Posts tagged with "California":

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Office Kovacs, Kyle May, and MILLIØNS to lead desert design-build festival in California

In May 2019, Southern California’s “community in residence” design-build festival, Space Saloon, is returning to the desert highlands for its second incarnation. Titled Fieldworks, the elbow grease-fueled festival will take its inspiration from “cumulative methods of scientific field research—the approaches, techniques, and processes used to collect raw data outside of a laboratory setting” by staging a series of desert constructions that focus on imbuing quantified data with cultural meaning. The eight-day workshop is open to anyone age 18 or older and will cost between $1350 and $1500 to attend; the program price includes room and board, three meals a day, and all of the necessary construction materials. As with the previous iteration of the festival, organizers hope to draw an interdisciplinary group of students that will complement the diverse set of practitioners leading the project. Project leaders for this year include architects Andrew Kovacs (Office Kovacs), Zeina Koreitem and John May (MILLIØNS), Kyle May (KMA), as well as workshop leaders Alex Braidwood (Listening Instruments), Noémie Despland-Lichtert and Brendan Sullivan Shea (Roundhouse Platform), Lena Pozdnyakova and Eldar Tagi (the2vvo), among others. According to a press release, program participants will work to undermine the “constructs and apparatuses through which we perceive a place,” investigations that could include questioning how knowledge is produced, manipulating one’s perception of the desert landscape, and creating “new methods for presenting subjective realities.” The workshop joins an ever-increasing number of arts- and architecture-related events taking place across the desert regions surrounding Los Angeles, including the Desert X art biennial, the High Desert Test Sites program, and the Coachella Arts and Music festival. For a collection of last year’s projects, see the Space Saloon website. Applications for the program will be accepted through April with the workshops taking place in California’s Morongo Valley between May 25 and June 1, 2019.
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Another arts festival returns to the Southern California desert

It’s getting rather busy in California’s High Desert these days. With an ever-expanding set of art-related events, programs, and biennials taking place across the region, High Desert Test Sites (HDTS), a long-running artist showcase in the area, has announced its 2020 return. The event, titled HDTS2020 and conceived of as a “free-roving” art exposition, aims to revisit a 1972 slideshow lecture given by American land artist Robert Smithson titled Hotel Palenque via a series of new public artworks and events. The lecture, given by Smithson to his students at the University of Utah after a trip through Mexico in 1969, centers on an “eccentrically built hotel…simultaneously undergoing decay and renovation” that Smithson encountered while on his travels. Smithson considered the hotel a “de-architecturalized” space that existed both as a ruin and a site of reconstruction in keeping with the artist’s interests in fragmented landscapes and simultaneous states of being. The work, according to the Guggenheim website, was developed in tandem with a photographic series titled Yucatan Mirror Displacements (1–9) that Smithson created by photographing dispersed sites that had been augmented with the installation of 12-inch, square-shaped mirrors. For the 2020 run, HDTS has brought on guest curator Iwona Blazwick from the Whitechapel Gallery in London. The series will feature the work of eight artists, including Alice Channer, Gerald Clarke, Jr., Dineo Seshee Bopape, Erkan Özgen, Dana Sherwood, Paloma Varga Weisz, and Rachel Whiteread. Smithson will also be included in the showcase, which will focus on creating “a poetic narrative on the geometry of ruin, the entropic play of nature, and the ghosts of cultures both ancient and modern.” The artists are slated to create or place their works across the High Desert region, both in urbanized areas and within the desert landscapes. HDTS, a non-profit organization founded by artist Andrea Zittel, Los Angeles gallerist Shaun Caley Regen, and others in 2003, aims to “support immersive experiences and exchanges between artists, critical thinkers, and general audiences—challenging all to expand their definition of art to take on new areas of relevancy,” according to Zittel’s website. HDTS2020 will include a public discussion titled Desert as Situation on April 7 hosted by the Palm Springs Art Museum (PSAM) and moderated by Brooke Hodge, director of architecture and design at PSAM. The exhibition series itself runs from April 18 through May 9, 2020.
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San Diego eliminates parking requirements for transit-adjacent projects

