Today's Law As Amended


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AB-642 Wildfires.(2021-2022)



As Amends the Law Today


SECTION 1.
 (a) The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(1) Wildfires in California are continuing to increase in frequency and intensity, resulting in loss of life and damage to property, infrastructure, and ecosystems. In 2020, wildfires burned more than 4.1 million acres. The August Complex Fire in northern California, the largest fire in California’s modern history, burned over one million acres. In total, wildfires caused 33 deaths and destroyed over 10,000 structures in 2020. The land area burned in 2020 more than doubled the previous record, roughly 1.8 million acres, which was set in 2018. Furthermore, seven of the state’s deadliest fires have occurred since 2017, with over 100 fatalities in 2017 and 2018. The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection keeps records of the largest and most destructive wildfires in the state’s history. Each year, those records continue to be broken.
(2) Fire has always been present in California landscapes, ignited either by lightning strikes or by Native Americans to enhance certain useful plants, enhance hunting success, perform religious rites, prevent larger fires, and other reasons. Lower-intensity fires have clear ecological benefits, such as creating habitat and assisting in the regeneration of certain species of trees and other plants. Low-intensity fire also reduces surface fuel, which decreases future wildfire intensity. However, climate change, an epidemic of dead and dying trees, a century of fire exclusion, and the proliferation of new homes in the wildland-urban interface have magnified the threat of high-intensity wildfires and substantially reduced California’s fire resiliency.
(3) Chapter 624 of the Statutes of 2018 made important steps to increase the use of prescribed burns. However, much more must be done to increase the pace and scale of prescribed and cultural burns to meet the state goals and increase fire resiliency, including increasing partnerships with Native American tribes, tribal organizations, and cultural fire practitioners.
(4) Partnering with Native American tribes, tribal organizations, and cultural fire practitioners to expand the practice of cultural burnings upon landscape provides an opportunity to restore landscape resilience while preserving Native American cultural identity and also improving forest health, ecosystem abundance, maintaining species diversity, and decreasing the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
(5) To limit the threat of catastrophic wildfires and to improve forest health and air quality, it is a priority of the state to have an effective prescribed burning program that is developed and crafted collaboratively with federal agencies, prescribed burning experts at state public universities, public agencies, Native American tribes, tribal organizations, cultural fire practitioners, nonprofit entities, private landowners, and other relevant organizations.
(b) It is the intent of the Legislature that the State Air Resources Board, in consultation with the local air quality management and air pollution control air districts, review established guidance and policies related to prescribed fire with the goal of maximizing acreage and opportunities to implement prescribed fire in order to reduce the air pollution associated with high-severity wildfire.
(c) It is the intent of the Legislature that the Department of Insurance and the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection develop or facilitate innovative solutions within the next year to ensure certified burn bosses, Native American tribes, tribal organizations, and cultural fire practitioners and the organizations they work for have access to appropriate insurance to enable them to contribute to the fire resilience of the state.

SEC. 2.

 The heading of Chapter 6.8 (commencing with Section 51175) of Part 1 of Division 1 of Title 5 of the Government Code is amended to read:

CHAPTER  6.8. Moderate, High, and Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones

SEC. 3.

 Section 51177 of the Government Code is amended to read:

