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Santa Cruz Mountain Locals Concerned About Proposed Fire Safety Requirements

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY (KPIX) -- With California looking to mitigate wildfire risk across the state, it's considering a new set of minimum safety standards for roadways in high risk areas, including the Santa Cruz Mountains area.

But even in the aftermath of last year's destructive Northern California fires, some are worried about an overreach in the name of safety.

"It's already at the edge where a bunch of people won't rebuild, because they're under insured or costs have gone through the roof," said Rich Wilhelmsson, a resident working to rebuild on one of the properties burned near Boulder Creek in Santa Cruz County.

Rebuilding is barely off the ground after the CZU fire and there is already concern about what rebuilding guidelines might look like.

The state is considering new minimum safety standards in areas considered to be at high risk of wildfire. Certain roads would have to meet new width requirements, while others might have to be widened to accommodate fire trucks and evacuating traffic and some driveways might require turnouts.

Some county officials are expressing concerns over what is being asked for by the state.

"The regulations, while the intent is admirable, a one-size-fits-all coming from Sacramento doesn't really address the peculiarities of the Santa Cruz mountains as they exist for us," explained Mark Bisbee, the county's interim Director of Response, Recovery and Resilience.

Bisbee says with its narrow, windy mountain roads, Santa Cruz County isn't the only area that might struggle with sweeping new guidelines.

"I won't live on a one-way road any more. Not now," said Tammy Montenegro. She barely escaped the Walbridge Fire in Sonoma County last year. That's another geography where updating roads could be a monumental job.

"The cost of implementing those are going to be falling on the landowners property," said Bisbee. "Yes, we want improvements. This may be too drastic, and too much of a financial lift all at once."

That is the conversation a lot of people are now having, with residents wondering how much additional cost can come when so many are already struggling to rebuild.

"Most places wouldn't even be able to," said Wilhelmsson. "There's not enough room to widen the roads, or make them two lanes, or put in curbs and everything that they're talking about having to do. That would be areas they wouldn't be able to rebuild at all, they would close neighborhoods completely."

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