Calif. Adopts New State Fire Fee Regulations

Jan. 17--SACRAMENTO -- Revised regulations for a new state fire fee should lessen the burden on rural apartment owners, though local elected officials are pushing to prevent the "illegal tax" from charging anybody.

The California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection approved a third set of emergency regulations last week on a fire fee signed into law in July.

The $150 fee is set to charge owners of inhabitable structures on wildlands in State Responsibility Areas, which includes about 66,000 property owners in San Bernardino County and 800,000 statewide. The fee applies to some who own structures within Phelan, Pinon Hills, Wrightwood, Oak Hills, Lucerne Valley and parts of Apple Valley near the mountains. It affects roughly 2,200 properties in the Apple Valley area alone, according to figures from local fire officials.

Under the revised rules, the fee will be charged based on assessor parcel numbers, which means an apartment building would pay just one fee. The fire fee does not apply to uninhabitable structures such as garages and sheds.

Gov. Jerry Brown supported the fee, which could raise as much as $100 million, for requiring rural homeowners to pay their share of wildfire prevention costs.

But GOP lawmakers and Victor Valley elected officials continue to blast the fee as an unconstitutional tax that should have required a two-thirds vote for approval. They argue the fee would unfairly charge rural residents twice for fire protection because many of them already support local districts, such as those paying into the Apple Valley Fire Protection District.

In August, the San B e r n a rd i n o C o u n ty Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution calling for the state to rescind the fire fee.

In November, the forestry board approved a $ 3 5 d i s co u n t fo r structures in local fire districts.

" I t s t i l l d o e s n' t change the fact that the tax is illicit," 3rd District Supervisor Neil Derry said. "We're going to challenge it, and we're going to get it repealed."

The county is joining the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association in planning to sue the state once it begins billing property owners, which could be within the next couple months.

Natasha Lindstrom may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at