In California, when it rains, it pours. At least, that seems to be the case when it comes to the flood of parking reforms taking place across the state. The most recent example comes from San Diego, where this week, the city council passed a new parking reform package that eliminated parking requirements for sites located within 1/2-mile of a transit stop. The effort also sets new parking maximum—instead of minimum—requirements in certain areas, including in the city’s downtown. There, a maximum of one parking stall will be allowed per residential unit, with the added restriction that parking must be built below ground if it is built at all. The city will now also require multi-family housing developers to provide so-called “transportation amenities” for their residents, including free transit passes, bicycle storage facilities, and on-site daycare facilities to help reduce automobile trips. In new developments that require at least one stall, the new rules will require one Americans with Disabilities Act–compliant parking stall. For buildings with no parking, no ADA-compliant stalls will be required. San Diego’s embrace of parking reform comes as Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer takes up the mantle of the insurgent “Yes In My Back Yard” (YIMBY) movement in a push to spur housing construction while meeting local climate goals. The reforms enacted in San Diego, for example, mirror some of the policies proposed in Senate Bill 827, a statewide pro-density, YIMBY-backed bill that drew controversy across the state. The efforts also mirror reforms taking place at the state level that have picked up steam under California’s new governor Gavin Newsom. San Diego, like many California cities, is mired with high housing costs and surging levels of homelessness. Though politically noxious until very recently, doing away with parking near transit has come to be seen as an entry-level reform for spurring housing construction because aside from fueling automobile-dependant lifestyles, parking is, simply put, expensive to build. A city report estimates that each parking stall adds between $40,000 and $90,000 to the cost of each residential unit. Those front-end costs translate to higher monthly costs for renters and buyers, costly increases for a state where many residents spend the majority of their incomes on housing and transportation. Further, from a design perspective, required parking imposes many limitations. Before the new ordinance, for example, parking requirements were tied to the number of bedrooms in each unit, meaning that larger residential units, the two- and three-bedroom configurations that are best suited for families, could require up to three or four parking stalls per residence. The requirements are particularly onerous for small- and medium-scale developments on tight urban lots, where required driveways, exacting stall dimensions, and other car-related required elements fundamentally shape not just building design but often, the number of housing units that can be built overall. Cities across the state are becoming wise to the high cost of free parking, however. San Francisco and Sacramento are pursuing their own city-led efforts to curtail parking requirements while Los Angeles’s Transit-Oriented Communities program has successfully sought to induce developers to build affordable housing in lieu of car stalls.
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California’s Building Decarbonization Coalition plans to green building operations

While politicians in Washington, D.C., spar over the estimated costs of implementing a Green New Deal, California’s Building Decarbonization Coalition (BDC) is making a plan and taking action. The Sacramento-based group recently released a report, A Roadmap to Decarbonize California Buildings, which sets out a series of guiding principles and quantitative targets that could help the state meet its aggressive emissions reductions standards. As BDC’s name suggests, the group has targeted buildings, which in California produce roughly 26 percent of total carbon emissions, as a key area for improvement as the state works to eliminate carbon emissions entirely by 2045. California’s greenhouse gas emissions peaked in the early 2010s at nearly 500 million tons of pollution per year and have dropped slightly every year since. California even met its 2020 emissions goals several years early, mainly as a result of the ongoing build-out of previously-planned renewable energy infrastructure and due to the realization of energy conservation goals, among other efforts. But now, with the low-hanging fruit picked, reality is starting to set in: The road to zero emissions is going to be long and hard-fought, and California needs a concrete, coordinated plan to achieve its ambitious and necessary climate goals. But don’t let those early gains fool you. Despite the progress, Panama Bartholomy, BDC director said via press release, “building emissions spiked 10 percent nationally in 2018, driving one of the largest national emissions increases in decades.”  Bartholomy added, “Yet even here in California, the nation’s climate leader, there is no plan in place to address these emissions.” The BDC hopes to change that. While state legislators work steadily to make increasing density—which will reduce transportation-related emissions—a higher priority in California’s cities, BDC aims to fine-tune the ongoing use, operation, and maintenance of the new and existing buildings that fill those cities. It is expected that California’s building stock will increase by 30 percent between now and 2045, a key opportunity to lock-in carbon emissions savings for the long term if all goes according to plan. A key approach for achieving this aim in the building sector, according to the group, is to reduce and eventually eliminate the reliance on natural gas-powered appliances like stoves, furnaces, water heaters, and other elements in new construction and in existing buildings as they are upgraded over time. This way, as the state’s energy grid draws more of its juice from renewable sources, emissions will fall two-fold due to a decrease in the use of dirty fuels in appliances as well further savings generated through the production of the new green energy sources that power them. As with many of the efforts to transition toward a zero-emission society, however, the challenges are cultural as well as technological. Conventional construction methods and business operations favor fossil fuel-powered appliances, for example, while consumers harbor their own preferences for gas stoves and other household items. To shift tastes and practices, BDC advocates for incentives over punitive measures. The group’s three-pronged effort seeks to first spur new demand in renewable powered appliances via new policies, public information campaigns, and financial incentives that support wider adoption of sustainable approaches. Once that demand is built up, the group advocates for lowering costs of individual products, like high-efficiency heat pumps, for example, through additional financial incentives so that cleaner technologies and appliances can compete with conventional approaches across price points. After that, the group envisions targeted informational and incentive campaigns that ensure wide adoption of these approaches by low-income and other hard-to-reach groups. With debate over national decarbonization strategies taking shape, keep an eye on California’s efforts to rework its building sector. Crucial lessons are sure to emerge as the plan comes to life.
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Desert X to bring art, a symposium, and a podcast to California’s Coachella Valley

