California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his state of the state address last month, proposed a 1.25% tax on property insurance, which would generate $125 million a year for CalFire. With the state facing a $14 billion deficit, the additional funds would be used to pay for 121 new engines, 11 more helicopters, and to increase the staffing on state engines from 3 to 4.
Some of the new engines would be placed at municipal fire departments, using the Office of Emergency Services model, where they would be maintained by the department, used as local backup, and be staffed and sent statewide if needed for large fires.
The insurance fee, amounting to about $10 to $12 per homeowner, would be charged to every insurance policy whether they lived in an urban setting in downtown Los Angeles, or in the brush covered hills east of San Diego. The urban residents would benefit very little from additional wildland fire suppression capability, while the those living in mansions above Malibu would sleep more comfortably.
On October 21 when a fire was burning through the hills outside Malibu, a well-dressed woman near the beach was interviewed on live TV. She owned property which was being threatened by the fire. She said that she had just talked with her son on his cell phone who was on the roof of their gym spraying water with a garden hose. He told her that he thought the main house, the guest house, and the gym would all be safe from the fire.
The question is, should she pay the same wildland fire protection tax as a resident of downtown LA?