WatchSonoma Watch

GUEST OPINION: Local fire chiefs speak out against Cal Fire fee

Randy Collins

Randy Collins is president of the Sonoma County Fire Chiefs Association. Dan Northern is vice president of the association and chief of the Forestville Fire District.

When the state budget was approved by the Legislature earlier this year, one of the lesser known outcomes was the inclusion of a Fire Prevention Benefit Fee to be imposed on all property owners with “habitable” structures on parcels within Cal Fire jurisdiction.

Given that most properties outside of the nine incorporated cities in Sonoma County lie within these areas — known as “state responsibility areas” — chances are, if you don’t live in a city, this fee will apply to you. As an organization that represents almost every fire agency in Sonoma County, the Sonoma County Fire Chiefs Association feels it is important to share the following concerns about this fee.

Dan Northern

Landowners pay twice in these state responsibility areas. Most of the SRA in Sonoma County is served by a fire district or volunteer fire company that provides year-round fire suppression as well as prevention services such as mapping, pre-fire planning and public education to their SRA constituents.

Although Cal Fire is an excellent organization, owners of parcels within an established district should not be expected to incur additional costs for services they are already receiving — unless they are willing to vote for an increase in their assessment. It also creates an inequity in that high fire areas within incorporated cities that receive a Cal Fire response through mutual aid agreements (such as Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Cloverdale) would continue to receive a response at no cost.

This fee is a threat to local fire districts. Many existing districts and volunteer fire companies are in desperate need of funding to improve or maintain current service levels. With most agencies having seen growth in demand for service and struggling with under-funded budgets, quite often the only avenue is through the implementation of benefit assessments. This new fee would have a devastating effect on any attempt by a local jurisdiction to move forward with a basic funding plan.

Ironically, this also stands to diminish the ability of these agencies to provide mutual aid throughout the county as well as the state, further impacting fire protection in the county and the state’s master mutual aid system.

Does this plan include too little funding for Cal Fire? Since homeowners in these areas are already required by law to maintain a defensible space around their homes (and many do), it is difficult to envision what the direct benefit will be for those homeowners who are charged the fee.

While the Board of Forestry provides exemptions for local prevention efforts, these efforts have had the unintended consequence of significantly reducing the amount needed to backfill the monies that were removed from the Cal Fire budget. Given these revised projections, the current Cal Fire budget shortfall stands at approximately $50 million.

As every firefighter in California knows, most large conflagrations occur due to significant climatic conditions such as droughts combined with strong wind events and low relative humidity. As adopted, a fee that is designated to fund fire prevention activities will do little to prevent or offset the operational costs of controlling these fires.

For decades, everyone in California has benefited from the shared firefighting efforts of local fire agencies, and Cal Fire which has developed into a master mutual-aid system and has been held up as a model to the rest of the nation. If it is the goal of the Legislature to provide adequate funding for fire protection in the state, it is incumbent that an equitable system is devised that benefits all who contribute to this effort.

We encourage you to contact the governor and your state representatives and share your concerns regarding this new fee.

17 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: Local fire chiefs speak out against Cal Fire fee”

  1. Fiscal Conservative says:

    What’s next- you make a good point.

    Here’s the general afternoon around here.

    Car honks, dog barks. Daddy, Daddy someones down at the gate!

    Whoo-Hoo! Kids jump on the back of the ATV with Daddy and down to the gate! Weeeee!

    Daddy- ” Hi what can I do for you?”

    Stranger, “yes I am from Cal Fire and I am you defensible space inspector”( or any other neo-com, salamander earth greener, government nanny-taxer)

    Smart allec pre-teen No.1 “you got a warrant?”

    Stanger avoids question and continues, “I’m from the government and I am here to help… blah, blah”

    Daddy, “Why that’s a good question! Mr. inspector, do you have a signed warrant?

    Stranger, why no, but I could get one if I need ..

    Daddy- Well then we will talk later, have a great day!

    Kids- Laughing all the way back up the hill, dust cloud from the ATV. “If he comes through the gate can we sick the dog on him?”

    In the old days, the gate was open and we allways had visitors. My wife allways cooked twice as much as we needed to feed whoever stopped by. Our garden was huge so we would share. But that was before all of the government progress, UN agenda’s and unfunded pension liabilities.

    I enjoyed the freedom and liberty much better.I think others who visited did also.

  2. Social Dis-Ease says:

    @ Pearl-don’t understand your point.
    I own two business’, responsible for
    generating hundreds of thousands in tax revenue a year, pay my way, employ people, own a country property, perfect credit(a good serf).

    The FREEDOM part is what many of us would like to maintain.

    Like I said MANY of us like owning real estate, make mine with a yard.
    A few of us were pointing out inequitable practices($)and priorities currently employed and connecting the dots to Agenda 21 whenever we can.

    Sounds like you prefer country living too.
    The stated goal of A21 is to REMOVE you from YOUR property.
    Make YOU poor.
    Do we disagree on something?
    I am trying to be a response-able citizen.
    The Wildlands Project could make us very close neighbors, so be nice.

