The State of California will collect an annual “fire prevention fee” from property owners in wildland areas where the state has responsibility for providing fire protection. A fee of one hundred fifty dollars ($150) will be charged on each structure intended for human habitation in this State Responsibility Area (“SRA”), commencing with the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

The fee is established in Assembly Bill 29 by Bob Blumenfield (D-Van Nuys), which was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on July 7, 2011 (as ABX1 29).

Not a “firefighting fee”The bill is very clear about the fee’s intended purpose. The moneys collected will create an “SRA Fire Prevention Fund”, which will be used for specified “fire prevention” activities that will benefit the owners within the SRA who are required to pay the fee. The bill does not earmark any portion of the fee for firefighting services.

Examples of specified fire prevention activities include grants to municipalities to fund public education programs in the SRA, grants to qualified conservation groups and nonprofit organizations for fire prevention projects in the SRA such as brush clearance, and CalFire services in the SRA such as defensible space compliance inspections and fire severity and fire hazard mapping.

The law is being challenged by opponents who see it as diverting CalFire’s funding to fire prevention and away from the department’s critical firefighting budget. Republican lawmakers and local fire officials are contesting the law, some calling the fee a double tax on SRA property owners already taxed for fire protection services, and are seeking its repeal. The Governor, in his signing letter, has already called for the language to be revised to ensure that revenues projected from the fee are realized.

State Modifies SRA Fire Prevention Fee

On August 22, 2011, pursuant to Assembly Bill X1 29 as recently signed by Governor Brown, the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (“Board”) adopted an emergency regulation modifying the new Fire Prevention Benefit Fee (“Benefit Fee”) to be imposed annually on property owners in wildland areas where the state has responsibility for providing fire protection.

According to the emergency regulation, the Benefit Fee will not exceed one hundred fifty dollars ($150.00) per dwelling in the State Responsibility Area (“SRA”). The fee for each “permanent habitable structure” will be capped at $90.00 where SRA zones are classified as High or Very High Fire Hazard Severity, and reduced to $70.00 outside of those high hazard zones.

In the regulation, a “dwelling” is defined as a building that contains one or two dwelling units. For parcels containing three or more dwelling units, the annual Benefit Fee is as noted above for the first unit, and $25.00 for each additional unit. Such “multi-dwelling parcels” include, but are not limited to, condominium complexes, apartment buildings, and mobile home parks.

In addition, the Board’s regulation provides three exemptions that can reduce the annual fee by as much as $65.00 per dwelling. The exemptions are available to property owners (a) who already pay a local fire protection fee that supports a local fire prevention program, (b) who comply with certified fire-safe landscaping and building practices, and (c) where the parcel is in a county jurisdiction having a General Plan Safety Element and regulations that support fire safety. Habitable structures below a minimum value of $5,000 are exempt from the fee entirely.

Approximately 850,000 property owners, in 56 of the State’s 58 counties, will be affected by the new fee. The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (“CalFire”) will determine which buildings on parcels in the SRA are subject to the annual fee and then notify the Board of Equalization, which will calculate and levy the fee. A property owner who believes the Benefit Fee is assessed in error may request a review by mailing the request simply to the Board’s Sacramento office, according to the new regulation.

The Board’s emergency regulation is temporary (valid up to 180 days) and is subject to change. To view the text of the regulation, visit the Board’s website here

Source: First American Title Company


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