How policymakers could guide redevelopment in California’s fire-prone areas

By Peter Arcuni, KQED, June 22, 2021

“When tragedy strikes, people often rebuild in the same risky places, according to researchers at UC Berkeley and Next 10, a nonprofit think tank, who are urging California policymakers to rethink how communities are rebuilt after destructive wildfires.

“In a new report, [Karen] Chapple [an urban planning professor and director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Community Innovation] and a group of Berkeley graduate students looked at rebuilding alternatives for three California communities that were hit hard by catastrophic fires over the last five years: Santa Rosa, Ventura, and Paradise.

“Following the Tubbs Fire in 2017, Chapple says, Santa Rosa’s planning division mobilized to help homeowners rebuild the homes they lost. But, she said, ‘They helped them rebuild right in place, right back in the wildland-urban interface. And what if they had instead looked at building in an alternative way?’ ”

The report analyzes two redevelopment scenarios: one using incentives to encourage relocation and another where development only occurs in areas with strong wildfire mitigation features. “Researchers compared these scenarios against … the typical ‘rebuilding as usual’ strategy,” relying on existing recovery plans and growth projections.

“The report recommends California policymakers discourage risky development, while incentivizing the development of more affordable housing in lower-risk areas. Prohibitively expensive fire insurance rates may also drive an exodus of people leaving forested, fire-prone areas.

“[Jim] Thorne [a UC Davis landscape ecologist with no connection to the new report] says there is no single, magic solution. Solving this problem will be a process, a policy combination of ‘some carrots and sticks’ along with ‘some ways of moving people around.’ ”

Read the full article here. (~5 min.)

Also in July-August Roundup: Natalie Orenstein in Oaklandside reports on Oakland’s planning commission hearing public comment on a proposal to ban ADUs in the fire-prone Oakland Hills.

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