51177.
 As used in this chapter:
(a) “Defensible space” means the area adjacent to a structure or dwelling where wildfire prevention or protection practices are implemented to provide defense from an approaching wildfire or to minimize the spread of a structure fire to wildlands or surrounding areas.
(b) “Director” means the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection.
(c) “Fuel” means any combustible material, including petroleum-based products and wildland fuels.
(d) “Fuel management” means the act or practice of controlling flammability and reducing resistance to control of fuels through mechanical, chemical, biological, or manual means or by fire, in support of land management objectives.
(e) “Local agency” means a city, county, city and county, or district responsible for fire protection within a very high fire hazard severity zone.
(f) “Single specimen tree” means any live tree that stands alone in the landscape so as to be clear of buildings, structures, combustible vegetation, or other trees, and that does not form a means of rapidly transmitting fire from the vegetation to an occupied dwelling or structure or from an occupied dwelling or structure to vegetation.
(g) “State responsibility areas” means those areas identified pursuant to Section 4102 of the Public Resources Code.
(h) “Vegetation” means all plants, including trees, shrubs, grass, and perennial or annual plants.
(i) “Very high fire hazard severity zone” means an area designated as a very high fire hazard severity zone  by the director pursuant to Section 51178 that is not a state responsibility area.
(j) “Wildfire” means an unplanned, unwanted wildland fire, including unauthorized human-caused fires, escaped wildland fire use events, escaped prescribed fire projects, and all other wildland fires where the objective is to extinguish the fire.

SEC. 4.

 Section 51178 of the Government Code is amended to read:

51178.
 The  On or before July 1, 2023, the  director shall identify areas in the state as moderate, high, and  very high fire hazard severity zones based on consistent statewide criteria and based on the severity of fire hazard that is expected to prevail in those areas. Very  Moderate, high, and very  high fire hazard severity zones shall be based on fuel loading, slope, fire weather, possible lightning-caused ignitions,  and other relevant factors including areas where Santa Ana, Mono, Diablo,  and Diablo  other regional  winds have been identified by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection as a major cause of wildfire spread.

SEC. 5.

 Section 51178.5 of the Government Code is amended to read:

51178.5.
 Within 30 days after receiving a transmittal from the director that identifies very high  fire hazard severity zones,  zones pursuant to Section 51178,  a local agency shall make the information available for public review.  review and comment.  The information shall be presented in a format that is understandable and accessible to the general public, including, but not limited to, maps.

SEC. 6.

 Section 13108.5 of the Health and Safety Code is amended to read:

13108.5.
 (a) The State Fire Marshal, in consultation with the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Director of Housing and Community Development, shall, pursuant to Section 18930, propose fire protection building standards for roofs, exterior walls, structure projections, including, but not limited to, porches, decks, balconies, and eaves, and structure openings, including, but not limited to, attic and eave vents and windows of buildings in fire hazard severity zones, including very high fire hazard severity zones designated by the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection pursuant to Article 9 (commencing with Section 4201) of Chapter 1 of Part 2 of Division 4 of the Public Resources Code.
(b) (1)  Building standards adopted pursuant to this section shall also apply to buildings located in very high fire hazard severity zones designated pursuant to Chapter 6.8 (commencing with Section 51175) of Part 1 of Division 1 of Title 5 of the Government Code, and other areas designated by a local agency following a finding supported by substantial evidence in the record that the requirements of the building standards adopted pursuant to this section are necessary for effective fire protection within the area.
(2) Upon identification by the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection pursuant to Section 51178 of the Government Code of high fire hazard severity zones and by a local agency pursuant to Section 51179 of the Government Code, the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Department of Housing and Community Development shall propose, and the California Building Standards Commission shall adopt, expanded application of the building standards adopted pursuant to this section to high fire hazard severity zones during the next regularly occurring building code adoption cycle.
(3) The Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Department of Housing and Community Development shall, after consulting with interested stakeholders, including local fire officials, consider if it is appropriate to expand application of the building standards adopted pursuant to this section to moderate fire hazard severity zones. If it is found appropriate, the State Fire Marshal and the Department of Housing and Community Development shall, pursuant to Section 18930, recommend expanding the application of the building standards adopted pursuant to this section to moderate fire hazard severity zones.
(c) Building standards adopted pursuant to this section shall also apply to buildings located in urban wildland interface communities. A local agency may, at its discretion, include in or exclude from the requirements of these building standards any area in its jurisdiction following a finding supported by substantial evidence in the record at a public hearing that the requirements of these building standards are necessary or not necessary, respectively, for effective fire protection within the area. Changes made by a local agency to an urban wildland interface community area following a finding supported by substantial evidence in the record shall be final and shall not be rebuttable.
(d) For purposes of subdivision (c), “urban wildland interface community” means a community listed in “Communities at Risk from Wild Fires,” produced by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Fire and Resource Assessment Program, pursuant to the National Fire Plan, federal Fiscal Year 2001 Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (Public Law 106-291).

