In what I consider to be a knee jerk reaction to the South Lake Tahoe fires recently experienced in our State, the City Council of Big Bear Lake decided last night that wood shake roofs in the Big Bear Lake City limits create such a “dire” fire danger that they are going to try and eliminate them by 2012. Though the ordinance still needs some tweaking on specifics of enforcement, it passed.
From a Realtor’s perspective, my concern with this ordinance is the “point of sale” trigger that is a major part of the enforcement. The ordinance proposes that when a property in Big Bear Lake with a shake roof sells and is transferred to a new owner, it would trigger the need for the roof to be replaced with a more fire resistant roof such as composition or metal. The fire chief would be the responsible party for enforcement with escrow companies and/or Realtors also involved in the process. There was some discussion on a possible 6 month extension from the sale date or close of escrow for the roof to be replaced but it was not a guarantee. It was said that “reasonable” requests for the 6 month would be allowed.
I also think putting the responsibility of this ordinance on one segment of society, specifically the sellers of property in our area, is wrong. I am sure most buyers are not going to want to pay for a new roof in our current real estate market. The sellers (and most likely some real estate agents) are going to have bare the cost of this ordinance. We are not talking about small numbers here either. Depending on the home size and characteristics, the costs for such roof replacement will range from $3,500 on the low end to upwards of $35,000 for some of the larger homes in the area.
Who is going to police this ordinance? As with typical point of sale ordinances, the City is trying to pass the buck of responsibility onto the private property owners and local real estate agents because they know they cannot follow up on it. The local DWP tried to do this as well a few years ago with the water retrofit standards. Whenever a property in their jurisdiction sold, they wanted the toilets, shower heads, and faucets to be changed to low flow. Though they changed it to be able to occur within 90 days after a sale, I have not heard of any property where they followed up to see it through. So, you have an ordinance out there appearing to help out with the water shortage but in all actuality, it is not very effective.
While I think everyone would agree that shake roofs are not the best idea to have in a mountain community surrounding by a very flammable National Forest, I do question the need for such an ordinance at this time. Wood shake roofs have been in the Big Bear Valley for nearly 70 years or more. They have not been allowed to be put on new constructions for at least the past 15-20 years. Why is this now all of a sudden such a big concern for the Big Bear Lake Fire Chief and City Council? I am not sold on the fact that this is such a “dire” concern that it warrants such an ordinance that it allows some shake roof properties to remain for up to 5 years while others have to be changed out just because they sell. Does that make us any safer? I have heard that there are approximately 300 homes in the Big Bear Lake area that currently have shake roofs. Last year, per the Big Bear MLS statistics, there were 22 homes with shake roofs that sold in the Big Bear Lake area. This year, we are on target for approximately 15-20 sales of shake roof homes. To say that changing out 20 homes per year over the next 5 years is going to make this Valley a whole lot safer is to not address the real danger in my opinion. If this is such a problem or concern, then eliminate the shake roofs now. Give the property owners 1-2 years to get rid of them, not 5 years or if it sells. This ordinance is not making us any safer. Rather, it is an effort to try and show that the Fire Chief & City Council are doing something to be more fire safe, while not fully addressing the real concern.
The real concern is the National Forest that surrounds the Big Bear Valley. Shake roofs do not just start on fire by themselves (the two most recent house fires in Big Bear Lake did not have shake roofs). I am not a fire expert but if a sizable brush fire gets in to this Valley, it is not going to matter is you have a shake roof, a composition roof, a metal roof, or any other kind of roof, your home is most likely going to burn. Rather than focusing on a fire already in the Valley, they should be focused on not letting a fire get to the Valley. For example, it does not take long as you travel through the Forest up Road 2N08 to see piles of dry brush just sitting around. Many of these piles have been sitting there for 2-3 months. I think this situation, along with the various other dead tress and brush in the area, is a much more “dire” concern than the minimal amount of homes in the area with wood shake roofs. They may say that the National Forest is out of their jurisdiction and they no control over that. While that may be true, once a fire gets in our area, either National Forest or our City, all firefighters come together to fight it. It does not matter what jurisdiction they are from. They need to come together with that same mindset of cooperation and get this National Forest cleaned up around our Valley. That is the major concern now. Keep the Valley safe from a fire coming in. Focus there first.