Laguna Beach wildfire defensible space rules clear procedural vote

A garden that sits in the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone would need to comply with a new wildfire defensive space guidelines. Photo by Rick Lang

Laguna Beach officially adopted wildfire-resistant landscaping rules that city officials argue will help prevent flames from jumping to homes and give firefighters room to work safely.

The City Council voted 3-2 (Councilmembers Toni and George Weiss dissented) on Tuesday to adopt the ordinance, which is the city’s response to a new state law that forces homeowners in very high wildfire hazard severity zones to bring their properties’ landscaping into compliance with CalFire’s guidelines. State law allows cities to craft their own rules, which can have a more nuanced approach based on local conditions.

The new law is months in the making. Fire officials hosted a public workshop in July to listen to feedback from the public.

“In my view this has not been rushed. This is something we need to move forward on,” Mayor Bob Whalen said.

Some residents who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars on designing, permitting, and installing their landscaping expressed serious concerns about how the new defensible space rules will negatively impact their property values.

“We use science and experience to make the decisions. They’re not made by fear,” Fire Chief Mike Garcia said.

The ordinance is set to take effect on Nov. 1.

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