The pending State Regulatory Area fee regulations were the subject of public hearings last month. Speakers came to San Diego on May 16 and to Shasta a week later to oppose the fee’s imposition.
No representatives from Riverside County or the Idyllwild Fire District spoke at either session. Local public officials from throughout the state were unanimous in their opposition to the fee and its appropriateness.
Many made the point that local fire districts already impose taxes or fees for fire fighting and prevention. And many of these local districts have created aggressive fire prevention programs, Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District was very outspoken about its effort for this purpose. This new state levy adds another payment to property owner costs without any additional service.
One person recommended the entire county of San Diego should be exempted from the fee. Part of this argument relied on the county’s substantial investment in rural fire protection since the 2003 and 2007 fire sieges. One speaker estimated that San Diego County has spent an additional $230 million for rural fire protection, including equipment such as helicopters and an emergency radio network, during the period.
While no Riverside County representatives spoke, this county has implemented an emergency network several years ago and is currently helping CAL FIRE rehabilitate Hemet-Ryan Air base.
Many others argued that the proposed $35 exemption is much lower than the local fire district collections. One person argued for a minimum exemption of $75 while another said they pay the local district $400 annually. Idyllwild has a special fee of $65 plus a portion of the county property taxes.
Another major concern expressed at both hearings was the effect of this fee on local fire safe councils, especially if a Community Wildfire Protection Plan had been approved. The Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council’s CWPP was approved in 2006.
Representatives of the California Fire Safe Council attended and spoke at the Shasta hearing and again expressed support for fire prevention funding. But they recommended that the proposed rule be modified to strengthen this effort and minimize funding directed toward fire suppression.
The state Forestry Board will review the draft regulations at its meeting this week. A draft final rule and an emergency implementation rule are the likely result according to George Gentry, board executive director.