California fire fee launched

A controversial fire fee imposed by the state will be assessed on more than 15,000 homes in Marin County’s unincorporated areas — even though property owners there already pay for fire protection services.

The new fire fee for rural areas has caused protests in Marin and other California communities. reported that Cal Fire budget reductions in the last year and a half amounted to almost $80 million, and the new protection fee will help offset that loss. Revenue from the new fee is estimated at $84 million per year.

About 845,000 California property owners will receive notice of the fee; buildings are subject to the fee depending on location. The program covers only unincorporated areas of the state — about 31 million acres where fire protection is a state responsibility. Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, says this is a “highly flawed fee” that legislators had to agree to as part of a budget deal. Huffman said the fee discriminates against rural areas and punishes communities that tax themselves to provide fire protection. He doesn’t think the fee system will survive a legal challenge.

Cal Fire’s Daniel Berlant says the growing number of homes in the interface has increased the state’s costs for suppression. “Services like public safety are vital,” he told Southern California Public Radio. “This new fee will create a stable funding source for public safety and in these tough times we can’t afford not to put money toward fire prevention.”

But many homeowners see the fee as an illegal tax. “This goes on to basically pay the ongoing infrastructure for Cal Fire,” says Republican Senator George Runner with the Board of Equalization. He says the fee paid by a homeowner may not benefit that particular homeowner and is therefore a tax. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association called the fee an “illegal tax” and is expected to sue.

Marin County Fire Chief Jason Weber said the fee will be assessed on 18,000 parcels in Marin for $1.75 million but won’t provide direct benefits to the county. “We want to make sure our communities are protected here in Marin, and $1.75 million is a lot of money we could use locally for wildland fire prevention.” Tiburon Fire Protection District Chief Richard Pearce said his district opposes the tax. “In Marin in particular, it takes $1.75 million from the county and there is no direct benefit,” he said. “We’re already covering the area.”

According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News, Marin officials aren’t alone in objecting to the fee. Others who oppose the program include the California State Association of Counties, California Professional Firefighters, and the California Fire Chiefs Association.

The “State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Benefit Fee” was signed into law last year. It requires homeowners in designated fire-prone areas to pay an annual fee of $150 for each habitable structure on a parcel. A $35 discount applies to properties that are already protected by an organized fire agency.

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2 thoughts on “California fire fee launched”

  1. This is an illegal tax and contrary to the vote of the people and proposition
    26. The legislature and governor have demonstrated time and again their
    lack of ability to balance the budget (you can’t spend more than you make).
    However, we have the best government money can buy. It’s great to promise the moon when all that can be afforded is a cup of coffee if that. State
    officials will promise most anything to get a vote but deliver on very little.
    Those who do benefit as a result of financial leverage i.e. large contributions,
    “pay-offs”, never consider the terrible adverse impacts down the road and
    especially to our children and future generations as long as their immediate
    desires and greed are met. The excuse is always,” we did it for the benefit
    of most if not all the people”.

  2. I understand the need for extra fire protection in fire prone areas. We live in the Tahoe Basin and when we bought our home, we were told it was going to be mandatory to create “defensible space” around all homes in our area.. We even bought a home with cement siding as an added protection and we spent thousands of dollars on defensible space the year we purchased the home. We had the fire department come out and mark trees that needed to be removed and followed all the guidelines they provided us so our home would have a greater chance for survival. Why would homeowners who have paid so much money for defensible space be charged the same amount as the person next door who has dead trees everywhere and have done nothing to create defensible space? It seems to me that each home should be assessed a score by the fire department on how well they followed the guidelines and be charged the tax based on that score. The $150 tax is nothing compared to the thousands of dollars that responsible homeowners like ourselves have paid so I can see most homeowners will take the cheap way out and pay the tax.


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