Fire Fees Suspended for Hundreds of Thousands in California

by Placerville Newswire / Jul 19, 2017 / comments

[Mike Luery, KCRA Sacramento]

A controversial fire fee on homeowners has gone up in smoke – at least for now -- under the climate change deal approved by the California Legislature Monday night.

The deal provides relief to more than 730,000 property owners living in rural and suburban areas of the state. Typically, they paid about $117 a year in wildfire prevention fees. Homeowners in those areas have collectively paid about $479 million in fire fees since the program first began in 2011.

But, many have been fighting the fees for years, calling them double taxation.

“We are already paying Cal Fire for fire protection and it covers the entire district,” Cameron Park homeowner Steven Long said.

Long is in the fire-fee zone, even though some of his Cameron Park neighbors are not, because of the way the maps are drawn.

Those fees will be suspended if Gov. Jerry Brown signs Assembly Bill 398, the Global Warming Solutions Act as he is expected to do later this week.

“I appreciate that it's being suspended,” Long said. “I still think it should be repealed."

As for saving $117, Long said, “It's better than nothing, but suspension means it could come back in 10 years.”

The deal removing fire fees expires in 2030 and that’s why Sen. Ted Gaines, from El Dorado Hills, is pushing to eliminate the fire fees once and for all under Senate Bill 9.

“It could come back,” Gaines said. “It's always used as a card in negotiations. The governor doesn't give anything away.”

Doug Rischbieter is also fighting the fire fees that he’s been paying on his rural property in Calaveras County. He’s filed a lawsuit against Cal Fire over the more than $400 million in fire fees, demanding that the money be returned to homeowners.

“We pay taxes to our local fire district and sooner or later there's got to be a place where you draw the line,” Rischbieter said. “This tax is redundant. It was passed illegally.”

Cal Fire is being defended in the lawsuit by the attorney general’s office. Cal Fire insists the fire fees are legal and that the issue will be resolved in court.