The plan update considers increased densities in and adjacent to forest lands.
In Alpine's latest Community Plan Update, wildfire has its own standalone section, a result of changes to the environmental review process made by the state in 2018.
The idea was to put the brakes on development in places most prone to wildfire and other hazards. Alpine, 25 miles east of San Diego, has many such areas. Its long fire history includes the 2003 Cedar fire, among the state's worst. Last September, the Valley fire torched 76,067 acres.
But the update to the existing 1979 Alpine Community Plan considers increased densities in and adjacent to forest lands.
According to the planning report, 60,072 acres of the Alpine Community Plan area are within the Wildland-Urban Interface, which represents 88 percent of the community. All of the areas eyed for development are entirely within that region, in a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone.
The update would allow 2,013 more homes than the general plan now allows, for a total of 6,078 dwelling units at build-out. Past efforts to open up land during updates and amendments were defeated by local concerns that included wildfire risk.
Though the updates are till a work in-progress, the plan's critics are calling for an overhaul.
Last September, the Valley fire torched 76,067 acres.
Valley Fire south of Alpine, Sept. 24, 2020
In a letter from their attorney, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation "urges the County to go back to the drawing board" to prepare an update that limits growth to the village.
The project instead allows development throughout the plan area, wreaking havoc on agricultural and forest lands, they say. "Perhaps of greatest concern, the Alpine Community Plan area is also located in a highly fire prone area."
As shown by the recent West Fire and Valley Fire in San Diego County, fire breaks and setbacks are no solution to the wind driven blazes that are becoming more prevalent, the letter claims. Even if fuel modification zones and building design can protect the homes, "nothing can guarantee the safety of the new residents."
Since 1980, Alpine’s population has tripled from 5,368 to 18,095.
After receiving public feedback, a process that began in 2017, the county developed six alternatives for land-use changes. The one that was chosen is village-focused; the other five are alternatives in the draft supplemental environmental impact report.
The village alternative proposes land-use changes in four of seven subareas, concentrates density in more developed areas and puts commercial options near residential communities.
Opponents say the plan creeps into the forest by expanding higher density land-use designations outside the established village boundaries. It would increase the density in one area several miles from the village "by more than five-fold."
So what is the county doing to address how projects will create or exacerbate wildfire risks?
One goal is to use clustered development, keeping homes close together, as supported by the Conservation Subdivision Program, they say. Homes built in such a pattern are easier to defend, and the same level of housing can be achieved while there's less vegetation to clear.
Agricultural land can serve as a protective buffer.
Other measures sound hopeful: "promoting the establishment of emergency procedures and preventative measures to minimize damage from fire." Or encouraging development with fire preventive practices and fire-resistant plant types.
The county has extended the public review period for the Alpine Community Plan to March 5.