  3. Pearl Alquileres says:

    The “American Dream” is different for everyone.
    THAT’S the “American” part of the Dream.

    For some it means moving to the big city were you have many opportunities to race all the other rats for that brass ring. The famous myth of “Streets paved with gold”.
    For others it means having your own piece of land far from the rat race, your own little kingdom where you are left alone to live your life at your own pace. (Slownoma County)
    Our streets aren’t paved with gold because we don’t have streets, we have roads & they’re “paved” with Gravel. (Until the rat racers close all the rock quarries!)

    My tax dollars pay for a lot of the gold they use to pave the rat race track. That’s fine, race on little rodents.

    I don’t expect you to show up at the foot of my property once a year with a truck load of fresh gravel for my road. I don’t expect you to maintain my bridge so you can deliver that gravel. I don’t expect you to come & fix my pump when my faucets stop running. I don’t expect you to send a work crew to clear my defendable space every spring. I don’t expect you to clear my ditches so my road doesn’t flood. I don’t expect you to cut, delver & stack my firewood so I can heat my home in the winter.
    (no subsidies for low income firewood)
    My neighbors & I do all this for each other without any “help” from the GOVERNMENT.
    But when I have a fire that grows beyond my control I expect something in return for my financing of your golden race track.
    I already pay plenty extra for my version of the American Dream. PAY YOURS!

  4. Soaial Dis-Ease says:

    Right-on Kay.
    Why must Smart Growth be subsidized?
    Also because they can.
    Once again-this is how they roll.
    Fund/funnel/siphon to that which is persuant to their dark goals through an
    alphabet of credible sounding acronyms.
    De-fund (and/or privatize) that which we require and hold dear.
    The traditional roll of government;
    Schools, basic social services, road maintanance, postal, parks, water, energy, fire dept., etc..

    Especially if it provides for rural/country living-which to many of us, is our American Dream.

    Recognize…Resist Agenda 21.

  5. Steve Klausner says:

    fighting wildland fires in California has gotten a lot more expensive. It used to be about containment, a lot of the work was done by state prisoners. McMansions have replaced hunting cabins and now firefighting is about protecting homes.

    The solution is simple and fair, no new fees, no new taxes. As Cal Fire down sizes along with the rest of state government, insurance companies will increase rates for vulnerable properties.

    Going to make that $175 fee look like peanuts. But it will be based on the value of the home, rather then a flat rate for everyone. And taxpayers will not be paying for views.

  6. TOO HOT!! says:

    As a volunteer firefighter in my county, in Ca, and as I grew up in and graduated from Santa Rosa schools, I have much interest in this. I already can see the actions of CAL FIRE, and what they have cost when they tok over neighboring cities fire departments. While CAL FIRE is a worthy orgnaization the “perks” the union allows should be illegal. Perhaps some of those “perks” can be given back to the state and thus no need for an extra tax. My husband and I “already gave at the office” both in volunteer time with firefighting and our occupation of farming.

  7. The governor’s intent is to generate $50 million this fiscal year for Cal Fire to offset cuts to its budget.

    Here is an example of how Big Gov Works but I am sure you are all well aware of how our nanny state does biz by now,… but I digress.

    EXAMPLE: CA State legislators pass a mandatory defensible space law for all homes in the Cal Fire State Responsibility Area.

    You see, we need a law to mandate homeowners to keep brush, branches & woodpiles AWAY from the house.

    Then, CA legislators allocate a budget for Cal Fire to hire & train inspectors to educate the Public and to produce “mandatory compliance” $$$.

    Whats the line item cost to us TAXPAYERS?

    $2,000,000 ANNUALLY !!!

    THATS 2 FRIGGEN MILLLION dollars worth of Defensible Space Inspectors, marketing material and tape measures to keep us safe from ourselves !!!


  8. Reality Check says:

    “How about cut the FAT FIRST?”

    Works for me. Unfortunately though, it’s long promised and never delivered. Since everyone’s definition of it is different, we get nowhere.

    Look, a fire fighting service needs to be paid for. How about we let local areas opt out of the state service and just go it alone? If everyone’s keen on donating to their VFD, that should work. But I think we both know it won’t.

    We will never balance our budget if we cut only items we don’t like or tax only other people.

  9. Reality Check says:

    “Yes, on my property tax bill I do have the local fire station.”

    Then it sounds like you’re covered. So the state can go ahead and get out of providing a fire fighting service for rural homes, and save about $200m per year.

    Sounds good to me. But of course even mentioning the idea would bring forth screams and howls from those getting a free ride. That’s what this is about.

  10. FIRE HOT ! says:

    @Reality Check

    Most rural residences donate to their nearest volunteer fire dept.

    The VFD donation requests are mailed annually. Our annual donation happens to be $50 per residence.

    Most farms out here have multiple residences, so they pay more. Now the State wants to send us another bill. What’s going to keep the County from also sending us a bill?

