Councilwoman Toni Iseman won't wake up some morning and find goats munching a fuel break in her backyard without any warning.
The City Council gave preliminary approval on Tuesday to a revised ordinance that deals with the protection and restoration of native vegetation and prohibits fuel modification activity in new areas without a public hearing.
The revision was supported by city staff and a subcommittee from the Disaster Preparedness Committee that developed the ordinance but opposed by some critics who said the language gave too much authority to the fire chief.
"We felt the language proposed by the staff was somewhat vague, and somewhat not defined in places, and left too much latitude for the fire chief to order fuel modification on valuable habitat without the public review process that is already required in the municipal code," said Lisa Marks.
Marks, former Mayor Ann Christoph and Scott Sebastian, a former member of the defunct Environmental Committee, proposed alternative language, which the council did not approve.
However, Marks' suggestion of creating a map of designated fuel modification areas was approved, which will take an estimated 40 hours of staff time to develop and additional time to update.
"If we don't trust the Fire Department to protect our native habitat and our native vegetation as supervised by our city management and our council, then how can we trust these same people to protect the 23,000 of us [residents] and our tens of millions of dollars of property?" asked Matt Lawson, Disaster Preparedness Committee member.
The subcommittee of the Disaster Preparedness Committee, of which Lawson was also a member, was appointed to review the proposed ordinance dealing with the protection and restoration of native vegetation from the standpoint of public safety — primarily fuel modification.
"I don't support scraping the hillsides," said subcommittee member Sue Kempf. "But we are all in the high fire-risk zone."
Lawson said the subcommittee endorsed the revisions to the original language proposed by the subcommittee.
"I think the compromise, worked out by the very lengthy process of creating this ordinance and resulting in the clarification staff prepared, works well," Lawson said.
Fire Chief Kris Head assured Iseman that she would not be surprised by goats in her backyard.
"There is a process," Head said. "All new fuel modification areas go through the design review process and require a coastal development permit."
Hearings are required, and residents can comment on proposed areas.
"Existing fuel modification [areas are] our only concern," said Head. "We just want to continue what has been done for the past 20 years."
The ordinance requires a second reading before it is adopted.