In November 2018, the Woolsey Fire damaged or destroyed over 480 homes in the City and significant amounts of landscaping and other structures, including decks, hardscapes and fences. Fires are generally dependent upon factors such as wind speed, wind direction and fuel load. On January 24, 2019, the City Council directed staff to prepare an ordinance discussing potential restrictions on certain flammable plants, trees and materials in landscaping plans, which would both reduce the fuels available to potential fires and increase the amount of defensible space around structures, in order to establish standards which could decrease a property’s likelihood of burning and spreading the fire to neighboring properties. Fuels for fires include, but are not limited to, dead plant material, buildings, decks, fences and other flammable materials such as mulch.
The Fire-Resistant Landscaping Ordinance, adopted by the City Council on March 23, 2020 and certified by the California Coastal Commission on August 12, 2020, includes amendments made to the MMC and the LCP that strive to minimize the risks to life and property as a result of fire, and protect property from damage caused by fires, by restricting the fuels available for the spread of fires. The ordinance aims to reduce fire hazard risk and the spread of fires by creating standards pertaining to landscaping, hardscape and distances between buildings.
REQUIREMENTS OF THE ORDINANCE
- Planting of palm trees is prohibited.
- Planting of the following trees within 50 feet of structures is prohibited:
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus gum tree) *allowed between five feet and 50 feet of a structure if a qualified expert, as determined by the director, identifies the tree(s) as a monarch butterfly habitat*,
- Pine (Pinus species),
- Cypress (Cupressus species),
- Cedar (Cedrus species), and
- Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima).
- Non-continuous planting of trees and shrubs (except those in listed above), is allowed between five feet and 50 feet from a structure.
- The maximum growth height of trees and shrubs planted near overhead power lines is 25 feet if they are below or within 20 feet of a power line, or 40 feet if they are within 20 to 50 feet of a power line.
- Hedges and flammable fences and walls are prohibited within five feet of a building.
- Structure must maintain a five-foot defensible space buffer around exterior walls.
- Mulch material proposed between zero and five feet from a structure must consist of nonflammable materials, such as gravel and decomposed granite. Flammable mulch materials, including shredded bark, pine needles, and artificial turf, are prohibited between zero and five feet of a structure. Use of wood chips and shredded rubber are prohibited anywhere on the site. Non-continuous use of flammable mulch (excluding wood chips and shredded rubber) is allowed between five feet and 30 feet from a structure.
DOES THIS APPLY TO MY PROJECT?
The Fire-Resistant Landscaping Ordinance applies to any project which requires an Administrative Plan Review Permit (APR) or Coastal Development Permit (CDP or ACDP) issued after August 12, 2020, in the following cases:
- If your project is for an industrial, commercial, institutional, or multifamily use or a subdivision (including public agency projects) AND proposes a new or altered landscape area
- If your project is for a new single-family residence (i.e., a new house on vacant property AND proposes a new or altered landscape area of 500 square feet or more
- If your project is for an existing single-family residential use AND proposes a new or altered landscape area 2,500 square feet or more
*Exemptions, including those for Fire Rebuild projects, may be found in MMC Chapter 17.53.030(B).