Monday, October 29, 2007
New ideas of land use law took formative steps after the great London fire of 1666, when the English government learned the value of urban construction that resisted fire. But fires continued to plague London until modern times. In southern California, the fires of October 2007 may generate another major step in the continual drive of laws toward requiring tougher construction. In particular, much attention is being given to a group of tony private developments in Rancho Santa Fe, outside San Diego, where fire resistance was a top priority. Noncombustible roofing materials, copious numbers of sprinklers, and fire-avoiding plants (no palms, pines, or eucalyptus) are among the rules. Nearly all of the homes in these communities emerged unscathed, with many residents still in their homes, even through they were in the path of one of the biggest fires.
Should the fire-tested lessons of construction and landscaping lead to mandatory laws? Or should they simply be a matter of private choice? On one hand, slowing a fire is a public good. On the other hand, homeowners don't want to be told what to do by their government. And some environmentalists may be uneasy with the idea that improvements in building might serve as an alternative to the calls for fewer houses in the desert hills.