MILL VALLEY (KPIX 5) — There is a potential firestorm brewing over where, when and what kinds of plants and landscaping may be allowed near residents’ homes in Mill Valley.
The woodsy community in Marin County is mulling whether to accept new rules aimed at reducing the risk of wildfire at the expense of what people will be allowed to do with the landscaping at their homes.
Part of the appeal of Mill Valley is its hilly and private nature, but these are also part of the problem. The majority of the city is designated as in a “high fire risk” area according to California’s Wildland-Urban Interface Code.
The city hasn’t seen a major blaze since 1929. Mill Valley Fire Department Battalion Chief Michael St. John said that along with the big risk must come big changes to city fire codes.
“What we are doing isn’t working and I think we need a new approach,” said St. John.
During Thursday night’s first reading of the new city ordinance at Mill Valley City Hall, there were five major updates, including items such as building codes, alert systems and neighborhood accessibility.
Perhaps the most likely on the list to cause a public firestorm is the amendment to reduce hazardous fuel.
“It’s very forward-leaning–it’s aggressive. And we know some residents are going to have a hard time with it because of how they landscape, but at the end of the day, we need to do something different,” said St. John.
The new rules come alongside recent efforts from neighborhood residents to be more proactive in fire prevention; they even formed a “Neighborhood Fire Watch” that performed voluntary fire evacuation exercises to better prepare for an emergency fire situation.
If the ordinance passes, only irrigated succulents will be allowed within three feet of homes in the Wildland-Urban interface. That’s 75 percent of the town, or about 5,000 homes.
Residents like Kirk Citron, whose home was just recently landscaped, weighed in on the ordinance.
“First of all, aesthetically, I’m not crazy about it. Secondly, it would be really expensive and really difficult to do, given this landscaping,” said Citron.
The ordinance, if approved, declares that the changes would have to be made by May 2019. Citron said that if it passes, it will ignite a heated debate.
“I understand fire being an issue, and we worry about fire because everyone in California worries about fire, but I’m not sure this is the right answer to it,” said Citron.
The ordinance would eliminate things like bushes and vines from being near homes, only allowing dry landscaping such as succulents or gravel.
Battalion Chief St. John said he doesn’t know of any other communities that are taking similar measures to Mill Valley, where fire is such a large risk.