(Sacramento, CA) – A day after the two year anniversary of the North Bay fires in Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma counties, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 747 by Assemblymember Marc Levine (D- Marin County), which will require cities and counties to include evacuation routes in their general plan, in order to save lives and improve first responder access during an emergency.
The devastating wildfires of 2017 and 2018 in northern and southern California illustrated the need for local governments to better prepare for human evacuation of an area due to natural or human disasters. In addition to the destruction caused by the North Bay fires, the town of Paradise provided a tragic example of the importance of evacuation route capacity. In 2015, Skyway Boulevard, one of the main outbound roads for Paradise, underwent lane reduction from a four to two lane road. During the Camp Fire, residents were forced to move southbound via Skyway Boulevard. By 10:00 AM that day, evacuees were forced to abandon their vehicles and proceed on foot. The 2018 Camp Fire resulted in 86 civilian casualties; the deadliest in California history.
“Unfortunately, California faces a daunting task in contending with prolonged wildfire seasons and natural disasters facilitated by climate change,” said Eric Phillips, Vice President of the American Planning Association, California Chapter. “These new threats will require communities to reassess evacuation options and, as this bill requires, to ensure that the capacity, safety and viability of evacuation routes during an emergency are in place.”
Just yesterday, Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation (PG&E) began a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) causing power blackouts to over 1.8 million residents. While it is unclear if widespread blackouts were necessary or appropriate to prevent a wildfire event, the longer wildfire season illustrates the need for communities throughout the state to better prepare for the next fire, flood, earthquake or other disaster.
“Local governments are faced with the difficult task of responding to destruction caused by prolonged wildfire seasons, disasters and the dangerous impacts of climate change,” said Assemblymember Levine. “Cities and counties must do more to prepare their communities for evacuation in the event of an emergency or disaster. AB 747 will help communities better prepare for the next disaster and will help more California residents survive in the event of a local emergency.”
AB 747 takes effect on January 1, 2020.