California to require insurance discounts for property owners who reduce wildfire risk
A California judge has blocked a program that awarded a discount to Californians with fire-prone properties, ruling that the program was illegal.
Judge John Bush, who ordered the Department of Building and Safety to stop issuing the special permits, said the practice was both an overreach and an “unnecessary and excessive” administrative burden that would add to wildfire risk. “There’s no rational basis for imposing such a requirement,” he wrote in a ruling issued Friday.
The state’s Firewise program gave special treatment for property owners facing fire risks. Firewise was a program that aimed to reduce wildfire risk by providing fire prevention grants and insurance discounts for those who cut down trees or shrubs to make their homes more fire-resistant.
The program was rolled out in 2013. By the time it was up and running, the program was already facing criticism over its legality. The California attorney general sued, alleging the program unfairly sought out low-income homeowners due to their low insurance rates, but Bush’s decision on Friday stopped that lawsuit.
“This program has been a nightmare for the building and safety department,” said Adam Mendelsohn, a legal scholar at UC Berkeley.“The judge found out just how much is at stake and what the department has to lose. This is a victory for homeowners and those who care about building safety regulations.”
The judge cited concerns over the program’s unintended consequences, saying it would prevent fire chiefs from addressing areas that needed to be strengthened in an effort to prevent future fires. “To use that as an excuse to delay or block a fire chief from making a decision to keep the risk area safe is both unreasonable and an unnecessary and excessive administrative burden,” said Bush.
Building and Safety Department Director Kevin Maclin disagreed, saying the department had tried to “protect fire