The Orange County Register on wildfires and property rights:
A new University of California Berkeley Center for Community Innovation study raises important questions about California’s wildfire policies, but its solutions would be disastrous. The report chastens the state for encouraging homeowners and cities to adopt wildfire-mitigation strategies rather than simply discouraging the construction of homes in fire-prone areas.
Communities located within, say, the wooded Sierra Nevada foothills certainly are more prone to wildfires, which impose high costs on state and local budgets. Instead of promoting time-tested market incentives to deal with this situation, the researchers promote policies that would raise taxes and exacerbate an already vexing housing crisis.
“Climate change and sprawl in the wildland urban interface are driving up both the economic and human cost of wildfires in California,” the authors explain. “Successive wildfire disasters strengthen the case for land-use conservation and urban infill strategies that reduce disaster risk, promote housing supply, and mitigate climate change impacts.”
The study, commissioned by the Next 10 think tank, promotes urban-growth boundaries and conservation easements – and calls for “funding streams” such as a fee on residential properties to fund wildfire-risk-reduction planning. These are terrible ideas. California already imposes strict growth limits, which lessen the amount of developable land.
The result is California has the highest housing prices in the nation and faces vast shortages and a growing homelessness problem. This editorial board generally supports loosening zoning restrictions so developers can more easily build higher-density infill projects, but that is only one small part of the solution. Not everyone wants to live in a mid-rise condominium, and such projects are costly to build.
To meet its housing needs, California needs to permit more developments virtually everywhere. Large master-planned housing developments in outlying and inland regions don’t pose any particular wildfire risk. And there’s an easy way to discourage construction within wooded areas – by reforming the state’s insurance rules so insurers can price policies to reflect the risk.
Yes, California needs to analyze its wildfire-related policies. But the state shouldn’t use that problem to promote a misbegotten scheme to force more Californians into high-density housing.