Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fire Fee Update: Recommendation from Jacob

There has been much talk and discussion in our backcountry about the new state fire tax. Supervisor Jacob has just sent these comments and suggestions regarding the tax:

"County Supervisor Dianne Jacob advises residents in her district to pay a new state fire tax now being levied on tens of thousands of local homeowners, but to do it under protest.

"In recent weeks, many rural and semi-rural residents of District 2 - a sprawling region that includes the bulk of the San Diego County backcountry - have started to receive bills asking them to pay the state up to $150 annually for each habitable structure on their land. Approximately 400,000 people in the region will be impacted by this tax.

"Jacob has long opposed the tax, saying it stems from the state's failure to adequately fund Cal Fire. "It's blatantly unjust and borders on cruel that the state would hit homeowners up for more money when they already pay property taxes to help fund public safety programs and, in many cases, special local fees for fire protection," she said.

"She noted the county also spends $15.5 million annually to augment rural fire protection. More than $10 million of that money goes directly to Cal Fire.

"The supervisor recommends that those receiving the tax bill:

  1. Pay it within the 30-day due date and write "UNDER PROTEST" on the notation line of their check. Make copies of the check and send the original with the bill.
  2. Go to and click on the link labeled "Petition for Redetermination." Fill out the petition to formally challenge the fee.
  3. Send a copy of the petition and a copy of the check to these three addresses: Fire Prevention Petitions, P.O. Box 2254, Suisun City, CA, 94585; Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, P.O. Box 944246, Sacramento, CA, 94244; and the Board of Equalization, P.O. Box 942879, Sacramento, CA, 94279.

"All three steps must be completed should any lawsuits prevail in overturning the fee and should the court order the state to issue refunds."

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Fire Fee

By now, you should have received a heads-up notice about the fee, if not the bill itself. The fee, levied on property owners in high-risk rural fire areas, is intended to shore up the state's depleted CalFire budget (only one budget among many shriveling in the state).

As someone who just lobbied—hard--for the passage of Prop 30 to save California public education from imploding, I feel ambivalent about the new fire fee.

Do we want less firefighting capabilities? Of course not. Should a select group of property owners be targeted? That's a good question.

Most challengers use the “this is an illegal tax” argument: Because the fee can be interpreted to be a tax, and because it wasn't passed by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, it is therefore unconstitutional. Additionally, they point out, many rural residents already pay fire taxes, so the fee is a tax on top of a tax.

If you're an anti-tax type, these arguments are pretty compelling. I'm not though: I think paying taxes is the patriotic thing to do; it's what holds us together as a society; it's where we look beyond our immediate interests to the greater good.

But here's the thing: I think this fee is taking a very different position. In effect, it is saying that if you live in the backcountry, where many wildfires start, you've got to pay the bill. And that's just plain wrong.

As the Cedar and Harris Fires showed us, what starts in the backcountry doesn't necessarily stay in the backcountry. (Remember the directives to evacuate Del Mar?) And what used to be country is now town—the back keeps getting pushed back.

If anything, rural residents provide a huge service to our suburban neighbors: we are quick to spot and report fires that would otherwise smolder and make their way to more populated areas. As a result, fire towers are now quaint artifacts. Why pay a fire watcher when you have hundreds of residents on high alert during the fire season? And the fire that gets doused in, say, Dulzura, is the fire that didn't destroy your home in Eastlake.

Wildfire in California is a statewide issue, not one limited to a select population. As with education, if a statewide solution is necessary, all Californians should step up.

I'm not sure the below resources agree with my sentiments, but if you're interested in fighting the fee, here are some places to start:

Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s letter to constituents

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Voting in the Dark

"Voting in the Dark" is not a metaphor or philosophical statement (though there could be places to go with that . . .). If you visited our assigned polling place after 5 pm today, you know what I'm talking about.

Below is an email I sent the Registrar of Voters. If you had a similar experience, please do the same--they are very responsive!

Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2012 7:48 PM
Subject: Cal Fire Lyons Valley Station Polling Place
I voted this evening and wanted to share some concerns about my assigned polling location. The people working there were great; the polling site was not.
Lyons Valley Station is along a stretch of Skyline Truck Trail where vehicles regularly drive 60 mph (or more). Worse, the station isn’t on the road; instead, it is back a ways. Other than a small sign depicting a fire engine, there is no signage indicating the location of the station, and it is not visible from the road. (The yellow and black “polling place” signs are very hard to see in the dark.) As a result, it is difficult to find and dangerous to enter and exit this location, especially with the fast traffic.
Once I located the station, I was further dismayed to find that I had to park a distance from the polls in pitch darkness on uneven dirt. I almost tripped more than once making my way to the station. Leaving was also difficult as the “parking area” wasn’t really designed for entering and exiting vehicles—there was no room to turn around, so it took some creativity to get out of there without taking some trees along.
Finally, there was no marking of the exit. Since there are several off-shoots from the entry, it was confusing to figure out how to leave. I waited until headlights sped by on Skyline so that I could tell which route to take.
Again, I want to emphasize that the people working the polls were lovely; they did an excellent job. But I do hope that this site will not be used again, or at the very least, more provisions will be made in consideration of the location and darkness.
Name and address