SEC. 7.

 Section 703 is added to the Public Resources Code, to read:

703.
 The director shall appoint a cultural burning liaison who shall do all of the following:
(a) Advise the department on developing increased cultural burning activity.
(b) Engage with Native American tribes, tribal organizations, and cultural fire practitioners, as defined in Section 4002.6, on opportunities to partner with the department.
(c) Make recommendations to the director on ways to reduce barriers to cultural burning, as defined in Section 4002.4.
(d) Serve on the State Fire Marshal’s Statewide Training and Education Advisory Committee.
(e) Work with unit chiefs across the state to ensure prescribed fire and cultural burning objectives are understood and supported by the department.

SEC. 8.

 Section 4002.4 is added to the Public Resources Code, to read:

4002.4.
 “Cultural burn” or “cultural burning” means the intentional application of fire to land by Native American tribes, tribal organizations, or cultural fire practitioners to achieve cultural goals or objectives, including for subsistence, ceremonial activities, biodiversity, or other benefits.

SEC. 9.

 Section 4002.6 is added to the Public Resources Code, to read:

4002.6.
 “Cultural fire practitioner” means a person associated with a Native American tribe or tribal organization with experience in burning to meet cultural goals or objectives, including for subsistence, ceremonial activities, biodiversity, or other benefits.

SEC. 10.

 Section 4114.3 of the Public Resources Code is amended to read:

4114.3.
 (a) (1) The department shall actively engage University of California Cooperative Extension, relevant California State Universities, fire safe councils, Native American tribes, tribal organizations, cultural fire practitioners, resource conservation districts, and any other entity with demonstrated expertise to enhance its public education efforts regarding any of the following:
(A) Restoring fire processes and functions.
(B) Cultural burning.
(C) Fire prevention.
(D) Public safety.
The  (2)  department shall actively engage University of California Cooperative Extension, fire safe councils, resource conservation districts, and any other entity with demonstrated expertise to enhance its public education efforts regarding fire prevention and public safety.  These public education efforts shall include, but are not limited to, educational activities regarding community wildfire protection plans, community fire safe councils, community and private chipping days, defensible space, prescribed fires, cultural burning,  hardened residences, compliance with building standards, evacuation routes, activities that promote fire resiliency or achieve carbon-sequestration benefits in the wildland-urban interface and other forest lands, and activities that promote public safety. When engaging with Native American tribes, tribal organizations, and cultural fire practitioners, the department shall respect tribal sovereignty, customs, and culture. 
(b) The department shall also support, to the extent feasible, the programs of Native American tribes, tribal organizations, and cultural fire practitioners that develop the knowledge and skills needed to establish and maintain the diverse workforce that is required to achieve activities described in this section.

SEC. 11.

 Section 4204.1 is added to the Public Resources Code, to read:

4204.1.
 (a) On or before July 1, 2023, the department, in consultation with the State Fire Marshal and the Insurance Commissioner, shall make recommendations on how to understand and model wildfire risk for a community and specific parcels within the local responsibility area or state responsibility area through the input of mitigating factors. The department’s recommendations shall include all of the following:
(1) Identification of mitigation factors that must be included to determine risk.
(2) Cost-effective ways to gather data on mitigation factors.
(3) A discussion on how parcels can affect the risk of other parcels in close proximity.
(4) An evaluation of the effectiveness of using natural infrastructure as a community buffer.
(5) A review of other jurisdictions’ applicable wildfire risk models.
(6) Identification of barriers to determining the wildfire risk of a community and specific parcels.
(b) (1) The department shall establish, and consult with, an advisory workgroup to develop the recommendations required pursuant to subdivision (a).
(2) The advisory workgroup established pursuant to paragraph (1) shall include all of the following members:
(A) The State Fire Marshal, or the State Fire Marshal’s designee.
(B) The Director of Emergency Services, or the director’s designee.
(C) The Insurance Commissioner, or the Insurance Commissioner’s designee.
(D) The Director of State Planning and Research, or the director’s designee.
(E) The Director of Housing and Community Development, or the director’s designee.
(F) Two representatives from insurers and insurance research organizations that have appropriate expertise in wildfire risk modeling, such as exposure measurement, risk modeling, and actuarial expertise, to be appointed by the department.
(G) Two representatives, one a fire chief, or the fire chief’s designee, and the other a fire prevention officer, to be appointed by the department in consultation with the California Fire Chiefs Association and the Fire Districts Association of California.
(H) A representative from the California Professional Firefighters, to be appointed by the department.
(I) A representative from the California Fire Science Consortium, to be appointed by the department.
(J) A representative from the California Building Industry Association, to be appointed by the department.
(K) Two representatives from a local government, with one from a rural city or county, to be appointed by the department.
(3) The appointed members of the advisory workgroup shall serve at the pleasure of the department.
(4) The members of the advisory workgroup shall serve without compensation, but each member shall be reimbursed for their actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties.
(5) The chairperson of the advisory workgroup shall be the State Fire Marshal, or the State Fire Marshal’s designee.
(6) The vice chairperson of the advisory workgroup shall be the fire chief specified in subparagraph (F) of paragraph (2), or the fire chief’s designee.
(c) The department shall post the recommendations required by subdivision (a) on the department’s internet website.
(d) This section shall remain in effect only until January 1, 2025, and as of that date is repealed.

SEC. 12.

 Section 4477 of the Public Resources Code is amended to read:

4477.
 (a) On or before January 1, 2021, the State Fire Marshal, with the involvement of the Statewide Training and Education Advisory Committee, shall develop a curriculum for, or amend into an existing curriculum, a certification program for burn bosses, who, pursuant to Section 4476, possess authority to engage in a prescribed burning operation and to enter into the necessary contracts related to a prescribed burning operation. The curriculum shall provide for the initial certification as well as the continuing education of burn bosses. It is the intent of the Legislature that this curriculum become a regular part of the training of firefighters conducted by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and all other appropriate accredited training providers.
(b) In addition to the curriculum and certification program developed pursuant to subdivision (a), the department shall develop a training program for prescribed fire users to certify professionals in any agency or organization as burn bosses. The department shall certify these individuals to a common standard. It is the intent of the Legislature that the department use its discretion to ensure that burn bosses are thoroughly qualified to engage in prescribed burning operations prior to issuing certifications.
(c) On or before July 1, 2022, the department, in consultation with the California Conservation Corps, the Regional Forest and Fire Capacity program, a statewide intertribal organization or indigenous stewardship network, and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, shall develop a proposal to establish a prescribed fire training center. In developing the proposal, the department shall do all of the following:
(1) Collaborate with the University of California Cooperative Extension, fire safe councils, relevant California State Universities, Native American tribes, tribal organizations, cultural fire practitioners, resource conservation districts, and other relevant stakeholders on the development of the proposal.
(2) Identify potential funding sources for the proposal, including, but not limited to, federal funds, and consider the proposal’s eligibility for those funding sources.
(3) Identify potential locations for a prescribed fire training center.
(4) Identify opportunities for satellite learning landscapes to support the work of the prescribed fire training center.
(5) Ensure that cultural fire practitioners are engaged in the development and ongoing leadership of the prescribed fire training center.
(d) On or before July 1, 2022, the State Fire Marshal and the cultural burning liaison appointed pursuant to Section 703, in cooperation with a statewide intertribal organization or indigenous stewardship network, shall develop a streamlined process to certify members of Native American tribes or tribal organizations and cultural fire practitioners with cultural burning experience as burn bosses to recognize and account for their experience.
(e) On or before January 1, 2023, the State Fire Marshal shall post and update on its internet website the number of burn bosses who have been certified pursuant to this section.
(f) Adherence to the best practices outlined in the curriculum and certification process established pursuant to this section shall constitute prima facie evidence of due diligence.

