Saturday, October 6, 2012

California Fire Management, Fees, and Taxes

"No one should be penalized for where they choose to live"

This is an approximate quote from a meeting I attended recently. The thought question is Did this quote come from a pro-personal-responsibility conservative or from a we're-all-in-this-together liberal?

Anyone knowing my sense of irony may be able to guess, but let me add more context. The meeting was about a new California State imposed fee (or tax) on residents in California rural areas for funding fire prevention activities.

And the last clue, the meeting was conducted my by representative to the state assembly, whom I quoted.

The statement was made by self-described conservative Republican Kevin Jeffries who opposes the fee, declares it a tax, and was advising the public of it's implications.

Politics are not straightforward. It sounds like this conservative is very entitlement driven when it comes to individuals carving out homesteads among the fire-prone chaparral and dry forests of our urban-wildland interface. I attended the meeting with this bias... but what did I learn:

1. CalFire, the California fire protection agency did not request this fee/tax.
2. The fee/tax applies to residents of California Service Areas (CSA), rural areas managed by CalFire.
3. The fee/tax is for fire prevention actvities in CSAs only.
4. The fee/tax is $150 per livable structure and administered though the Franchise Tax Board. As I understand it, the CSA zones where never designed for use in assessing taxes or fees.
5. I could not locate any scientific analysis to refer to in support or defense of the fee/tax.

And now, I'll speculate a little as to how this fee/tax could happen:

1. Big budget woes hit California at the state level.
2. Republicans stand firm in resisting any new revenue sources.
3. Democrats work around this, reducing the CalFire bugdet by shifting the fire prevention costs of CSAs to the residents of those rural and wildland areas. This is palatable because 1) people can readily believe that there are greater fire prevention and management costs to these areas, and 2) these areas trend Republican.

This is a recipe for further conflict.

Where I  stand? I'm still looking for information on how to assess the costs to the public inherent in where people choose to live. Are they being penalized or subsidized for building homes in fire prone rural areas?

For example, I believe the luxurious homes perched on the ridges of our valley get a disproportionate benifit from public resources used to contain fires; but I, a resident of Wildomar, receive a benefit when CalFire conducts preventative maintenance in neighboring Lakeland/Village. Yet my retired friend in Lakeland Village will be paying an additional $300 a year while I will not.


I'm collecting links to relevent resources here:

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