In the wake of devastating fires, Blumenfield’s motion will require safer building practices to reduce wildfire risk in Los Angeles neighborhoods
LOS ANGELES, CA – Moving to ‘harden the target’ for buildings in the path of potential wildfires, today Councilmember Bob Blumenfield’s comprehensive measure to expand fire-resistant building codes unanimously passed the Council’s critical Planning and Land Use Management Committee. Currently dense population centers like Downtown LA and Hollywood have stronger building codes to withstand fires with treated wood or other building materials, and this proposal broadens where more resistant materials are needed, especially in high fire risk areas such as the hills and other population centers of the San Fernando Valley. This motion also requires fire protection plans that help ensure safe construction sites when a structure is at its most vulnerable.
“California wildfires are deadly and can spread incredibly quickly when winds carry embers miles away,” said Blumenfield. “Year-round fire season is now our reality and we must do everything in our power to save the lives of Angelenos if disaster strikes close to home, including building safer and smarter to resist the flames.”
Today’s discussion comes following the release of Los Angeles County’s After Action Review of the Woolsey Fire Incident, a 200-page document which includes recommendations that the region increase requirements for construction codes. Councilmember Blumenfield participated in the Woolsey Fire Task force as an appointee of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
In recent years, the City has made strides enhancing the protection and character of communities, specifically in hillside single family home communities. Both in 2011 and again 2017 the City adopted stricter Baseline Hillside Ordinances to better ensure public safety in those neighborhoods. These ordinances addressed out of scale development and neighborhood character, which helped ensure safer communities and better design that reduces risk during catastrophic events such as wildfires. Those changes, however, only impacted the Municipal and Building codes for single family homes.
More must be done to protect the growing stock of multifamily structures which serve the diverse communities that are the heart and soul of Los Angeles. This motion begins to bring the fire and building codes into alignment with new building standards and technologies that have been put in place in the last 10 years. For example, fire resistance standards for equally sized office buildings are surprisingly much stronger than those for multifamily housing.
Blumenfield added, “We can’t wait until the next fire to start safer construction practices. A member of my staff was evacuated at 2am during the recent Getty Fire. Smoke and raging blazes surrounded her house as she and her family were forced to leave within minutes. It’s unfair to her, and all Angelenos, if we as a City do not implement stronger building codes to help protect homes and property - lives depend on it.”
The 2019 Getty Fire destroyed at least ten homes and damaged many others in the Brentwood area. The Saddleridge Fire burned approximately two dozen homes in the northwest San Fernando Valley earlier this year. The Woolsey Fire in 2018 burned approximately 151 square miles, stopped only when it reached the ocean in Malibu, and it destroyed 1,600 structures.
A tool already exists to address increased fire risk in LA’s dense urban communities and is in place in the City’s Building Code, Fire District 1. This code specifically dictates that developers and construction crews use enhanced fire protections and fire-resistant materials during the building process in this area. Fire District 1, however, only covers a small percentage of the City, just Downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood, to offset the risk of fire in these population centers. This overlay is currently enabling safer construction today.
Blumenfield’s motion specifically instructs the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) and the Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) to prepare and present an ordinance to expand Fire District 1 to include all areas within the City covered by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Very High Fire Severity Zone and City’s High Wind Velocity Zone as well as high density population centers with a population density of at least 5,000 residents per square mile. It also instructs LAFD and LADBS to:
- Update Fire District 1 to reflect population growth based on the U.S. Census;
- Present an ordinance to require a Fire Protection Plan, as allowed under Chapter 33 of the Los Angeles Fire Code, for all new and significantly altered projects over 150,000 square feet and/or 100,000 square feet if the building is over 30’ in height;
- And make recommendations to ensure proper enforcement.
With this motion, Los Angeles has an opportunity to lead the state and the nation in protecting against the growing risk of wildfires, by expanding the reach of High Fire Severity Zones and ensuring that new standards include the changing and growing regional centers and neighborhoods within our City. It will next be heard by the full City Council and then relevant departments will draft the ordinance.