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Fees and Red Tape Bog Down Homeowners' Wildfire Preparations

San Diego is facing the worst fire danger in 100 years. So it's important for homeowners to take precautions. But even if you're willing to foot the bill for thinning brush from around your property,

San Diego is facing the worst fire danger in 100 years. So it's important for homeowners to take precautions. But even if you're willing to foot the bill for thinning brush from around your property, it could cost you thousands more to take care of the red tape. Full Focus reporter Heather Hill has the story.

The city of San Diego requires residents to thin dry brush up to 100 feet from their homes. But if you live on the edge of a canyon in San Diego and want to do more, it will take more of your time, energy, and money.

At issue is land the city calls “open space.” This is city-owned property that is generally undeveloped and a protected habitat for plants and animals. The wildfire concern arises where residential structures meet this open space -- and in San Diego, this line crosses more than 1,200 acres.

So what do you have to do if you want to thin dry brush that surrounds your property? If it's more than 100 feet from your home and on city land, you'll need a report to prove that the land is a fire danger. It's a new requirement passed as part of an update to the city's municipal code in 2005. But, it's expensive: about $5,000. And that's a cost that must be borne by homeowners.

The fire department says the fire fuel report is a safeguard against unnecessary clearing that could threaten the natural open space habitat and create an even bigger fire hazard.

Eddie Villavicencio , Deputy Fire Marshall: When it comes to brush matters, there is a very delicate balance between the threat of fire, the environmental issues and the erosion issues. Within 100 feet of a structure is impact-neutral. Therefore, any disturbance has been mitigated against. Beyond that, the land becomes an impact to the ecosystem and therefore is federally protected by various laws.

But San Diego City Councilmember Jim Madaffer, who represents homeowners in the Del Cerro neighborhood, says such a complicated and costly report isn't necessary.

Madaffer : Right now the process is a little onerous and it actually decries common sense. What I'm suggesting is that all you have to do is look over somebody's fence, look out in their backyard, and if you see brush and it looks like it needs to be thinned, and it looks like a Santa Ana wind and a little bit of fire could burn it, then there's your fuel study. Let’s let people protect their homes.

Councilmember Madaffer is calling on the city to allow homeowners to thin brush within 100-feet of their property line rather than from the house itself.

A certified fire behavior analyst conducts analysis and writes the fire fuel reports.

Homeowners need a permit to clear brush from city land.