The Golden State of California experiences heavy damage from wildfires annually. Many “Experts at Stanford University believe that the wildfires in California—which have burned through at least 4 million acres throughout the state this year alone—could cause at least $10 billion in damage” (News Week). It was reported that “severe burn damage from California wildfires” were “seen from space” (Live Science). Moreover, in 2020, California fires caught national attention after Mexico sent 100 firefighters to the United States to help battle fires (US News). The economic, environmental, and social effects of these fires have become more evident over the past few decades and it is clear that local legislations must address this problem directly.
II. General History of AB38
Assembly Bill AB38, addressing “Fire safety: low-cost retrofits: regional capacity review: wildfire mitigation” was passed in September 2019 in hopes of solving this issue. First being passed in April of that year, the Assembly Bill was finalized and passed on the Assembly Floor on September 14th, 2019 and approved by the Governor on October 2nd, 2019.
The legislature kept in mind a number of things on the topic of wildfires as they went through writing up this bill, outlined in Section 1 of the article. The first topic was regarding climate change and the recent change in the general temperature.
“Climate change has resulted in higher year-long temperatures and increasing dry weather conditions in California, resulting in extended, sometimes multiyear, droughts; extended wildfire seasons throughout the year, with higher temperatures during dry season conditions; and impacts on vegetation wildfire fuel loads and increasing decay and loss of vegetation due to insect infestations and plant diseases” (Section 1a).
The lawmakers declared in the above that the devastation of wildfires in recent years were heavily linked to the change in climate due to human activity in the recent years. This is essential to keep in mind throughout this bill for a number of reasons. First, it outlines the fact that climate change needs to be addressed in some way or another in this bill and also that it’s not a topic that this council will ignore.
The article also pressed on the idea of needing change in how we fight these wildfires, stating as follows: “(f) There is a pressing need for wildfire prevention and minimization strategies, on an area-specific basis, that combine increased wildfire resistance within developed areas to minimize wildfire impacts with comprehensive vegetation management measures in wildlands to prevent or severely limit large-scale wildfires from developing and spreading” (Section 1f). This is a key cause of this assembly bill; from past disasters, it was clear that the way that the state and local governments were dealing with wildfires weren’t as efficient as it could be. This is followed up with specific programs that this bill intends to include which include but aren’t limited to wildfire minimization programs, wildfires prevention programs, and wildfire response planning.
III. Bill Analysis
While Section 1 of AB38 was mostly a note of the topics the lawmakers had in mind while they were writing this bill, Section 2 and Section 3 are the parts that state the main changes this bill will include. Section 2 outlines an important change in the way homes are built.
“A list of the following features that may make the home vulnerable to wildfire and flying embers. The notice shall disclose which of the listed features, if any, that exist on the home of which the seller is aware: (A) Eave, soffit, and roof ventilation where the vents have openings in excess of one-eighth of an inch or are not flame and ember resistant. (B) Roof coverings made of untreated wood shingles or shakes. (C) Combustible landscaping or other materials within five feet of the home and under the footprint of any attached deck. (D) Single pane or nontempered glass windows. (E) Loose or missing bird stopping or roof flashing. (F) Rain gutters without metal or noncombustible gutter covers” (Section 2a3).
As stated before, the main changes that this bill is intending to address is in the way homes are built. The bill doesn’t state that homes already built in this manner are in the wrong but instead that buyers and sellers are both notified of certain features that make homes vulnerable to fires. If both the buyers and sellers of real estate property are notified that a house has flammable features, the property would be less favorable, pushing property developers to build less flammable houses. While this isn’t an immediate solution in combating wildfires, it’s a good start to having long term sustainability in fire hazard safety. In addition to this, Section 3 outlines ways that people should be notified of the features above. This section states as follows:
“(1) In a local jurisdiction that has enacted an ordinance requiring an owner of real property to obtain documentation that the property is in compliance with Section 4291 of the Public Resources Code or a local vegetation management ordinance, the seller shall provide the buyer with a copy of the documentation that complies with the requirements of that local ordinance and information on the local agency from which a copy of that documentation may be obtained” (Section 3a1).
