San Diego/ Parks & Nature
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Published on July 14, 2023
San Diego Man Fined $53k For Trimming Bushes That He Says Pose Fire Risk to His PropertySource: Wikimedia / RightCowLeftCoast - Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve

A hefty fine of $53,367 has been imposed on a San Diego family who cleared brush in the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, a nature preserve behind their home, in an effort to create defensible space against potential wildfires, according to an NBC San Diego article. The decision has raised questions about the balance between protecting the environment and ensuring the safety of homeowners in an increasingly fire-prone region.

As revealed in an investigative piece from NBC San Diego, Amado Nera, the homeowner, saw the dry vegetation in the preserve as a potential wildfire threat and decided to clear the brush back in May 2021, believing the land to belong to SDG&E and unaware of its protected status. The family received a letter from the City of San Diego in October 2022 detailing the damage and imposing the hefty fine, which primarily covers three years of "habitat monitoring and passive vegetation restoration services" by a third-party private company.

The act of clearing native vegetation in nature preserves without proper authorization is a violation of the protection policies. The San Diego family finds themselves struggling to pay the fine, which they view as "inherently excessive," as NBC San Diego reported. Attempts to discuss the bill with the city have failed, and the family is uncertain about their next steps.

However, the city maintains its stance on the importance of protecting sensitive habitats like the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, where native vegetation is more fire-resistant than non-native species. In cities like San Diego, urban preserves are the last remnants of native habitats and home to endangered or threatened plant and animal species, as stated in the NBC San Diego article.

To mitigate wildfire risks, the City of San Diego has implemented a Brush Management program, which thins out brush within 100 feet of habitable structures every two years. The city recommends that homeowners reach out for help or apply for a special permit to conduct the work themselves or with a contractor if they believe more frequent brush management is necessary.

In light of the case, it's essential for homeowners to be aware of the need to balance safety precautions with the protection of sensitive habitats, while following any established guidelines and contacting their local authorities for guidance when creating defensible spaces against wildfires.