Environmentalists Weaponize Wildfire Danger in California to Halt Housing Construction

Environmentalists sue to halt logging, controlled burns, and forest thinning efforts that can reduce the likelihood of forest fires, and when the forests catch fire, the results can be devastating. Now, environmentalists in California use the destruction from the fires they largely contributed to in order to halt housing construction so people have places to live. It’s so much easier to tell others how or where people should live when environmentalists do not run the risk of not having a home.

Environmentalists use wildfire danger as new weapon against housing development

By J.K. Dineen, October 19, 2020, San Francisco Chronicle

From steep terrain in Napa Valley to the windswept hills of Contra Costa County, California environmentalists opposed to development in semi-urbanized areas are increasingly fighting projects with a weapon that would have been rare a few years ago — the dangers of wildfire.

Over the past three years wildfires have wiped out tens of thousands of homes in areas known as Wildland Urban Interface zones, semirural hillsides just outside cities such as Santa Rosa, Chico, Santa Cruz and Redding. The areas, often referred to as WUIs, are home to 11.2 million Californians, and the widespread destruction and displacement from recent blazes is prompting questions about whether builders should continue adding housing in them.

The issue has come up in recent fights over proposed subdivisions in Pittsburg and Antioch, as well as in Napa County, where a proposed 20-year plan would allow some residential development in fire-prone WUI areas.

In Pittsburg, the Seeno family of developers is proposing a large subdivision on a hillside on the city’s southern edge, where San Marco Boulevard comes to a dead end with a chain barricade hanging between cement bollards. Below the fence is the subdivision San Marco Villas, a neighborhood of tract homes built out over the past decade. Above the fence is grassland where cattle can be spotted grazing in the distance.

It is there, on the windy ridge separating Pittsburg from Concord, that east Contra Costa’s most prolific developer would add 1,500 homes on more than 600 acres. The development, known as the Faria/Southwest Hills Annexation Project, would be built by Discovery Builders, part of the Seeno family’s group of companies.

While environmentalists have long opposed the project — it would back up onto land that is slated to become part of the East Bay Regional Park District eventually — opponents are increasingly making the argument that the housing will be vulnerable to wildfire carried by the hot, dry Diablo winds that blow from the northeast every spring and fall.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Wikimedia – The Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest near Yosemite National Park, California.