Thursday, October 11, 2012
A Fresh Crock of Shit Brought to You by the California Legislature.
Today's mail brought me a bill and a bit of a shock. It was not an ordinary bill but it was a bill for services to be rendered in the future by the Department of Forestry to protect its lands and lands owned by the State of California from the ravages of wild fires. The Legislature in its wisdom has created a fund called the State Responsibility Fire Area Prevention Fund (SRFAP) this fund is fed by this new fee which is called the Fire Prevention Fee (FPF).
It is an annual fee in an amount not to exceed $150. This year the FPF is $115 with a credit of $35 showing on the invoice. There is no explanation of the whys and wherefores of either this credit or what these future services are going to be. It just tells me that it is being levied “on behalf of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). It is to be collected annually by the State Board of Equalization. I have thirty days to pay this fee or I will be charged interest in the amount 0.5% per month which works out to 6% per year. The authority to levy this fee is contained in the California Public Resources Code (PRC). Under the PRC sections that authorize and discuss this fee and the purposes for which it may be expended I discovered that this fee isn't levied on every owner of land within the “state responsibility areas” such as The Irvine Company or any commercial development but only on the owners of 'structures which the Code defines as 'suitable for habitation.' In other other words homes. Commercial structures such as stores, restaurants and the like are exempted from this fee as are the activities of large corporate landowners.
The uses to which this money are put is most interesting. First of all I find out that this isn't a fee for fire suppression or fighting wild fires. It is for educational purposes such as for education about defensive perimeters around our homes, spark arresters on our chimneys, brush clearance and the like. It is to protect areas that are open space such as the lands of The Irvine Company. It excludes lands that do not have habitable dwellings on them, such as restaurants, wineries, wedding chapels, gun ranges, horse stables and the like. It ignores real causes of fires such as illegal campfires in the National Forest, wayward cigarette butts disposed of carelessly by people addicted to tobacco, sparks from recreational vehicles taken up into the national forests in California and the like. Not one dime of the funds collected is going to be used for fire suppression or for fire fighting, not one dime! Fire Prevention programs in my community are undertaken and funded by the Orange County Fire Authority and by our own citizens who belong to our beloved volunteer fire departments. These currently non-existent programs to be undertaken by Cal Fire would be a duplication of those efforts that have been ongoing for the forty years I have lived here. The idea is that our homes will benefit from this duplication and the underlying assumption is that our homes cause these fires even though in my particular community there has never been a fire in the SRAs that has had a genesis in buildings 'suitable for human habitation.' The last fire in this area that affected SRAs was sourced from a home (which was not inhabited but rather was under construction) in the summer of 1975 and was caused by an errant workman on the construction site. There have been however fires originating in SRAs and in the National Forest that impacted our canyon homes. Such as the fire of October 2007 that caused the evacuation of our homes for almost three weeks, not the other way around. We are not the cause of the problem and we should not be made to pay for duplicative programs to protect our homes from fires originating elsewhere.
This is simply another idea whose time will never come designed to take matters out of the annual state budget so that the Legislature doesn't have to bite the bullet and raise taxes to cover its favored line items in the budget. It is part of the mantra in the politics of our times that if you call it a fee it isn't a tax. That, dear readers, is simply horse feathers.