Cal Fire Bills Residents for Fire Prevention

Oct. 23, 2013
The money helps Cal Fire's fire prevention and firefighting costs.

Oct. 23--SCOTTS VALLEY -- Bills for the state's annual fire prevention fees were mailed to rural Santa Cruz County residents last week, and some residents continue to protest them.

The fee helps pay for Cal Fire's firefighting and fire prevention services.

Homeowners who live in areas only covered by Cal Fire are billed $150. Homeowners who live in areas covered by Cal Fire and another fire protection agency -- which is about 95 percent of those billed in the state -- are on the hook for $115.

Santa Cruz County residents who received the bills live in areas such as Aptos, Soquel, Ben Lomond and Felton. The fee started when the state Legislature and governor adopted Assembly Bill X1 29 in July 2011.

That year, a class action lawsuit filed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association contended that the collection is a tax, not a fee. A second amended complaint was filed this summer, but the case has not been resolved.

Tuesday, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said the agency will continue to bill residents.

"We're still obligated by the Legislature to move forward with collecting the second round of fees," Berlant said.

Residents who do not pay could be fined or forced to pay late fees by the California Board of Equalization, he said.

In both rounds of the fire protection fee, some Santa Cruz County residents received bills for $150 when they should have received bills for $115 because they are also covered by another fire agency.

Berlant said those complaints can be resolved by calling 888-310-6447.

Russell Gross of Ben Lomond received the bill in 2012 and was one of many who filed a "petition for redetermination" against it.

"I support the Ben Lomond Fire Department wholeheartedly," Gross said in late 2012. "They want to call it a fee, it's a property tax. We're supposed to have the right to vote on it."

Residents who protested the fee because they believe it was a tax and not a fee have been denied those claims, Berlant said. Even if residents protest the fee based on that belief, they are still advised to pay it, he said.

The money helped pay for the 5,800 fires that Cal Fire battled in the state in 2012, as well as brush clearing and other fire prevention efforts.

The billing sequence is alphabetical by each county in the state and started in July. Santa Cruz County residents' bills were mailed Oct. 10 to 15.

Follow Sentinel reporter Stephen Baxter at

Copyright 2013 - Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.

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