In 1971, the Ventura-Los Angeles Coastal Mountains Study Commission received testimony relating to the incidence of fires in the Santa Monica Mountains since the 1920s. In summary, the frequency of fires increased in time, the pattern of occurrence moved west as development moved west through the mountains, and no fire recorded in the study period was of natural origin.
In the past 15 years, this pattern has repeated at enormous initial cost to homeowners and the public followed by further costs from mud slides and property damage as bare hillsides erode ever more extensively. In addition to increased erosion, there is more extensive and severe flooding during periods of greater than average rainfall, again causing further costs to the public and private landowners.
As great as the cost may be, there is no summary accounting of the price the public must pay for allowing development in areas subject to the hazards of fire, flood, mud slide, and erosion. Even when legal action occurs, as is currently in progress with the Big Rock Mesa situation, the ultimate costs to the public of a judgment for irresponsibly permitting the development to occur lies buried from examination.
It is urged that the Grand Jury of the County of Los Angeles immediately review the problem of expansion of development in areas subject to greater than average hazard and the costs to the public of allowing such development to continue. This is urgent because the public can never expect tax revenues from development permitted in the wrong site to equal the costs of bailing out the development that occurred when the inevitable disaster strikes.
RIMMON C. FAY