In summary, this section is really meant to make sure that regardless of what the local jurisdictions are, key people relating to a property are aware of features of their property that pertain to wildfires. Again, this section is not an immediate solution but rather a key documentation that makes sure individual property owners are aware of information the law entitles them to.
This bill was finalized in October of 2019. It was necessary to protect the property since the amount of california wildfires is growing and the new-built homes are building closer to each other. Homeowners need to retrofit their homes in a cost effective way set by the State Fire Marshal in order to protect their homes from the dangerous wildfires. According to an article by Wood on the bill addressing wildfire resiliency, and why it is necessary, it was stated that “establishing statewide standards are critical because wildfires do not respect jurisdictional boundaries or property lines,” said Wood. “If just one homeowner on the block hardens their home but the rest of the houses do not, those unprotected houses can provide more fuel to burn down an entire neighborhood” (CA State Assembly Democratic Caucus). In conclusion, the bill not only set the home statewide standards, retrofit homes collectively to make them fire resistant, but it also educates the home buyers by requiring sellers informing buyers if the property was retrofitted according to the plans and requirements set by AB 38.
Democratic Caucus, CA State Assembly. “Governor Signs AB 38 and Other Legislation to Address Wildfire Resiliency.” Assembly Democratic Caucus, 2 Oct. 2019, asmdc.org/press-releases/governor-signs-ab-38-and-other-legislation-address-wildfire-resiliency.
Farivar, Cyrus, and Alicia Victoria Lozano. “Federal Wildland Firefighters Say They're Burned out after Years of Low Pay, Little Job Stability.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 1 Nov. 2020, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/federal-wildland-firefighters-say-they-re-burned-out-after-years-n1245576.
Grzeszczak, Jocelyn. “California Wildfires Could Cause at Least $10 Billion in Damage, Economists Believe.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 10 Oct. 2020, www.newsweek.com/california-wildfires-could-cause-least-10-billion-damage-economists-believe-1538097.
Kasler, Dale. “Claims against PG&E for California Wildfires Are Piling up Again. Here's the Latest Tally.” Sacbee, The Sacramento Bee, 18 Dec. 2020, www.sacbee.com/news/california/fires/article247919345.html.
Madani, Doha. “West Coast Residents Struggle with Psychological Burden of Repeated Evacuations as Wildfire Seasons Worsen.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 21 Nov. 2020, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/west-coast-residents-struggle-psychological-burden-repeated-evacuations-wildfire-seasons-n1248451.
Pappas, Stephanie. “Severe Burn Damage from California Wildfires Seen from Space.” LiveScience, Purch, 19 Oct. 2020, www.livescience.com/california-wildfire-damage-2020.html.
Sacramento Bee, The. “Latest California Wildfire News Updates: The Sacramento Bee.” Northern CA News, Sports & Politics, 2020, www.sacbee.com/news/california/fires/.
State Assembly, California. “Bill Text.” Bill Text - AB-38 Fire Safety: Low-Cost Retrofits: Regional Capacity Review: Wildfire Mitigation., 2019, leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB38.
TrackBill, TrackBill. “California AB38.” TrackBill, 2019, trackbill.com/bill/california-assembly-bill-38-fire-safety-low-cost-retrofits-regional-capacity-review-wildfire-mitigation/1609304/.
US News, Associated Press. “Mexico Sending 101 Firefighters to Help in California.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2020-09-23/mexico-sending-101-firefighters-to-help-in-california.
Web Page, Assemblymember Jim Wood's. “Governor Signs AB 38 and Other Legislation to Address Wildfire Resiliency.” Official Website - Assemblymember Jim Wood Representing the 2nd California Assembly District, 2 Oct. 2019, a02.asmdc.org/press-releases/20191002-governor-signs-ab-38-and-other-legislation-address-wildfire-resiliency.
Western Wildfires, NBC News. “Western Wildfires: California, Washington, Oregon Wildfire News - NBC News.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 2020, www.nbcnews.com/western-wildfires.