Building Permits in Local High Fire Hazard Zones May Be Denied

Building in very high fire hazard severity zone may be limited in the future. This May fire, started by an arsonist, was near the Palisades Highlands.

Much of Pacific Palisades, which borders on the Santa Monica Mountains, State Parks and brush-covered hillsides, falls in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones (VHFHSZ).

Realtor Bruce Schwartz, a former Citizen of the Year and a member of the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness, shared the latest information about buying and building in these zones.

As the California Association of Realtors magazine reports:

Recent changes in Cal Fire regulations may upend a buyer’s construction plans if the property is on a ‘dead-end road’ of more than 800 feet, and the property lies within a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone within a Local Responsibility Area (LRA).

Since July 1 of this year, such properties are subject to Cal Fire regulation 14 CCR 1273.08 and may be denied a building permit on that basis alone.

The regulation applies to parcels zoned for less than one acre. Parcels zoned for more than one acre will allow for longer roads.

A number of Cal Fire regulations that have only applied within State Responsibility Areas now apply to properties within LRAs. These include rules pertaining to turn arounds, water supply, signage and road surfaces that make it difficult or impossible to get building permits. The dead-end road rule may be of most concern since it is difficult to remedy.

The July 1 expansion adds properties in Local Responsibility Areas within the VHFHSZ to the ones within the State Responsibility Area. Cal Fire’s FHSZ Viewer can also help identify the correct zone. See this link:

Though property constructed or repaired after being destroyed by a wildfire may not be covered by the new regulations, there may still be restrictions if the new building increases square footage, changes the use, and/or involves building where no structure previously existed on the site.

Agents should not make any representation that a buyer may build on a property, or even that a property may be remodeled. Rather, an agent should strongly advise the buyer to consult with their own expert, such as a contractor or other expert, including checking with the fire authorities, to determine whether the property may be substantially remodeled or is buildable, even when there is an existing structure.


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4 Responses to Building Permits in Local High Fire Hazard Zones May Be Denied

  1. Elizabeth Alford says:

    Always wondered why on earth the elder care center was approved in the Highlands- a very high fire danger zone. And most of those residents won’t be able to drive. -let alone on a dead end road through a dangerous canyon, upon which multiple fatalities have already occurred. .

  2. Nancy Forman says:

    Agreed!! Something smells fishy ……

  3. Marie Monroe says:

    Regarding Building permits in High Fire Danger areas…..The Elder Care facility was another of Mike Bonin’s projects. I believe it is fairly well known that he received contributions from this developer, Rony Schram. This project went in without ANY review for density or compliance with Coastal Commission, Traffic Studies or all CEQA considerations. We live in the Country Estates and Vereda la Montura is the ONLY way in and out of our community. Putting 90 Elderly people in this facility – half with memory care issues, is endangering their lives and our lives, given our high risk fire situation. Shame on Mike Bonin for pushing this and for all of the agencies and regulators that passed it through.
    Rony Schram and the Building Department/ Mike Bonin failed to have the property undertake CEQA review:
    CEQA applies to discretionary projects undertaken by private parties. A discretionary project is one that requires the exercise of judgement or deliberation by a public agency in determining whether the project will be approved, or if a permit will be issued. Some common discretionary decisions include placing conditions on the issuance of a permit, delaying demolition to explore alternatives, or reviewing the design of a proposed project. Aside from decisions pertaining to a project that will have a direct physical impact on the environment, CEQA also applies to decisions that could lead to indirect impacts, such as making changes to local codes, policies, and general and specific plans. Judgement or deliberation may be exercised by the staff of a permitting agency or by a board, commission, or elected body.

  4. K.C. Soll says:

    If there is an earthquake that closes Palisades Drive for a significant period of time, liquefaction, burst water/gas mains, etc., your neighbors will likely be your first responders. The Red Cross and LA City Ready Your LA Neighborhood have similar programs to facilitate neighborhoods to organize for resilience after a disaster.

    If the Senior facility is occupied, we should be mindful of their needs. If there are fires in and around the Highlands, the helicopters may well be flying right over the new building.

    It was a sleepless week a few months ago. Get to know your neighbor’s strengths and weaknesses. In less than a month, you could be trained. I have a document that can help.

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