San Marcos Officials Kept Fire Risk Map Secret

San Marcos city officials kept secret a color-coded map showing the risk of wildfire danger to various neighborhoods for fear insurance companies would use the information to justify raising rates or dropping policies, according to a newspaper report.

Officials opted to circulate a version of the map, which omitted shadings that marked Coronado Hills and neighboring Attebury deep red, signifying “extreme wildfire hazard,” city leaders told the North County Times for a story published on its Web site on October 16. Shadings showing five other neighborhoods with “very high” risk were also left off.

The second map instead showed all wildfire areas in a uniform shade of green.

The maps were produced following a study commissioned by San Marcos in 2005 to assess wildfire risks for the city’s communities.

The newspaper obtained the color-coded map after it was briefly presented to planning commissioners at a meeting over the summer.

Fire Chief Todd Newman, City Manager Paul Malone and other city officials said that the color-coded map was intended for internal planning use. It was never made public out of concerns that insurance companies would hike rates or cancel policies for Coronado Hills and Attebury residents if they saw it, the officials said.

They weren’t clear in explaining why the map was shown at a public meeting last summer.

City leaders said that while they kept the color-coded map under wraps, they provided residents with detailed information about their fire risks.

“We develop specific fire threat assessments on a parcel-by-parcel basis,” Malone told the Times. “We make specific recommendations to homeowners in that area. The people that live in that area absolutely do know that they live in a wildfire threat zone.”

One elected city official said that there was no reason to withhold the map in 2005.

“‘I don’t know why that wouldn’t have been released,” Councilman Mike Preston said. “Insurance companies would get hold of it and assessments might go up, and people would be unhappy, but I guess you have to balance that against people knowing about the risk.”

The color-coded fire-risk ratings went from “low” and “moderate” to “high,” “very high” and “extreme.”

Coronado Hills and Attebury were rated “extreme.” The communities of Solar, Esplendido, Rockoff, Via Allondra and Stone Canyon/Discovery Hills were rated “very high.”

Nordahl, La Cienega, Tamara/Sunshine Mountain, Calle Marie, Rancho de Oro, Santa Fe Hills and La Plaza ranked “high.”

The city’s five other communities ranked “low” or “moderate.”