclosed to potential buyers, but did not speak to its possible effects on sale price. Councilwoman Judy Ritter, a realtor, said the city would be remiss if, by not approving the maps, it withheld information on fire hazard severity from property purchasers.
“If this is what Cal Fire says is the map, I don’t see a way we can not approve this,” Ritter said.

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