Mill Valley reverses fire prevention plan to require 'hardscaping' around homes after backlash

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Following intense public backlash, the Mill Valley City Council has amended a fire prevention ordinance that would have required many residents take out all the plants directly touching and closely around their homes.

Last month, the city council approved a vegetation ordinance that required roughly 75 percent of Mill Valley homeowners create 3 feet of so-called "hardscaping" - meaning material like concrete, dirt or gravel - around their homes.

In addition, the ordinance required the removal of fire-prone specific plants, including acacia, bamboo, arborvitae, cypress and juniper.

The new version of the vegetation ordinance, approved by the city council Thursday night, took out mandatory "hardscaping," saying instead it would be voluntary.

"We have heard since our August 5 meeting, concerns from our residents about the non-combustible zone," Mill Valley Mayor Jim Wickham told an overflow crowd at the city council meeting. "And they think it is too much, too fast and that they need more time."

Mill Valley is considered to be a very high fire risk zone. The city has taken many steps to try to make the community as safe as possible, and this ordinance is one part of that process.

Since the city first passed the ordinance in August, however, a grassroots effort to oppose mandatory "hardscaping" formed, led by a group called "Beat the 3 Feet."

Concerns include the environment, the aesthetic aspect and the cost of re-landscaping.

"Greenery in Mill Valley defines Mill Valley," Lauren Wales, a Mill Valley resident who is part of the group, said, "And it not only preserves the environment, the wildlife, the roots preserve landslides from happening, but they also add to economic value to houses."

Mill Valley Fire Chief Tom Welch, who backed the original ordinance, said he hopes to continue to educate residents about the importance of "hardscaping."

"What we've done is taken a very scientific approach at approving a need for it. We've cross checked that against our firefighters who say this how homes burn down," Welch said. "I know other communities are seriously looking at this and I believe it's the future, it just might not be the future here."

The city council voted in favor of the amended ordinance, which continues to require the removal of certain fire-prone plants, Thursday night. There will be a second, final vote on Sept. 16.

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