CRC Spotlight Series: Fighting Fire with Incentive in San Diego

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This is one in a series of profiles of the 12 winners of the California Resilience Challenge, a first-of-its-kind statewide initiative of the Bay Area Council and a diverse array of partners. The Challenge recently awarded $2 million in planning grants for a variety of innovative projects in communities across the state to address the growing impacts of climate change, including drought, floods, wildfires, and sea-level rise.

The record-breaking wildfires currently battering California offer yet more evidence of the growing impacts from climate change. San Diego County, with an estimated half million residents living near high-risk fire areas, is no exception. Indeed, 82 percent of the county is considered to be at moderate to high fire risk. And modeling shows the frequency and severity of wildfires is only going to worse over the next 25 years. 

Creating defensible spaces and hardening properties to make them less flammable can play an important role in reducing homeowners’ risk from wildfires. With support from the California Resilience Challenge, the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services is partnering with United Policyholders and local fire agencies and community groups to develop a pilot mitigation certificate program to incentivize homeowners to implement fire-reduction strategies.

The proposed project includes two components to address regional resiliency to wildfires. First, the project will pilot a mitigation certificate program to ensure affordable and accessible property owner’s insurance while spurring homeowners to do their part to reduce wildfire risk. Second, the project will work with the California Department of Insurance and insurers to create an incentive system to reward those homeowners whose homes are certified as successfully mitigating wildfire risk.

In a recent state-wide study of California Homeowners, United Policyholders found that 

91% of the respondents said their insurance company has not made any suggestions for home improvements that would reduce risk and the cost of their insurance. Over half of the surveyed homeowners had an insurance company drop/non-renew their home insurance policy in the past three years. 60% were dropped due to the location of their home and 18% due to the brush around or near their home. 87% of those who had to find a new insurance company reported a significant increase in their annual home insurance cost. These economic challenges are particularly impacting fixed income households that can’t afford to make mitigation improvements or pay higher premiums, but still need the safety net insurance provides and/or are required by a mortgage to maintain insurance on their homes. 

“When insurers reward customers who clear brush and harden their homes instead of dropping them, it’s win win: Homeowners have a strong incentive to be pro­active in making their homes resistant to wildfires, insurers’ overall risk declines and there’s greater participation in the community and government supported brush clearing and resiliency work that are already underway in California,” explains Amy Bach, Executive Director at United Policyholders. “Some insurers are already partnering with their customers on mitigation actions and rewarding those who take them. We need all insurers to do the same.  A system for California homeowners to get certification that they’ve completed risk reduction home improvements is a critical step toward making that happen,” says Bach. 

For more information on the California Resilience Challenge, please contact Policy Associate Anna Sciaruto

Special thanks to California Resilience Challenge funders PG&E, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Valley Water, Metropolitan Water District, Southern California Edison, Resources Legacy Fund, Alaska Airlines, SFPUC, SD Bechtel Jr. Foundation, and Pillsbury; and special thanks to Advisory Committee members AECOM, Pillsbury, Climate Resolve, Environmental Defense Fund, Ceres, and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research.

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