The organizers behind Desert X, an art and architecture–focused biennial that takes place in the Coachella Valley east of Los Angeles, have unveiled this year's participating artists. For its 2019 run, the festival will highlight a who’s-who of rising international creatives, including Venezuelan-born artist Iván Argote, Mexican artist Pia Camil, Irish artist John Gerrard, American photographer Cara Romero, American artist Jenny Holzer, Egyptian-born artist Iman Issa, and the Danish art collective Superflex, among others. In addition to highlighting evocative works of landscape-based installations and sculpture, the organizers have expanded the scope of the exhibition to include film and performance-based projects, according to a press release. This expanded scope will apply to the geographic range of the exhibitions, as well. This year, the organizers have embraced a wide terrain for the works that extends south from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea and the U.S.-Mexico Border. The Desert X 2019 program is led by Desert X artistic director Neville Wakefield and curators Amanda Hunt and Matthew Schum. A goal for the 2019 program is to “embrace a range of ecological, environmental, and social issues that have been driving conversations about our role in the anthropocene,” according to Wakefield. To facilitate this conversation, the organizers plan to hold a symposium titled Desert, Why? at the Palm Springs Art Museum (PSAM). The event takes place between March 1 and 3 and is billed as a “celebration of art and the environment.” The three-day event will highlight Unsettled, a sweeping exhibition of contemporary art from across the Americas that is currently on view at PSAM. Associated performances, panel discussions, and other events will also happen during the symposium across various locations. A podcast hosted by Frances Anderton is set to “explore the environmental, ecological, and social themes in the 2019 Desert X exhibition,” as well. Anderton is the host of DnA: Design and Architecture, a weekly radio show on L.A.’s KCRW radio station. The podcast will be developed in collaboration with Avishay Artsy, a producer for DnA. Desert X kicks off February 9 and runs through April 21, 2019.
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California launches statewide Mass Timber Building Competition

Timber construction is on a roll, whether it be in Olympic stadiums or high-rise residences. Codes are changing as more municipalities embrace mass timber and the industry shifts away from concrete. Not to be left out, California is holding a Mass Timber Building Competition. The California Government Operations Agency (GovOps) is hosting the competition, and WoodWorks – Wood Products Council, an organization that offers free guidance for designers using timber, will be administering the program. As GovOps notes, California is one of the largest consumers of engineered wood products in the country, but almost none of it is harvested or produced in the state. At a time when the buildup of forest density in California has contributed to an ever-worsening fire season already acerbated by climate change, GovOps is pitching this competition as a chance to kill two birds with one stone. Interested parties in California—including real estate developers, designers, institutions, and other organizations—have until March 18, 2019, to submit a proposal. GovOps is going big and is only accepting proposals for multistory, 10,000-square-foot-plus mixed-use, commercial, industrial, institutional, or multi-unit housing projects. Preference will be given to projects over 100,000 square feet that clear six stories. A full list the competition guidelines are available here, and it looks like proposals will be evaluated on cost as well as “narrative” in an attempt to create thoughtful applications of timber. WoodWorks will also be available to offer guidance to entrants on both feasibility as well as design. The two (or possibly more) winning teams will split a $500,000 grant to continue their research into developing repeatable, sustainable, and affordable timber construction.
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California is embracing prefab architecture with innovation, talent, and investment

