Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Housing and Fire Safety in California

A proposed development near the site of the devastating Camp Fire highlights the growing tension between building badly needed housing and protecting communities from heightened wildfire risk.

2 minute read

December 6, 2022, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Paradise, California

The 2018 Camp Fire burns behind homes in Central California.

The conflict between California’s dire housing shortage and the state’s growing wildfire risk is at the heart of a debate over a new development in the Central California town of Chico, where a proposed community would build 3,000 homes and commercial buildings in a fire-prone area just outside of town. The two-year battle over approving the development will be decided by the city council, according to an article by Jake Bittle for Grist and republished in Next City.

Bill Brouhard, the developer of the project, called Valley’s Edge, says the community is designed to be protected from fire and would itself act as a fire break for the rest of the city “thanks to ample parks and trails outfitted with fire-resistant vegetation and pavement.” Brouhard claims the development would actually reduce Chico’s fire risk rather than increase it. “The development will be built in compliance with the latest California fire construction regulations and will be an accredited member of the Firewise program, a nationwide initiative designed to promote fire-safe building practices.”

However, conservationists and other critics say those measures aren’t enough to prevent catastrophe, and that cities should refuse building permits in areas with such high fire danger. 

The project illustrates a Catch-22 for the city that is becoming all too common across California and the West. “If Brouhard’s opponents are right, the developer’s pet project could someday become another Paradise. If the project isn’t built, however, the housing crisis in Chico may only get more painful.”

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