The FAIR Plan and Fire Hazards

The science is settled: climate change is causing more frequent and more destructive wildfires in California. These wildfires are causing massive destruction of homes in the midst of a housing crisis. 

“Abundant Housing”, in the form of dense, infill residential development is the necessary solution for wildfires on two separate, but important, fronts. People need homes, but because of exclusionary zoning rules, Los Angeles doesn’t build enough homes near jobs, transit, and commercial areas. So people are forced to move farther and farther from city centers towards exurban forest and desert areas. Thus, it is our failure to build more housing within cities that’s forcing more Californians to live in areas with hazardous fire conditions. 

Furthermore, as people are displaced farther and farther from city centers, they also must drive longer distances to commute to work, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This, in turn, accelerates climate change, increases temperature volatility, and causes even more fire destruction. Again, the only way to stop this vicious cycle is to build dense, infill housing where people want to live: near jobs, transit, and commercial areas. 

As the Sierra Club states in its position on infill development and climate change: “Development should be dense, inclusive, and located within or connected to existing communities and neighborhoods. New development should be designed to make neighborhoods walkable, and neighborhoods in the city and metropolitan contexts should be linked together by convenient high quality transit prioritized in regional, state and national transportation expenditure plans.”

For these reasons, Abundant Housing LA’s policies, including the FAIR Plan, are strategies designed to minimize low-density suburban sprawl that is destructive and risky, while promoting environmentally-friendly infill development. 

Abundant Housing LA supports the following strategies to manage fire risk as part of our pro-housing vision:

  • Housing allocations and land use plans that concentrate housing using objective factors, including: proximity to jobs, proximity to transit, patterns of segregation, and housing costs. These allocations minimize risky low-density sprawl and help us meet our housing needs fairly and equitably.
  • A moratorium on new housing development in fire-prone greenspace, to prevent low-density sprawl into environmental areas that should be protected.
  • Selection of sites for the City of LA Housing Element Update that eliminates undeveloped parcels in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones from the site inventory.

One question that arises is what to do with built homes and communities that exist in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones. While one possibility is managed retreat, Abundant Housing LA believes that existing communities can be maintained, supported, and allowed to fairly provide housing stock without increasing the footprint of housing into fire hazard zones. However, if the City determines that existing built communities cannot be adequately protected from fire hazard, the City should consider managed retreat. Regardless, it is imperative that no geographical expansion be allowed to occur into Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones. 

The FAIR Plan is an allocation of LA’s Regional Housing Need Assessment (RHNA) allocation to Los Angeles Community Plan Areas (CPAs) based on an objective calculation as described above. In other words, the FAIR Plan reflects actual housing needs within each of the city’s CPAs. However, some CPAs include large geographical areas that are unsuitable for housing development, including greenspace and Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones. Some of these CPAs combine Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones with areas accessible to job and commercial centers. The FAIR Plan does not, at a granular level, allocate housing within a CPA, but it is intended to concentrate housing near jobs, transit, and commercial areas to promote infill development *away* from greenspace and fire hazard areas. 

Abundant Housing LA does not support risky low-density sprawl as a part of the Housing Element Update. We are confident that every CPA in Los Angeles contains adequate space for denser residential development outside of Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones.

The FAIR Plan and Affordable Housing

The FAIR Plan answers one important question for the LA Housing Element Update: Where should the housing go? 

This is one of many questions that Housing Elements must address, including how to fund and build cities’ affordable housing RHNA targets. Abundant Housing LA strongly supports the affordable housing component and believes in the importance of housing at all income levels. As we do our Housing Element Update, we must make sure that housing is equitable, affordable, and inclusive. In addition to policies that streamline and reduce the costs of housing development, we support direct funding for affordable housing through the following sources:

  • Local bonds funded by parcel tax (e.g. Measure HHH)
  • Property sales tax
  • Divert Airbnb tax to affordable housing
  • Congestion pricing
  • Charging market prices for street parking
  • Give away public land to affordable housing developers
  • Streamline affordable housing projects where possible

To read our full position on housing element updates, beyond the FAIR Plan, read our open letter here: https://abundanthousingla.org/3415-2/

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Leonora Camner is executive director of Abundant Housing LA.