    The VFD’s may very well lose donations, for the property owner may choose not to donate to the volunteers, for they think the State Fee trickles back to the local VFD….it doesn’t!!!

    The VFD’s are scraping to get by as is.

    Between the time required for training, meetings, responding to emergencies, engine & equipment maintenance duties, community outreach programs, fundraising events, family commitments and real jobs, it is a wonder how our volunteer fire dept get’s it all done !!!

    Now the State wants to be paid for what the VFD’s DO for FREE ?

    How about cut the FAT FIRST?

  11. hansutro says:

    Lets see the old chief retires after working at HP for years, then puts in a few in Windsor, now they want to trip some costs and consolidate. Isn’t it a little late for that? If they want efficiency then have one County operated system, and screw each fiefdom having duplicated facilities and shiny new trucks…..

  12. Fiscal Conservative says:

    Great question RC.
    Yes, on my property tax bill I do have the local fire station. A tax that was voted in decades ago.

    In these times, I think it is inportant to remember the amount of debt that is looming our local/state municipalities and that most of these taxes/fees are nothing more than a way to shore up the system without making needed cuts in the pork barrel.

    I agree the free rides are over. I work too hard to support those who don’t, but are entitled in their own minds.

    I say fix the Calpers system before they slap another illegal tax on my family.

    I also agree with Kay, and again encourage her to run for City Council or County Supervisor.

  13. Reality Check says:

    Please explain why people who live in rural areas should get fire protection from the state free?
    People who live cities have to pay taxes for fire departments.

    Do people in rural areas pay any state taxes above and beyond what everyone else pays? If not, they’re receiving a benefit paid for, largely, by urban dwellers, where most of California’s population lives.

    If we are ever to return to living within our means, these kinds of free rides for government services will have to end.

  14. Kay Tokerud says:

    Another attack on rural property owners. As a big United Nations Agenda 21 supporter, Governor Brown is participating in the effort to round people up off their rural lands and get them to move into new smart growth areas, which is one of the primary goals of UN Agenda 21/ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainibility.

    The State government is at the heart of the regionalism we’re seeing where unelected boards such as MTC and ABAG are given the power to dole out large sums of cash to cities that will build smart growth in what they’re calling Priority Development Areas.

    Priority Development Areas are small areas next to mass transit that have been pre-designated for smart growth only development, the model pushed by UN Agenda 21 and their implimentation arm ICLEI, an international NGO. If your property is located outside these small priority areas, you may not be allowed to develop your property for the next 25 years or longer. If approved this will represent the biggest affront to private property rights yet. People will have their right to equal protection under the law violated under this plan.

    In the same vein, Sonoma County, home to Valerie Brown who’s on ICLEI USA’s national board of directors, now have created a Priority Roads network, which will be the only roads that will remain paved. Over 1,200 miles of county roads are going to be allowed to fail, to fall into ruin. This is part of the UN plan to get people off the land and moved into cities.

    It’s shocking that the almost 20 years in the making UN Agenda 21 plan has progressed to the point where implimentation is completely obvious. Until now, their ‘change agents’ have been able to fly under most people’s radar by doing such things as changing cities and counties General Plans and changing policies that favor smart growth, form-based zoning and redevelopment, the funding tool used to subsidize smart growth.

    Why must smart growth be subidized? Because no one wants it. We have vacant buildings all over the place in redevelopment areas, buildings which have consumed huge amounts of tax dollars and have indebted us for decades to come. Now the State is pushing to build more of this even though the market is already glutted with this type of unwanted and tax subsidized buildings. Beware of the new financing scheme, called Infrastructure Financing Districts which is even worse than redevelopment. It also siphons off property taxes, needs no voter approval to borrow money from bond brokers, picks winners and losers, and the money can go directly to building more smart growth. All they need now is a way to force people to move into these undesirable locations.

    Getting people off their lands through new taxes, onerous regulations and fees and stopping road maintenance are all part of the UN Agenda 21 plan that is a plan of total global control of all people. Welcome to the New World Order.

  15. Pearl Alquileres says:

    The socialist, environmentalist agenda would have everyone living in cities were they’re much easier to manipulate & control. I see no reason to believe that this is part of that agenda but it’s surely supported by the cockroaches of our society.
    So go ahead & FINE people who choose not to live in the corral with the all the good little sheeple. But in all fairness we shouldn’t have ONE RED CENT of our tax dollars going to control crime in the city, redevelopment in the city, infrastructure in the city, etc…
    Either we all pitch in to support vital GOVERNMENT services for all or we all live in our own little communities, support our own little communities and keep our tax dollars in our own little communities.
    If that is were this is headed (and of course it’s NOT) that would just fine with me!

  16. John Hudson says:

    Brown has discovered a tax that the thinks he can impose without voter approval. He has already wants to raise it from $150 to $175. This puts the state in a position of directly levying upon real property – a position it has never had before. They also want to tax services as well as sales. There is no tax a liberal does not like.

  17. Jean says:

    This isn’t a “fee”. It is a tax being imposed by the governement. Taxation without representation.