Hazard mitigation is the effort a community undertakes to develop and implement strategies to protect public health and reduce damage to property in the event of natural, environmental, or other human-caused disaster. These strategies can include public outreach and awareness campaigns to improve public understanding of and response to hazards, capital improvement projects to physically protect critical infrastructure, or the siting of future development away from areas prone to flooding or wildfire, among many others. Hazard mitigation planning efforts help local agencies coordinate disaster response between different levels of government, non-governmental organizations, and private stakeholders. The hazard mitigation planning process can also help a jurisdiction identify geographic and/or demographic communities that are particularly vulnerable to one or multiple natural and environmental hazards. Mitigation strategies are often integrated into zoning codes and other land use plans.
In California, local jurisdictions address local hazards through the preparation of the State-mandated general plan safety element and a local hazard mitigation plan. The California OPR General Plan Guidelines outline the required contents of a safety element which include a discussion of hazards relating to earthquakes, tsunami, landslide, subsidence, flooding, wildfires, and climate change. It must also address evacuation routes and water supply requirements.
Local hazard mitigation plans (LHMPs) address similar hazards and are prepared through a similar process as the general plan safety element, but they are incentivized by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) rather than mandated by State law. A jurisdiction must have adopted an LHMP to be eligible to receive pre- and post-disaster funds from FEMA.
Interestingly, a survey of 45 stakeholders in the San Joaquin Valley found that proximity to fire, flood, and environmental hazards was generally not considered to be a high-importance constraint to housing production. Yet environmental and natural hazards such as wildfires and floods can put human life, housing, and infrastructure at risk, and will be exacerbated over the coming years due to climate change. In addition to increasing residential property damage, climate change hazards are likely to increase mortgage default and prepayment risks, affect the ability of homebuyers to secure loans and home insurance, increase the volatility of house prices, and even produce significant climate migration.
Relevant State Law
Government Code Section 65302, authority for and scope of general plans, requires a jurisdiction to understand and address the city’s vulnerability to a variety of natural hazards. A jurisdiction may adopt a local hazard mitigation plan in accordance with the Federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 to satisfy some requirements of the safety element.
Senate Bill No. 379 (SB 379) (2015), climate adaptation and resiliency strategies, requires jurisdictions on the next update of the general plan safety element to include climate adaptation and resiliency strategies to address the risks that climate change poses to the jurisdiction and communities within the jurisdiction’s sphere of influence.
Senate Bill No. 1035 (SB 1035) (2018), climate pollution reduction in low-income homes, requires the safety element to be reviewed and revised as necessary to address climate adaption and resiliency strategies and would require, after these revisions, the planning agency to review and, if necessary, revise the safety element upon each revision of the housing element or local hazard mitigation plan, but not less than once every eight years.
Senate Bill No. 1241 (SB 1241) (2012) requires that jurisdictions in State Responsibility Area and Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones safety elements must include special wildfire hazard mitigation policies.
Assembly Bill No. 747 (AB 747) (2019), requires that safety elements must identify evacuation routes, their capacity, safety, and viability under a range of emergency scenarios.
Senate Bill No. 99 (SB 99) (2019) requires that upon the next revision of the housing element, safety elements must identify residential developments in hazard areas that do not have two emergency evacuation routes.
FEMA. Local Mitigation Planning Handbook, details the requirements, processes, and methods integral to preparing a local hazard mitigation plan that complies with Title 44 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 201.6 for FEMA approval and eligibility to apply for FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance grant programs.
HCD, OPR. Integration Concepts for General Plan Update helps scope integrated plans to meet new requirements more efficiently and effectively. It covers wildfire, climate adaptation, evacuation routes, environmental justice, and GHG mitigation.
OPR. Local Adaptation and Resilience Planning – SB 379 Survey Report reviews a selection of city and county planning documents to identify common challenges and best practices of climate adaptation and resilience planning efforts undertaken in response to SB 379.
OPR. Fire Hazard Planning Technical Advisory, summarizes fire hazard regulatory requirements and model policies, programs, and guidelines. It includes specific recommendations for how to incorporate fire planning steps in general plan updates, and potential integration into safety elements, local hazard mitigation plans, or stand-alone planning documents.
California Office of Emergency Management (Cal OES). Technical Assistance Programs. Cal OES offers technical assistance programs to local jurisdictions and public agencies in support of hazard mitigation efforts. https://www.caloes.ca.gov/cal-oes-divisions/planning-preparedness
Cal OES. MyPlan Tool is a map service designed to identify California natural hazard data and allows emergency managers and planners to create custom maps for their LHMPs.
Fresno County. Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan. Jurisdictions within Fresno County pooled resources and prepared a multi-jurisdictional hazard mitigation plan to satisfy the requirements of the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. The plan helped to improve communication and coordination among jurisdictions, enable comprehensive mitigation approaches to reduce risks that affect multiple jurisdictions, and avoid duplication of efforts.
Marin County. 2023-2031 Housing and Safety Elements. Recognizing an opportunity to efficiently use limited resources, improve engagement efforts, and increase consistency within the general plan, the County of Marin chose to tightly integrate the housing and safety element update planning effort.
FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grant program provides funding for eligible mitigation activities that reduce disaster losses and protect life and property from future damages, including the following: