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'Culture Change' May Come For Mill Valley Residents As City's Fire Plan Bans Landscaping

MILL VALLEY (KPIX 5) -- The city of Mill Valley is considering an aggressive plan to protect homes in a wildfire that would ban a lot of residential landscaping. But pushback from the community is causing the city council to look for ways to soften the blow.

At the moment the Tubbs Fire began its deadly march toward Santa Rosa, the exact same Red Flag conditions—high winds and low humidity—were occurring in Mill Valley. 75 percent of homes are in a so-called "Wildland Urban Interface." Vice Mayor Sashi McEntee says a wildfire there is not an "if," but a "when."

"There is going to be a wildfire at some point," McEntee said, "and all the residents and the businesses and the people who live and work here need to be prepared."

The city has developed a wildfire protection ordinance that could drastically alter the look of many people's homes. Under the plan, all vegetation within three feet of the home would have to be removed and replaced with hardscape, some kind of stone or gravel.

RELATED: Mill Valley Considering Strict Landscaping Rules To Prevent Wildfires

Also, a number of popular but highly flammable plants may be banned altogether, including juniper, acacia, cypress and bamboo. Fire officials believe it would make things safer and possibly save a life, but many residents are also concerned about preserving their lifestyle.

"The beautiful greenery…it's just…that's what Mill Valley's all about," said resident Gina Seaborg. "So, I think they have to go back to the drawing board."

Her husband Bill Seaborg was more direct. "I'm just hoping that they don't pass it…or enforce it," he said.

"I don't want to lose my growth either, but my concern is that neighbors won't also do it and so it won't make it as effective," said homeowner Debra Brody.

The city believes something has to be done, but they understand enforcement could be tricky and controversial. At their meeting on Monday, city council members agreed to consider revisions that might make it more palatable to homeowners. But make no mistake; they say change is coming.

"That's something that's going to be a culture change for people if it passes," said Vice Mayor McEntee, "that homes are going to look different than they do now."

In just Mill Valley alone, there are more than 5,000 homes considered high risk for wildfire. The vice mayor says an important part of the wildfire ordinance will be a public education program to explain to people how "at risk" they may be living there. The council expects a final vote at the end of August.

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