Wildland Fire Hazard and Urban Development Pattern: Why California Civil Code 1103 Fails to Protect Households from Wildfires
Recent years have seen mass casualties and severe property damage caused by wildland fires. With increasing housing development in natural-amenity-rich fire-prone areas, human activities not only exert intense pressures on local ecosystems, but also increase difficulties for wildland fire suppression. To cope with wildland fire threats and protect life and property from wildfire, a new California Natural Hazard Disclosure Law (California Civil Code Sec. 1103) went into effect in 1998. Information disclosure required by Sec. 1103 and its related laws is expected to enhance the efficiency of market allocation of land and developments in hazardous areas, making land price and development pattern better reflect the benefit and risk of living in the natural hazard zones. However, Troy and Romm (2004) suggested that the California Natural Hazard Disclosure Law had no effect for the overall population of fire-zone houses and did not stop overdevelopment in wildfire hazardous areas. In this paper, we expand a classic urban economics model to explore the impact of wildland fire-zone designations on housing development patterns in both a general equilibrium framework and a quantifiable manner. We conduct simulation studies to characterize the changes in urban development patterns and spatial profiles in response to the dynamics of wildland fire regimes. Our model and simulation results reveal the behaviors of residents and local governments and help us understand why Sec. 1103 and its related laws fail to stop over-development in wildfire hazardous areas.
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