First published in the May 5 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
Though there is plenty of work to be done in revising the general plan, La Cañada Flintridge staff members can shift their focus to other pressing matters after the City Council approved a resolution adopting an updated safety element.
The panel voted 5-0 Tuesday in favor of the various revisions made by city staff that address concerns such as high fire-hazard severity zones and climate vulnerability and adaptation.
Susan Koleda, LCF director of community development, informed the council of new and revised policies made after city staff and residents recognized possible safety issues in neighborhoods with dense foliage and single points of access.
City staff created a map indicating 15 areas of concern in LCF that have only one point of access — which can hamstring emergency vehicles entering and exiting those neighborhoods, especially during an evacuation — and include 986 homes. That figure accounts for more than 14% of the city’s housing stock.
Koleda said that she has been working with Cal Fire in revising the city’s safety element and the government agency came away impressed with LCF’s efforts.
“Cal Fire was very interested in this map,” she told the council. “We were actually one of the first communities to have done this and they loved it — the fact that we’re being proactive and trying to identify potential areas that would need additional resources or additional time during an evacuation.”
Some of the new policies proposed by city staff will require approval from the Los Angeles County Fire Department in the building-permit process and coordination with the county fire department to condition all new development and redevelopment to incorporate fire safe design, including sufficient access for emergency vehicles and evacuation routes.
City staff also revised LCF’s policy regarding an evacuation plan, emphasizing the 15 areas with inadequate access and egress.
Koleda added that a policy was added that would evaluate the potential for street widening and improvement in some areas of the city.
Another addition to the safety element is prohibiting the development of accessory dwelling units and junior ADUs and the conversion of existing spaces into ADUs in the 15 vulnerable neighborhoods. The state fire code states that neighborhoods with single access points must not exceed 30 dwelling units.
However, the California Department of Housing and Community Development notified city staff that there might be an issue prohibiting the development and redevelopment of ADUs, and Koleda is waiting for guidance to coordinate with the state on how to proceed.
“We may have to come back to this one,” she told the council.
Councilman Rick Gunter reminded his colleagues and the community that the safety element of the general plan is “a guiding document, not a controlling document,” and zoning and ordinances would later be implemented that would make some of the policies go into effect.
“I like the fact that this is an evolution of things that we’re already thinking about,” Gunter said. “I like the fact that we’re planning ahead for things that God forbid we don’t want to happen but, once in a while, do happen. Those of us who were here for the Station Fire know that big nasty stuff is real, and so I’m totally comfortable with all the recommendations we made.”