With a long history of mass-produced housing experiments going back to the 1920s Sears, Roebuck & Co. mail-order homes, and the post–World War II suburban mass- housing experiments, California has a rich legacy of prefab hits—and misses. In recent years, a new generation of builders has arrived on the scene seeking to surpass this legacy by exploiting emerging mass-customization techniques and new technologies to streamline production. But these aren’t your grandparents’ prefab units. The days of rigid space-age designs are long gone, replaced by new designs that instead focus on diverse aesthetics and material flexibility. These new designs tend toward a pervasive adaptability that not only bolsters their widespread appeal but also helps builders meet the onerous local design restrictions that define many California communities. LivingHomes, based in Santa Monica, California, offers a variety of factory-made designs for single- and multifamily units, including models designed by prominent architects and firms such as Yves Béhar, Ray Kappe, and KieranTimberlake. LivingHomes’ designs are built by its spinout firm, Plant Prefab, which focuses on construction and assembly. Founder and CEO Steve Glenn is hoping Plant Prefab will lead the way in creating a national network of home-building factories where “homes are built like airplanes” rather than as one-off works, as is currently the case. Plant Prefab bills itself as the nation’s first sustainably minded home factory, and recently garnered a $6.7 million investment from Amazon, which is looking to expand the market for the company’s Alexa smart home technologies. Seattle-based Blokable, on the other hand, pursues vertically-integrated projects with the help of their in-house development team’s business model, which seeks to treat “housing development as a service.” By controlling planning, design, and production, Blokable is able to offer turnkey development services for local nonprofits and other housing providers at a lower cost. The firm offers standardized building systems along with customizable windows, doors, and finishes in order to meet a variety of price points. Blokable has begun the development process for a 64-unit housing complex in Edmonds, Washington. The project is a partnership between Blokable, the City of Edmonds, and the nonprofit Compass Housing Alliance. At the smaller end of the building scale, Gardena, California–based Cover is working to boost the availability of backyard Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in Los Angeles. Owing to a 2016 state law that legalized these backyard structures, Cover has developed unique zoning analysis software that can give potential clients a view of what type of ADU they can build. Cover offers sleek custom designs and uses its own modular building systems, fabricating units in a new factory in southern L.A. County. While many of these outfits are relatively new, legacy prefab designers are also making strides. Office of Mobile Design (OMD) principal Jennifer Siegal has been working at the intersection of portable architecture and housing for over two decades, pioneering a distinct approach to modular design that is flexible enough to include additions to existing buildings, as well as develop modular commercial structures. Siegal recently partnered with builder Bevyhouse and premium kitchen designer Tortoise to develop her own line of prefab ADU models and is also currently working on a modular design for the Sanderling Waldorf School in Carlsbad, California. If OMD’s continued experiments in non-housing prefab building types are any indication, factory-made structures of all types could soon make their way off the assembly line and to a community near you.
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Waste is piling up in national parks thanks to government shutdown

