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Debate sparked by new fire map

ENCINITAS — City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Sept. 23 that identifies high fire hazard zone areas and includes them in a final map. Some residents questioned the intent of the final map and the consequences it may have on insurance rates and property values.
Fire Marshal Bob Scott told the council that some areas were previously mislabeled urban areas and should be labeled high fire areas. Existing homes are not required to make any changes but new developments would be required to meet certain construction standards.
Timothy Gendreau, a homeowner in the Sage Canyon area off El Camino Real, said he had some concerns with the design of the new Wildland Urban Interface Map. While he agreed with requiring additional restrictions on new construction in the area, he said he questioned the benefit to the community and the personal impact to homeowners.
Only two carriers provide homeowners insurance to residents in the area and rates are on the rise, according to Gendreau. “My premiums went from $800 a year to $3,600 a year without any claims. How is this going to impact our property value?” he asked the council. “What can you do to help protect our property values?”
Scott said the city’s map would not impact insurance rates. Insurance underwriters make site visits and determine rates based on information gathered according to Councilman Jerome Stocks, who owns an insurance agency.
Gendreau said the proposed boundaries of the “very high” fire risk areas didn’t make sense.
“We’re trying to fight fires without losing an entire neighborhood,” Scott said in response. He told the council that the map was configured to encompass houses on bluffs and ridges as well as in canyons. Scott said that some homes close to other areas on the map were not included because of the “strategy and tactics” of fighting wildfires.
Defensible space, reducing flammable material at least 100 feet according to state law, is one way to prevent fires. However, one speaker said the Parks and Recreation Department planted pine trees around her house that serve as “fire fuel.” Jean Marie Sarto, who lives in one of the “red” zones, said she requested that the city remove the trees.
With a heightened fire alert status in the area, the council agreed that the map was needed to help firefighters respond quickly and efficiently to wildfires.
Mayor Maggie Houlihan said the photographs of palm trees touching homes were cause for concern. “These trees are highly flammable,” she said. “It’s important to contact the city’s Fire Prevention Bureau to schedule a free fire safety inspection or ask any questions about what you can do to protect your home and others.”
For more information on an inspection, call (760) 633-2820.