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

1 comment:

  1. I found it ironic that the state sent out expensive notices to all back country people warning them that a fee was coming. I just saw $$$. Then I got my bill from some weird office called "Department of Equalization." What is that? How is that "equal" anything? I see the fee I'm asked to pay AS a tax. It's an additional property tax. I am interested if I can deduct it -- as other taxes.

    You're right; the Cedar Fire blasted through Scripps Ranch, skirted Del Cerro and hit El Cajon and Mira Mesa WAY before it blasted its way up here and that a fire whose name I can't remember went all the way to Encinitas which as I recall is a beach town.

    And then, too, the Cedar Fire wasn't started by someone who lives out here (most of us know better than to start fires) but by some idiot who had no clue what he was doing and shouldn't have been allowed out of his back yard.

    Having "back country" people pay a "special" fee is like having golfers pay fees because they might be hit by lightning on a golf course... It feels as if we are being "blamed" for something we had no part in. It's like elementary school; if Johnny comes in late for recess then everyone stays after school as punishment.

    A couple years ago when a house caught fire (broken water heater which can happen even in cities) I watched my neighbors jump a fence, run across a pasture, carrying shovels and put out spark lit fires that threatened an empty storage barn and a house. We are our own first responders out here. We keep our weeds cut, our firewood away from our buildings, fire-resistent plants planted. We know a lot about keeping ourselves and our property safe. I think we're the last people who should be charged a fee.