As the nationwide federal government shutdown enters its second week, the country’s national parks and historical monuments are straining under increasing quantities of trash and human waste. Because many sites have remained at least partially open during the shutdown despite a lack of National Park Service staff, trash is not being picked up, bathrooms are filling to capacity with human waste, and visitors are running wild. Small groups of volunteers and local businesses have stepped in to fill some of the staffing gaps by donating toiletries and by helping to clean and sanitize bathrooms, but it has not proven to be enough to prevent widespread disorder. The Los Angeles Times reported that illegal camping activities have increased in Joshua Tree National Park outside Los Angeles, where hundreds of thousands of visitors frequent the park during the busy holiday season. According to the report, visitors have lit illegal fires in the park and in some instances, have strung Christmas lights from the park’s namesake Joshua trees, a spiky species of yucca that can reach 40 feet in height and only grows in the Mojave Desert. Joshua Tree National Park closed to visitors on Wednesday due to the sordid conditions. In nearby Death Valley National Park, local concessionaires have picked up where the Park Service left off and are currently maintaining the park’s trash and bathroom facilities. https://twitter.com/schwellenbach/status/1080462580114747392?s=21 Unlike previous shutdowns, local and state authorities across the country have enacted contingency plans to keep parks and historical sites open during the current impasse, a practice that has helped keep local businesses dependent on park traffic afloat but has left the parks open to unmitigated destruction. Joe De Luca, a sales associate at Nomad Ventures in the town of Joshua Tree told The Washington Post, “The parks are supposed to be heritage sites for generation after generation. I would rather they close than be damaged.” The Daily News reported that Yosemite National Park in Northern California was forced to close this week after visitors were found defecating beside roads in the park. In Utah, the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks were also forced to close because no one was around to plow snowed-in roads, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The shutdown comes as scandal-plagued Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke officially steps down. There is hope yet, however. A new Democratic majority is taking office in the House of Representatives on Thursday and is widely expected to pass a new funding bill to reopen the government.
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Municipalities battle over scarce open land in Southern California

An unlikely legal showdown is taking place in southeastern Los Angeles County over one of the largest remaining tracts of open, developable land in the region. The pristine 2,450-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch, a golden, hilly landscape sandwiched between the suburban communities of Diamond Bar, Industry, Commerce, and Chino Hills, has been in legal limbo ever since former California governor Jerry Brown disbanded the state’s Redevelopment Agencies in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Before 2011, the City of Industry controlled the ranch through a local Redevelopment Agency. As the agency was dissolved, a plan, approved last year by the state Department of Finance, emerged to allow Industry to buy the ranch outright. But disagreements over how the land can be used once it is sold have touched off legal fights in the area, precluding the completion of the sale. Initially, Industry officials were in talks with a San Diego–area utility provider to create a large-scale solar farm on the land. As the plan came to light, officials from Diamond Bar and Chino Hills sued Industry, alleging that the plan violated land-use and environmental laws and that they sought to keep portions of the site free from development. As a matter of compromise, the three cities had agreed to divide up control over the parcel and were in the process of hammering out a deal when the City of Commerce stepped in with a plan of its own. The Orange County Register reported that Commerce has asked the Los Angeles County Oversight Board to sell it the property, instead. According to the report, Commerce argues that Industry waived its first right to the property by not completing the initial sale approved by the Department of Finance and that as a result, the land should be sold to Commerce. With this latest bid for the site, other potential buyers have come forward as well, including a developer with plans to build suburban tract housing on the site. Michael Kapp, communications director for Hilda Solis, the L.A. County supervisor for the district that includes Tres Hermanos Ranch, told The Orange County Register that Commerce was in the wrong and that the right to purchase still sat with City of Industry, “who holds a right of first purchase for the sale of the property.” Kapp added, “Furthermore, even if Industry should reject the sale under the original agreement, the sale cannot be simply substituted or transferred to another jurisdiction, it would have to go out to public bid.” So far unresolved, the episode illustrates the complicated, lengthy, and fraught relationship between land development and landscape preservation in Southern California. The situation is mirrored 50 miles to the northwest, where the fire-prone Tejon Ranch in northern Los Angeles County is slated for a new 19,000 home community. There, developer Tejon Ranch Company is angling for approval from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to bring the large master-planned project to life on privately-owned wildland. Amid a growing concern over the spread of development into wild areas across California following recent destructive fires and renewed efforts to curb sprawl and boost urban density, development at the fringes of Los Angeles continues, at least for now.
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California’s new legislators aim to reshape state housing policy

