Say “No” to FORCED HARDSCAPING of Mill Valley, CA homes!

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On September 5th, The Mill Valley City Council will hold a final vote on a new Vegetation Management Ordinance.  We, Concerned Citizens of Mill Valley, applaud and support the Council’s efforts to take sensible steps to protect Mill Valley from the risks posed by wildfires.  However, we are all unified in our belief that the “Hardscape” provision of the ordinance will do very little to lower our risk of wildfire, but WILL have a drastic impact on the beauty and enjoyment of our homes and gardens, significantly harm property values, and force thousands of Mill Valley homeowners to spend millions of dollars destroying long-nurtured gardens, flowers and trees. 

Update (Sept 1):  On September 5, the City Council will consider creating an ad-hoc committee, which will be allowed to make only very limited recommendations on implementing the new vegetation management ordinance.  To be clear, the hardscape provision, and the formation of a committee, are completely separate and unrelated issues.  If the hardscape provision passes, it becomes law, and we believe that a committee hand-picked by the Mayor will simply "rubber-stamp" any hardscape provision.  As such, we remain completely opposed to the passage of the hardscape provision, and we urge all Mill Valley homeowners to sign this petition, write to the City Council, and voice their opposition on September 5. 

For those who are unaware, the Hardscape provision will require the complete and total removal of all vegetation - flowers, plants and trees of any kind - within a three foot perimeter of every house, garage, and all decks for each and every one of the 5,000 homes in Mill Valley’s WUI region.  This means every rose bush, lemon tree, hydrangea plant, creeping vine, bougainvillea, oxalis, native fern, ivy, flower and herb bed, potted plants, hanging baskets, or any other type of vegetation that beautifies, provides shade and habitat, and ensures privacy between neighbors, will - except with limited exceptions granted by the Fire Chief  – be required to be ripped out and “Hardscaped” with gravel, cement, rocks, stone pavers or bare dirt. The only specific exceptions will be for existing redwood trees as well as “well-irrigated succulents”.

While three feet may not sound like much, this three-foot zone encompasses the entire perimeter of your home, decks, and garages, so in many cases it will require removing many hundreds of square feet of trees and gardens, including the potted plants, planter boxes, and flower beds sitting anywhere on your decks or hanging outside your windows. 

Many homeowners have invested a great deal of time and care in beautifying their homes with gardens and plants.  Curb appeal, a critical component of home value, will be destroyed in many cases. Some local real estate agents estimate a 10% or more drop in value for many homes if the hardscape provision passes - in addition to the thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars homeowners will also have to pay to remove and then re-landscape their properties.

All wildfire experts agree that there are many variables that determine why one home will burn and another will not.   It appears hardscape would have mattered very little in Paradise, Santa Rosa, or in the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. We believe that the Hardscape requirement is an extreme overreaction to wildfire risk, as no other jurisdiction in the entire U.S. is forcing owners of existing homes to Hardscape their property, except Mill Valley.  Not even the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa - destroyed by wildfire in 2017 – is requiring homeowners to Hardscape their homes.

Mill Valley’s Wildland Urban Interface is a small part of a much larger WUI region, which encompasses almost 70,000 homes in Marin.  Yet none of the homes outside of Mill Valley’s WUI will be subject to a Hardscape provision – even though many of the homes located within the County WUI sit directly across the street -and in some cases - surround on three sides – those Mill Valley homes that will be subject to the ordinance.  And because, as a recent Marin County Grand Jury report noted, “wildfires do not follow jurisdictional boundaries”, and embers will fly, this is just one more reason a Hardscape provision will be of only limited value.

Mill Valley’s City Council, its Fire Department and Fire Chief, Tom Welch, have done a tremendous job educating the public about wildfire risk.  We support all sensible steps to reduce wildfire risk, and we support those provisions of the ordinance with the exception of the Hardscape requirement.    

Instead of a Hardscape provision, we believe the priority should be on enforcing existing fire safety ordinances, mitigating potential ignition points, removing fuel load on our ridges and providing safe evacuation routes in the event of a wildfire.  We believe all of these combined, proactive steps -as well as homeowner education and initiative, will greatly reduce our wildfire risk.

What you must do: 

The Ordinance will come up for a second and final reading on Thursday, September 5th, @ 6:30pm. It is critical that you write to the City Council at cityclerk@cityofmillvalley.org  Ask that your comments be passed on to all Council members, and be made part of the public record for the September 5th hearing.  If at all possible, please attend this meeting and speak out in favor of the ordinance – but against the Hardscape provision!  Otherwise, the beautiful Mill Valley we (and thousands of visitors) love and know will never be the same.

Defeat the 3 feet! 

With gratitude, 

Concerned Citizens of Mill Valley