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Alpine struggles to stay safe from fires

Plan update would allow 2,013 more homes

The plan update considers increased densities in and adjacent to forest lands.
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.

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The plan update considers increased densities in and adjacent to forest lands.
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.

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Alpine has had to sweat blood every time there is a fire in the area. That was true at the time of the 1970 Laguna Fire, and has been true ever since then. There were other fires in the area that were not mentioned. The area is a wind tunnel for every Santana wind that comes through there, and is inappropriate for development. Rather than allow for more growth, the county should ban any further development, and then focus its efforts on measures to protect the vulnerable homes and businesses that are already there. The old Diane Jacob solution of adding more fire engines to the area isn't the answer. When those fires get started there's no stopping them, fire engines or no. Add to the mix the fact that Alpine has the county's worst air quality, due to inversion, and you have an area that needs no more growth.

Feb. 10, 2021

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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