When it comes to housing reform, California’s new state legislators have hit the ground running. As the state’s new elected officials take office this week, a flurry of housing-related bills have been unveiled that, among other things, aim to further extend the state’s ability to set land use at the local level and streamline market-rate and affordable housing production. The efforts, geared toward developing a comprehensive solution for easing the state’s crushing housing affordability crisis, come after significant legislative gains—and a few stunning failures—made during last year’s session. With Democratic “supermajorities” in both the state assembly and state senate, and a campaign proposal to build 3.5 million new housing units by 2025 from now-governor Gavin Newsom, many are expecting significant legislative progress over the next few months. The stakes are particularly high for the state and its residents. California suffers from some of the highest rents in the country, a phenomenon that has fueled a homelessness crisis in the state. A 2017 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that over 134,000 Californians are experiencing homelessness, the highest unhoused population of any state in the country. Not only that, but the state’s cities also harbor extreme examples of wealth and racial segregation, phenomena that have had deeply negative outcomes for many racial-minority and working-class neighborhoods in terms of social equity, environmental justice, and other metrics. Because the overall residential capacities of California’s cities have been steadily eroded over time through “local control”–driven rezoning efforts and increased parking requirements, the geographic range of affordable and workforce housing is increasingly limited, as well. Further, large swaths of the state’s major cities are zoned exclusively for single-family housing, creating intense gentrification and displacement in the relatively fewer neighborhoods where multi-family housing is allowed while simultaneously pushing new development into “wildland-urban interface” areas most susceptible to fire damage. The result of these converging phenomena is that California is rapidly losing its working class population to other, more affordable states as poverty and sprawl in the state become more deeply entrenched. In recent years, as awareness and political will have begun to coalesce around the housing crisis, piecemeal initiatives have successfully begun to unfold. Below is a brief breakdown of a few of the major proposed housing bills unveiled Monday. A longer list can be accessed here. AB 10: A proposed bill to increase the state’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit by $500 million. AB 11: A proposed bill to reinstate California’s Redevelopment Agencies. Redevelopment Agencies existed in California prior to 2011 and worked across municipal lines to develop affordable housing and other projects throughout the state. The agencies were dissolved by then-Governor Jerry Brown in the aftermath of the Great Recession. AB 22: A proposed bill with potentially far-reaching ramifications that would ensure “every child has the right to safe and clean shelter and that no child should be without safe and clean shelter by 2025.” SB 18: State Senator Nancy Skinner has proposed a bill that would expand tenant protections while also establishing a statewide “Homelessness Prevention and Legal Aid Fund” to aid tenants against eviction and displacement. SB 50: California State Senator Scott Wiener has proposed a new version of last year’s highly controversial State Bill-827. The new measure builds on the previous attempt to lift height and density restrictions for sites located within 1/4- to 1/2-mile of rapid transit and includes advanced protections for existing tenant communities. Significantly, the bill would also induce up-zoning changes for wealthy neighborhoods that are located near job centers. It’s going to be a busy year.
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Celebrities are using private firefighters to save their neighborhoods

As the Woolsey and Camp Fires continue to burn across California, razing a combined total of nearly 250,000 acres and destroying entire towns, celebrities are turning to private firefighting teams to keep their homes safe. Kanye West and Kim Kardashian reportedly hired a team of private firefighters to save their $60 million mansion in Hidden Hills, protecting the rest of the neighborhood in the process. Big insurance companies like Chubb and AIG offer firefighting services to high-rolling clients as preventative measures. As The Atlantic noted, Wildfire Defense Systems, a private company from Montana, currently has 53 fire engines on the ground in California and is working to safeguard 1,000 homes. At a time when climate change-accelerated wildfires are occurring year-round, the privatization of a form of public infrastructure has become more commonplace as well. West and Kardashian first picked up the 15,000-square-foot mansion in 2014 for $20 million, and it’s estimated that the power couple has sunk another $20 million in renovations into the property. Belgian interior designer and staid space enthusiast Axel Vervoordt has been collaborating on the house’s interior, and West revealed a sneak peek of the highly-structural space back in April during a Twitter meltdown. The couple’s private fire team was able to prevent the encroaching Woolsey Fire from reaching a heavily forested field behind their property by digging fire breaks. Because the house sits at the back of a cul-de-sac, it’s likely that a meltdown at the West-Kardashian mansion would have spread to the rest of the block afterward. The privatized history of firefighting in America is well known, dating back to when roving bands of firefighters used to squabble for territory throughout the 1800s; the first responders to put out a fire were the ones rewarded by the insurance companies. Those competitions often saw squads setting fires to intentionally throw off their rivals, but the practice thankfully died out in the second half of the 19th century as government ownership became the norm. A decision in 2010 by firefighters in rural Tennessee to let a house burn down because the owner forgot to pay a $75 fee drew national scorn, but privatized firefighting services are coming back in a big way. The National Wildfire Suppression Association, a group that offers (and lobbies for) private firefighting services currently represents more than 10,000 employees and 150 wildfire contract service companies. It’s estimated that it can cost insurance companies at least $10,000 to send a private team into the field, putting the service far out of the reach of most homeowners. Thanks to the encroachment of the urban environment into wilderness areas, and dry conditions and higher temperatures caused by climate change, the era of megafires in California may be here to stay. But whether the protection afforded to the megawealthy, normally thought of as a common good, remains out of reach for the masses will remain an open question as these fires only become more prevalent.
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California fires claim over 7,000 structures and displace over 270,000 residents

