Earlier this month, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge sided with Cal Fire regarding property owners’ rights to a refund if the State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fee is deemed unconstitutional. Property owners who have not filed a timely Petition for Redetermination will not be eligible for refunds of the fee payment if the court subsequently agrees with the litigation challenging the legitimacy of the fee.

Assembly Bill 29, which enacted the fire prevention fee, also specified an administrative process for seeking a refund. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has filed a lawsuit claiming the fee is a tax and was not enacted with a two-thirds vote as specified in the state constitution.

However, Superior Court Judge Eugene Balonon concluded the fee’s legality does not affect the refund process.

“Plaintiffs seeking relief under the Third Cause of Action argue that they are excused from filing a Petition for Redetermination because AB 29 did not become law, and thus, neither did the administrative remedy. However, plaintiffs are not excused from filing a Petition for Redetermination because they believe the law to be invalid,” he opined.

The court also rejected HJTA’s request to have Cal Fire set aside the collected fees until the court adjudicates the basic claim of whether the fee is a tax and, therefore, constitutional.

“Moreover, the [claim to preserve the monies] is a remedy, not a cause of action [and] … relates to the appropriate remedy if the court declares that the fee is unconstitutional,” Balonon wrote.

A court date for the trial has not been set.

J.P. Crumrine can be reached at [email protected]