Santa Rosa, CA – October 24, 2017 at 5:05 PM – The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today took several steps toward beginning the process of recovery in the wake of the Sonoma Complex Fires that swept through portions of the county over the past two weeks. The Board approved a suite of resolutions from various county departments designed to allow the county to act quickly and efficiently to protect the public from dangerous hazardous materials, clean up and stabilize burned areas, provide critical services to the community, and address the immediate, interim, and long-term needs of the County’s housing crisis, which has been exacerbated by the fires.
“Sonoma County is just beginning to start the long recovery process,” commented Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Shirlee Zane. “We will remain united in our efforts to build more housing, streamline services and protect public health. We will work alongside our community for as long as it takes.”
Public & Environmental Health
Significant damage and destruction to residential and commercial properties throughout the county has resulted in extensive public health and environmental risks. Because of its hazardous nature, ash and fire debris cannot be taken to the landfill at this time, and it is illegal to dispose of ash and debris along road sides or on public or private lands. The Board of Supervisors affirmed the authority by county agencies to protect the public’s health related to the fires and debris removal including the Sonoma County Health Officer’s issuance of an order that no ash or debris may be removed prior to an inspection and requiring County authorization for ash removal. The removal, transport, and disposal of ash and fire debris must be done safely and in a manner that protects our community. The inspections will be conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in conjunction with the County of Sonoma and the State of California. This order does not affect a resident’s ability to look for or remove personal property.
Debris from a wildfire disaster also creates serious concerns for water quality and supply due to the presence of hazardous materials and the damage to sewer service laterals. There is an immediate risk to public health, safety, and the environment if harmful chemicals or waste enter the wastewater collection systems. To that end, the Board of Supervisors, acting as the Board of Directors for the Sonoma County Water Agency, approved a resolution to allow the Water Agency to inspect wastewater infrastructure on private property and take any necessary actions to prevent and abate fire debris from the Sonoma Complex Fires from entering wastewater collection systems.
Dangerous conditions have also arisen on numerous properties owned or maintained by the county, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District, and the Water Agency. These dangerous conditions include downed or compromised trees, and fire-damaged hillsides, slopes and waterways. The Board granted approval to various departments to allow greater flexibility in hiring contractors to perform tasks necessary to prevent mudslides and further property and environmental damage.
Sonoma County Health Officer's issuance of an order
Prior to the fires, the county was experiencing a housing crisis, including a severe lack of rental housing affordable to lower and moderate income residents. The Sonoma Complex Fire has now exacerbated the County’s housing crisis. To date, the Sonoma Complex Fire has consumed 102,785 acres and has led to the destruction of thousands of homes. It is estimated that thousands of families in Sonoma County, including unincorporated Sonoma County and municipal jurisdictions within Sonoma County, are without homes. To address this crisis, the Board adopted a comprehensive plan and urgency ordinances to suspend new vacation rental permits and expand the amount of emergency and immediate housing in Sonoma County for persons displaced by the Sonoma Complex Fire, including but not limited to:
- Enacting an interim 45-day moratorium on the issuance of new vacation rental permits, subject to extension for periods of up to two years, as provided by State law. The ordinance is intended to temporarily preserve the County’s existing single-family residences and accessory dwellings for permanent residential and long-term rental uses.
- Temporarily allowing the residential use and occupancy of travel trailers and other recreational vehicles on all residential lots outside of fire-damaged sites without County approval for an initial period of 45 days, provided that the vehicles have adequate septic holding capacity.
- Extending seasonal farmworker housing to allow for occupation 365 days a year, provided that the housing is habitable for year round use. The ordinance would suspend the current code limitation of 180 days of occupancy in any calendar year
- Allowing existing guest houses, pool houses, and other residential accessory structures to be rented to fire victims. These structures are approved for residential occupancy and have detached living areas. They often have full or half bathrooms as well, though they are not permitted to have kitchens.