A pair of particularly destructive wildfires that burned through the weekend in California have claimed over 7,000 structures and caused a wave of displacement across the state. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the so-called Camp Fire grew to more than 105,000 acres over the weekend as it swept through Butte County in Northern California, devastating the town of Paradise. The fire quickly became the deadliest and largest wildfire in California history over the weekend, a record that has been broken every year for the last three years in a row. The blaze has so far claimed 6,713 structures, including 6,453 homes and 260 commercial buildings. It is expected that close to 15,000 other structures are threatened by the fire, which is currently 20 percent contained. So far, 31 people have died and over 100 are reported missing. Reports from the frontlines of the blaze indicate that much of the town has been destroyed, with journalists on the scene fielding calls to check in on particular properties and posting block-by-block surveys of the devastation on social media. It is expected that between 90 and 95 percent of the city was destroyed, leaving its 27,000 residents to seek shelter across the housing-strapped region.

In the Santa Monica mountains that ring Los Angeles, the 85,550-acre Woolsey Fire has forced the temporary displacement of over 250,000 people as the cities of Thousand Oaks and Malibu and surrounding mountain communities were evacuated in advance of the fast-moving blaze.

Curbed reported that the fires have threatened several historic Hollywood filming locations and other notable structures located in the scenic mountains, including a replica of the set from the television series M*A*S*H and the recently-restored historic Sepulveda Adobe complex. Distressingly, the fire also reportedly consumed the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, a former Rocketdyne laboratory from 1949 that housed experimental nuclear reactors as well as radioactive waste.

Many architecturally-significant structures are also at risk, including important works by Frank Gehry, Wallace Neff, John Lautner, as well as several of the Case Study homes, Curbed reported.

Several of the wealthy areas hit by the fire have seen heavy losses, as well, including the destruction of several celebrity-owned mansions in Calabasas and Malibu. The homes of pop stars Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, and Neil Young and others were destroyed by the inferno, E! Online reported.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Woolsey Fire is 15 percent contained.

Regarding California’s increasingly destructive and lengthening fire season, Governor Jerry Brown told The LA Times, “This is not the new normal; this is the new abnormal.” Brown added, “And this new abnormal will continue certainly in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years. Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify. We have a real challenge here threatening our whole way of life, so we’ve got to pull together.”

The fires touched off a series of antagonistic—and “ill-informed”—tweets from President Donald Trump, who erroneously blamed the fires on “gross mismanagement” of the state’s forests. Fire officials instead point to the increasing effects of climate change, as well as growing so-called “wildland-urban interface” zones where human occupation and the state’s natural landscapes come into contact, as key causes for the latest series of conflagrations.

Because the state’s populated urban areas have gradually slowed development and downsized population capacity over the decades, much of the state’s explosive population growth has largely occurred in increasingly-far-flung and precarious areas, where drought-ridden brush is easily combustible and sprawling communities are perfect targets for wind-swept flames.

Crews in the state are working to battle the flames as winds, temperatures, and humidity levels work against their favor. AN will bring more coverage of California’s fires as information becomes available.