SACRAMENTO — Just months after wildfires devastated parts of California, residents in high-hazard areas face new laws requiring them to clear brush from a 100-foot perimeter around their homes.
The requirements were among a series of measures signed into law Saturday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that are aimed at improving the state's emergency response during wildfires and helping prevent the loss of homes.
Facing a backlog of legislation that he refused to sign until a state budget was passed, Schwarzenegger took his veto pen to 95 bills, including a measure that would have prohibited dogs from riding on the laps of motorists.
Many of the vetoed bills, including the lap-riding measure, received the same message from Schwarzenegger: "Given the delay, I am only signing bills that are the highest priority for California. This bill does not meet that standard and I cannot sign it at this time."
The 10 wildfire and emergency preparedness laws were among the 114 bills he signed Saturday.
Other measures in the package would make sure California forests are better managed against tree-killing pests and make it easier for fire departments to access firefighting equipment and private donations.
The brush-clearance laws are meant to create a "defensible zone" for firefighters around homes in certain wooded, brushy and hillside areas.
They were part of SB 1595 by Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), who represents an area hard-hit by wildfires last year. The law takes effect Jan. 1, and it applies to properties where the state has primary responsibility for preventing and suppressing fires, mainly rural and mountainous lands.
"This year California has already faced a destructive fire season with more than 2,000 fires burning about 1.2 million acres, underscoring the importance of legislation signed today that will help us do even more to prevent these fires from starting in the first place," Schwarzenegger said
The governor also signed a bill that merges the Governor's Office of Emergency Services and Office of Homeland Security into a single, streamlined cabinet-level agency.
Other legislation signed by the governor included:
Authorizing the creation of carpool lanes that can be used by lone motorists willing to pay a toll on I-15 in Riverside County.
Allowing development of additional oil reserves beneath submerged lands of the Wilmington oil field.
Prohibiting wholesalers from selling plastic foam peanuts, including Styrofoam, popularly used as packaging material beginning Jan. 1, 2012.
Requiring "boutique" hospitals to conduct an impact study on surrounding hospitals before opening. The governor said the bill is "anticompetitive."
Allowing higher-level drug dealers to be directed by courts to diversion programs rather than jail. Wrote Schwarzenegger: "This bill would undermine the state's drug laws and thereby place the public's safety in jeopardy."