The consumer groups have prevailed. Last month, the Senate removed most of the provisions from the bill and instead instructed the insurance commissioner to review the applicable regulations and report to lawmakers in two years. Even this reduced measure could not be put to the vote by the end of the annual legislative period on Monday evening.
“It has been effectively gutted,” said Rex Frazier, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, which represents insurers. “Despite the fact that half of California is on fire.”
The state’s insurance commissioner said his focus is now on working with high-risk communities to reduce forest fire risk to the point where insurers continue to offer coverage without large rate increases. “I will continue to act quickly to address the cost and availability of forest fire insurance in our state,”
However, reducing the human and economic impact of forest fires will require more radical reforms than just changing building codes or promoting better landscaping, others said. The shortage of new homes in California’s cities may also need to be addressed, which has helped spur development into fire-prone areas, a trend that has continued despite years of severe forest fires.
David Shew, a former chief of staff at Cal Fire, said building house expansion into Tierra del Fuego used to be a sensible compromise. “There is a huge need for housing in more affordable areas, which by default are exposed, fire-prone landscapes, because land is cheaper there,” Shew said. “It felt like it was worth the risk.”
But as climate change is making forest fires more devastating, that logic seems less obvious, he said. Aside from tighter building restrictions in high-risk areas exacerbating the nationwide housing crisis, there are physical and political limits to how much governments can do to reduce this risk, which means insurance is getting more expensive.
“We’ll never have enough fire trucks to park in every driveway,” said Mr. Shew. “It’s only going to get worse.”