Since its controversial implementation in 2011, the California Fire Fee has remained a focal point of resistance for mountain areas and wildland interface communities throughout the state.
The recent, successful vote to extend Cap and Trade legislation included a deal to suspend the fire fee, allegedly in exchange for yes votes to extend the groundbreaking climate change-driven Cap and Trade legislation.
The controversial fee required homeowners living in rural and some suburban communities to pay an annual wildfire prevention fee (currently $117 per year) to help off-set costs associated with defending against wildland fires. California has collected more than $475 million dollars in additional revenue since the fee was implemented in 2011.
Those who opposed the fee, including many who make their homes in local mountain communities, decried the fee as double taxation because property taxes in many California communities were already apportioned to fire agencies, and the annual fire fee was imposed on homeowners in addition to that.
If the Cap and Trade extension legislation is signed into law by the Governor as anticipated, the fire fee suspension agreement is only temporary and will expire in 2030 with the Cap and Trade extension that made the fire fee suspension possible.
When the fire fee was initially implemented, California faced a $25 billion budget shortfall. Legislators claimed the fee was warranted to close the gap that was in part driven by the cost of fighting wildfires. Those directly impacted by the fees included property owners within the state’s 31 million-acre State Responsibility Area, including nearly 96,000 property owners in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.
In recent years, according to fire officials, proceeds from the fee have primarily been used for fire prevention and other firefighting-related tasks. As a result, suspension of the fee should not disrupt fire prevention efforts.
Suspension of the fee is viewed as a win for those who fought tirelessly for its repeal. Still others are concerned the money saved may only be gobbled up by higher prices at the gas pump that could result from the extension of Cap and Trade.
In the meantime, one California Senator, Ted Gaines, El Dorado Hills, has introduced Senate Bill 9 that calls for the total and permanent elimination of the fire fee.