By Ron Peterka
Disclosure: While I am a longtime member of the Intermountain Volunteer Fire Department, this is my personal view. The Board of Directors of Intermountain Fire has taken no position on this fee at this time.
Approximately 25% of the land in San Diego County is open range or mountains. In and near our Ramona postal zone there are many residents living on various sized plots of open land with great natural beauty and quiet vistas. If this describes your situation, and your property is protected by Cal Fire, you may be in for a rude surprise later this year when Assembly Bill ABX1 29 takes effect and you get a $150 bill for each “habitable structure” on your property. You will have 30 days to pay without a 20 percent per month penalty.
This bill is intended to raise $200 million annually, ostensibly for the sole purpose of fire prevention. This is not fire protection because the State Department of Finance feels that if this “fee” is used for “fire protection” there will be a problem maintaining the “fee” status and would require a ballot vote with a 2/3 majority to pass. The assemblyman who wrote this bill wants to help Governor Brown with the state budget problems and $200 million would be a good step in that direction. Various state agencies vary on the reason for this bill ranging from good public policy to balance the state budget.
No fire protection agency in California supports this fee. Cal Fire was charged on very short notice to supply a list of all land parcels that might have habitable structures on land they are charged with protecting. They were granted $1,000 from the general fund to provide this list which cost Cal Fire $500,000 from their budget to produce. The administrative costs of this bill are to be paid from proceeds with no limit set.
So, what will we get? The funds will go to several agencies like the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) who will do various approved brush clearing projects. You will get grants to Fire Safe Councils, and inspections of your property to ensure compliance with defensible space rulings, and probably lots of pamphlets and TV spots.
What you won’t get is $200 million worth of increased fire protection. The fees collected from the residents in the Intermountain Volunteer Fire response area would fund almost all of our annual budget and would provide 24/7/365 fire and emergency services for 125 square miles of your backcountry.
Ron Peterka is a Ramona resident.