SEC. 13.

 Section 4483 of the Public Resources Code is amended to read:

4483.
 (a) To the extent feasible, the board’s Vegetation Treatment Program Programmatic Environmental Impact Report, when certified, shall serve, in addition to any identified entities in the report, as the programmatic environmental document for prescribed fires initiated by a third party for a public purpose pursuant to Section 4491.
(b) (1) It is the intent of the Legislature that additional consideration be provided for chaparral and coastal sage scrub plant communities that are being increasingly threatened by fire frequency in excess of their natural fire return patterns due to climate change and human-caused fires.
(2) Prescribed burning, mastication, herbicide application, mechanical thinning, or other vegetative treatments of chaparral or sage scrub shall occur only if the department finds that the activity will not cause “type conversion” away from the chaparral and coastal sage scrub currently on site.
(3) This subdivision shall be in addition to the requirements in the Vegetation Treatment Program Programmatic Environmental Impact Report.
(c) The department may order remediation for any type conversion caused in violation of paragraph (2) of subdivision (b).

SEC. 14.

 Section 4493 of the Public Resources Code is amended to read:

4493.
 (a)  Upon receipt of an application, the department shall inspect the land in company with the applicant to determine whether a permit shall be granted, shall prescribe the manner in which the site for the prescribed burning shall be prepared, and shall require any precautions to be taken by the applicant as may be considered reasonable to prevent damage to the property of others by reason of the burning. The precautions shall, if deemed necessary, include the advance preparation of firebreaks and the firefighting equipment and personnel desirable to conduct the prescribed burning.
(b) In issuing the permit, the department shall consider nondepartmental contingency resources when determining required precautions.
(c) The department shall, to the extent feasible, employ burn suspensions at the unit level, and not at the state or regional level, to not unreasonably restrict prescribed burning operations that are within prescription.

SEC. 15.

 Section 4494 of the Public Resources Code is amended to read:

4494.
 (a) Upon the conclusion of the examination provided for in Section 4493, the department may issue to the applicant a burning permit that shall specify the site preparation requirements and required precautions to be exercised prior to  before  and during the burning. The issuance of a permit by the department does not relieve the permit holder  permitholder  from the duty of exercising due diligence to avoid damage to property of others in conducting the burning of vegetation as authorized by the permit.
(b) Compliance with a permit issued pursuant to this article shall constitute prima facie evidence of due diligence.
(c) The department shall develop and deploy an automated system for burn permits issued pursuant to this article.

SEC. 16.

 Section 4742 is added to the Public Resources Code, to read:

4742.
 (a) The state recognizes the problem of recruitment and retention of foresters who engage in fuel reduction at the department. Due to the continuing need to recruit new foresters to fill vacancies, retain seasoned fuel reduction experts, reduce turnover rates, and provide comparability in pay to effectively compete with other positions at the department and ensure necessary staffing levels, salaries and classifications should be improved and maintained by the department.
(b) To carry out the intent of subdivision (a), the department shall take into consideration the salary, classification, and recruitment efforts for its personnel that conducts fuel reduction to fill vacancies and retain seasoned fuel reduction experts.
(c) The department shall, to the extent feasible, engage in recruitment efforts with Native American tribes, tribal organizations, and cultural fire practitioners to fill vacancies in positions that engage in fuel reduction on behalf of the department.
SEC. 17.
 If the Commission on State Mandates determines that this act contains costs mandated by the state, reimbursement to local agencies and school districts for those costs shall be made pursuant to Part 7 (commencing with Section 17500) of Division 4 of Title 2 of the Government Code.