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 http://www.diannejacob.com/resources/state-fire-tax-website.pdf
How to appeal http://www.calfirefee.com/appeal/
Howard Jarvis http://firetaxprotest.org/
Cal Fire Petition Form http://firetaxprotest.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Petition_for_Redetermination_Fillable.pdf