On Friday my wife, Steve and I met with our Landscape Designer/Coastal Resource Specialist to talk about the kind of plant life we would like around our house. Because The Kim and I already love the look of the indigenous vegetation in the area and we are also keen on the idea of not having to spend a lot of time or money in upkeep, we weren’t planning on going crazy here…perhaps a bit of lushness for the entry way…maybe a handful of citrus trees…a bit of grass…in general a pretty minimal landscaping design.
As it turns out our landscape designer was very like minded and what she suggested was a scheme that would blend in with what’s already there and blur the boundary between our building site and the rest of our property. Perfect…at this point were thinking this is going to be easy!

My wife and I came to the meeting prepared with tons of magazines and books that contained examples of the kinds of landscaping we like…but instead of talking about the landscaping details we spent most of the time talking about the Fire Department and Coastal Commission rules and requirements that we’d have to abide by to be able to get approval to build our house.

As I mentioned in the last post, due to where our land is located, almost everything growing on it is considered Environmentally Sensitive Habitat (ESHA) and because ESHA has to be removed to make room for a building pad as well as a significant clearing of it around the perimeter of any proposed structure for fire protection, it’s not as easy as one would think to put together a simple landscape design.

The Coastal Commission’s primary concerns are environmental and seek to protect the indigenous plant and animal life, as well as keeping the general look of the area as natural as possible…a very noble thing to do.

The Fire department is concerned with clearing the highly flammable plant life out of the area and away from the house or other structures, to provide safety for the home owners as well as the fire fighters who may have the occasion to be in the area fighting a fire.

As you can see these two goals are in direct conflict with each other…because most of the native vegetation of the area is highly flammable the fire department would like you to clear away as much vegetation as possible…while the Coastal Commission wants you to preserve as much vegetation as possible.

This puts the land owner in a situation where it’s impossible to comply with both concerns due to the fact that at least some vegetation will have to be removed to make way for a house. Well…our Landscape Designer/Coastal Resource Specialist informed us that the California Coastal Commission has, in the last few years, come up with a “Habitat Impact Mitigation Fee” which needs to be paid prior to the issuance of a coastal development permit. This “in-lieu” fee is paid to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to mitigate adverse impacts to chaparral habitat ESHA.

This fee is based on removal of ESHA per square footage of the Fuel Modification Zones (see below for definition) and because almost all vegetation in the area is considered ESHA, it would seem that anyone building in the area will be subject to them.

From what I understand the square footage will be based on the area you are clearing for your house, your driveway and the perimeter around the structures that the fire dept. requires.

These fees can be very significant…so if you are considering building in an area that is regulated by the California Coastal Commission make sure you do some research on fuel modification to prevent the huge sticker shock!

Fuel Modification Zones Definition:
A fuel modification zone is a strip of land where combustible vegetation has been removed and/or modified and partially or totally replaced with more adequately spaced, drought-tolerant, fire-resistant plants in order to provide a reasonable level of protection to structures from wild land and vegetation fires. Development occurring within hazardous fire areas (e.g., foothills, mountains, non-irrigated former farming areas, and other lands containing combustible vegetation) requires modification of natural vegetation at the urban interface.