Cal Fire SRA Fee

Cal Fire SRA Fee Draws Fire  082411

Cal Fire, the Agency Formerly Known As California Division of Forestry, has been granted a new way to tap our wallets.  The fee, signed into law by Jerry Brown, amends Title 14 to apply a fee to every dwelling and habitable building on land in “State Responsibility Areas”.   These areas include most lands not covered by city limits or Forest Service lands.  Do you live in a SRA?  Probably, but to be certain, go HERE  .

“Habitable Structure”, for purposes of implementation of Sections 4210-4228 of the Public Resources Code, is a permanent dwelling, and includes mobile homes and manufactured homes.

The fee of $150.00 per dwelling is considered by most to be a tax, and as such, it must go before the voters and be approved by a 2/3 vote.  The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has promised to sue, saying the fee is an illegal tax.  

Senator Ted Gaines has also put forward a referendum, 11-0024, and is giving supporters a chance to sign a petition to repeal the SRA tax.  Go HERE to download a copy of this referendum, print it and show it to your friends, if you like.

Determinations of eligible habitable structures within State Responsibility Areas shall be completed statewide for the Department by its “Designated Fee Administrator” pursuant to Public Resources Code Section 4210 and 14 CCR §§ 1665.1-1665.8.

The Board of Equalization will collect the fee; likely a list will be generated based on county registers, and those parcels will be taxed.  If someone feels the building identified is not a dwelling, they can request a review.

Any property owner who has reason to believe that the imposition of the Benefit Fee on a permanent habitable structure on a parcel is in error may request a review by the Designated Fee Administrator.

Sierra County Assessor Laura Marshall told the Prospect that the County was not going to collect the fee this year, which means the BOE might collect it directly.  It’s likely the burden will be placed on Counties in the future.  Ms. Marshall said the County has no list of which parcels qualify and which don’t, and declines to use staff to assemble one at this time.  Still, if the State sends the order to collect, the counties will collect.  It is estimated that over 800,000 parcels in the state are effected; a glance at the map shows most parcels in Sierra County are effected, though portions of the Valley are not.  

The Assessor also provided the Prospect with information which indicates that a new fee schedule is being proposed which will charge $90 per parcel, or even less.

The fee is broken down like this:
(1) The portion of the Benefit Fee for administration of the Benefit Fee collection program by the Board of Equalization, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and Board of Forestry and Fire Protection shall be fifteen dollars ($15.00).
(2) The portion of the Benefit Fee to support inspections conducted by the Department or its duly authorized agent, pursuant to PRC §4119, shall be ten dollars ($10.00).
(3) The portion of the Benefit Fee to support Fire Hazard Severity Zone mapping by the Department in State Responsibility Areas shall be five dollars ($5.00).
(4) The portion of the Benefit Fee to support the Department’s Pre-fire Engineering program shall be fifteen dollars ($15.00).
(5) The portion of the Benefit Fee assessed for a habitable structure located on a parcel in an area designated by the Department as a High or Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone shall be twenty dollars ($20.00).
(6) The portion of the Benefit Fee to support the grant program shall be twenty-five dollars ($25.00).
(7) For parcels containing three or more dwelling units, the fee shall be based on 14 CCR § 1665.6(b), items 1-6 for the first unit, and twenty-five dollars ($25.00) for each additional unit.

The law also allows some reductions:
(a) Property owners may receive a reduction of ten dollars ($10.00) if the county in which the property is located has adopted the following:
(1) “Fire Safe Regulations” certified by the Board or the Board’s “Fire Safe Regulations” pursuant to 14 CCR § 1270, et seq.
(2) A “Safety Element” in the County General Plan that has been certified by the Board, pursuant to Public Resources Code § 4128.4.
(b) Property owners required to pay a local fire protection fee, that supports a local fire prevention program, may receive a reduction of forty-five dollars ($45.00).
(c) Property owners whose habitable structures have been inspected by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and who have received a current notice of compliance with Public Resources Code Sections 4291, and 14 CCR § 1299, may receive a reduction of ten dollars ($10.00). For the purposes of this section, a current notice of compliance means one that is four (4) years old or less.

The new funds, upwards of $50 million, weren’t originally intended to fight fires; now a portion of the fee will go for fire-fighting.  Part of the money will go to grants for hazard fuel reduction and community fire plans, so it is possible a small amount might work its way back to the local Fire Safe and Watershed Council.  

In much of Sierra County, Cal Fire has an agreement with the Forest Service for fire suppression services.

Fringe Editorial Opinion:
All in all, Cal Fire and the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection are taking money we can’t afford at a time when we need it, and spending it somewhere for something.  It’s the old way government did business, but those ways are going to have to change.
On the other hand, the theme of “let the users pay” resonates well with the voters.  Very few of them, mostly urban dwellers, will understand that all of California benefits from the clean air and water of the “State Responsibility Areas” and all California needs to help pay to remove hazard fuels and restore watersheds.  If Gaines’ measure makes it to the voters, no one knows how they’ll react.
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