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Brush clearing area may be extended along coast

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Brush-clearing regulations in coastal areas of San Diego will be the same as in the rest of the city if the California Coastal Commission votes today to extend the area to be maintained to 100 feet.

This morning the commissioners are considering a proposed Local Coastal Program amendment to modify coastal brush management regulations by requiring 15 additional feet of brush clearance in areas where developed property meets undeveloped, native vegetation.

If approved, the coastal rules would also allow for use of one other somewhat unorthodox fire-prevention measure: goat grazing.

“Studies show 100 feet gives you about 80 percent (fire) protection,” said Jerry Mitchell of Scripps Ranch Fire Safe Council, one of 50 nonprofit, community-based organizations formed countywide to provide education about fire prevention and safety. “Eighty-five feet won’t give you that much.”

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The area that would be affected by the proposal is roughly the area west of Interstate 5 including portions of Penasquitos and Lopez Canyon, said Eddie Villavincio, deputy fire marshal for San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Little bit helps

Though 15 feet seems like a small amount of space, it would enhance the amount of defensible space available along the urban/wild land interface, officials said.

Creating defensible space around homes not only allows firefighters easier access in the event of a blaze, but also decreases the risk of fire to the home itself because vegetation can act as a fuel to a fire.

Other cities ahead

Other coastal cities have already adopted the stricter brush-clearance rules
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Solana Beach and Del Mar were the first two cities in San Diego County to increase to the 100-foot vegetation management zone back in early 2005, said David Ott, the fire chief for the sister cities.

“The whole point is to prevent a continuous flame front as you go into residential areas,” Ott said.

Compromise reached

The proposed San Diego coastal plan amendment is a compromise solution acknowledging the primacy of fire prevention, noted Deborah Lee, district manager for California Coastal Commission San Diego.

“Brush clearance for existing development was a big concern,” said Lee, “particularly in areas like La Jolla that have a lot of urban canyons.”

They agreed that risk to public safety was so substantial that it was better to implement the new regulations and encourage “a more sensitive approach to brush management” that does not allow for clear-cutting, but rather creates a buffer zone requiring some vegetation cover to be kept retaining the root stock in order to minimize soil erosion.

“The first preference is to remove non-native species or weeds,” said Lee. “It also requires monitoring to try to minimize the invasion of weeds. Once you clear-cut, that’s almost an invitation for non-native, invasive plants to become established.”

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