Laguna Receives $1M for Wildfire Defense

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By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

Laguna Beach will receive $1 million earmarked in the state budget to create additional fuel modification zones that separate homes and evacuation routes from the wildfire-prone vegetation growing in open spaces.

Nearly all of Laguna Beach and the 16,000 acres of wilderness that surrounds it are designated by CalFire as a “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone.”

“Over 70 percent of our Laguna Beach neighbors live in a High Fire Hazard Severity Zone, and we’re working to mitigate this risk,” Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) wrote in a prepared statement. “I am proud to have partnered with Mayor [Bob] Whalen to secure $1 million in state funds to protect lives, property and our community.”

In July, the City Council unanimously approved a Fire Mitigation and Safety Subcommittee Report after about six months of study by a subcommittee that included Whalen and Councilmember Sue Kempf. The council also approved moving forward with several recommendations.

“Given the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires in the state, the City of Laguna Beach needs to be proactive in mitigating our wildfire-related risks and preventing fire-related air pollution,” Laguna Beach Fire Chief Mike Garcia wrote in a statement. “This funding will help us do both.”

The state funding allocated for fuel modification zones will be disbursed to the city through the California Natural Resources Agency.

Laguna Beach maintains 292 acres of vegetation to mitigate its fire risk. Combined with another 25 acres that are privately maintained, these fuel modification zones protect about two-thirds of the city from wildfires. The city annually spends about $470,000 to maintain the zones. Last year, Laguna Beach received a $4.2 million state grant to install a fuel modification zone in Laguna Canyon. The estimated cost to complete fuel modification in the remaining third of Laguna Beach is $8 million.

Whalen wrote in a statement that Petrie-Norris deserves 100 percent of the credit for securing the state funding.

“We are grateful to her and Governor Newsom for their dedication in making wildfire mitigation and prevention in Laguna Beach a top priority,” Whalen wrote. “This show of support bolsters our fire mitigation efforts significantly.”


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