Home / American West / California Rural Homeowners to Pay Fire Tax

California Rural Homeowners to Pay Fire Tax


In a rare piece of sensible legislation coming out of California, rural homeowners who rely on state firefighters for basic fire services will have to pay a $150 annual fee.

This makes a tremendous amount of sense, even if California was not suffering through its never-ending fiscal meltdown. Recent years have seen an explosion of home-building in the exurban West. Retirees deciding to spend their final years in the golf courses and beautiful views of the east side of the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico and second-homeowners building megamansions in the Rockies have strained firefighting services. Many of these people are oblivious to the fire risks of the places they build. Dryland forests are meant to burn frequently at low temperatures, but a century of fire suppression combined with climate change have turned these forests into kindling for mega-fires.

On top of that, these new residents by and large avoid the kind of community-building exercises that have made the region function. These places largely operate on volunteer fire departments. As long-time residents are forced out by rising property taxes or offers for their land that are too good to refuse, no one is filling these positions, forcing the state to take over.

It’s not just fire services to exurban wealthy developments that are straining state resources, it’s also medical services. As these residents age (and their average age is already quite high), long ambulance trips out to the mountains will both cost a lot in gas and wages, but will tie up precious resources needed to respond to urban residents.

California has it even worse because there is so much development happening there in a state defined by fire, particularly in the mountains above Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Bay Area. This is a growing crisis throughout the West and it’s about time that legislatures begin forcing these, again by and large wealthy, residents to pay something for the services they demand.

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  • firefall

    It’s an outrage! it will spark (ha) a tax revolt! Again!

    *sigh* it seems like very small beer, compared to what’s needed, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

    • NonyNony

      Once it survives the inevitable court challenge I hope the outraged liberty-minded tax revolters realize they have two choices:

      1) pay the state to provide fire protection

      2) start and fund your own goddamn fire department and stop whining to the state to do it for you

      Either of those are acceptable solutions. Wanting free fire service and not being willing to find some way to pay for it is not an acceptable solution.

      Hopefully California laws aren’t so stupid that the courts strike it down.

      • Hogan

        Wanting free fire service and not being willing to find some way to pay for it is not an acceptable solution what Real Americans do.


        • firefall

          My thought exactly – thats what made the OC great, after all

      • Richard

        The court challenge is whether it is a tax or not. If it is a tax, then a 2/3 vote of the legislature was required which was not obtained. If it is not a tax, then only a majority vote was required which, of course, was obtained. Not familiar enough with California tax law precedent to have a clue as to whether a challenge to the law will prevail.

        • Tyto

          Very generally, the distinction between a tax and a regulatory fee can turn on several interrelated factors, including (1) whether the program is entirely supported by the funds; (2) whether the funds represent payment in return for specific services; (3) whether the fees will have a regulatory deterrent effect; (4) the compulsory nature of the payment under any circumstances, versus some ability to avoid payment by making different choices; (5) relationship between the fees and the adverse effects of the payees; (6) exemption for those who can demonstrate they create no quantifiable risk. Here, the state likely has a good case for a regulatory fee.

        • Anonymous

          oh it is a tax just paid it the return envelope the sent me to send in their tax money is as follows

          special taxes remittance processing
          state board of equalization
          po box 942879
          sacramento ca 94279-0001

          funny i dont even own the property anymore. hope the state gets sued for every home they fail to protect in the event of a wildfire. john

      • Gerry

        Actually, we have our own goddamm fire department that we pay into at the rate of $300/year. Now we have to pay the state another $150, only with this tax there is nothing, nothing that the state will be doing. No vegetation removal, no new equipment, no new firefighters, no training, nothing. Why should we pony up another $150 when we are already paying our own way, particularly when we have been told that we won’t receive any new services???

        • Bob

          of course they are grabbing any money they can to give to illegals for free services,, plain and simple

      • Anonymous

        The fact is in camanche we do already pay a fee for our volenteer fire department!Now they want another 115.00 on top of that.You should see the new fire department we have paid for.So check your facts before you say things.It is not right to send a bill with no warning for 115.00 dollares due in 20 days for last year.Just because i live in the hills it doesnt mean i have extra money laying around.We are struggling just like everyone eles.

      • Anonymous

        actually we already pay for it nimrod, we pay for it with state and local taxes, and in many areas fire protection fees are already in place, thats not counting locally funded fire departments of which there are many….they are charging a fee for something we have been paying for as evidenced by the fact it exists…this isnt for an increase in anything this is for services that we have been paying for thats how we HAVE IT. are you that dense that you would be charged for something twice and say thank you? I own a bridge that may interest you. Suppose you would also support charging hurricane fees in the south, Fema needs more money to waste….. tornadoes in the midwest….. charge em. Hell, 68 billion on a rail train system no problem, lets just find a bunch of bull$#*t we can impose fees on and KEEP ON SPENDIN…..

      • Anonymous

        said like a true sheep, politicians acting like teenagers maxing out dads gold card and passing on the bill for something we already pay for…… oh ya, makes perfect sense….

      • Anonymous

        I pay for the Los Angeles County Fire Distric. The State fee is double. There are no state fire services in the Santa Monica Mountains and they DON’T DO 911.

        So stuff your tax which goes into the State General Fund where it will pay for inflated State benefits and be squanderd away by the re-elected scum!

      • wen

        the tax is not for fire services its for fire prevention services i.e. flyers, information and grant services…ect. i pay a fire department special tax already to our local fire station that that includes fire services and fire prevention and the department has since contracted with the state of california. it is now a cal fire station yet i still pay that tax of 400.00 a year and it increases every year via the consumer price index. they want an extra 115.00 they are calling this a fee and not a tax yet the denial of petition i received stats Revenue owed with interest as well. revenue when collected by the state is a tax and not a fee if not paid by 2-7-13 it will incur a 20% increase every 30 days … I’m sorry but this is extortion. this never went to the people for a vote, it has just been mandated and that makes it un constitutional.

      • Bob

        theres money for firefighting in california already,, I didn’t want any more taxes, so if you have to cut services,, or administrators,, go ahead.

    • GAM

      I think FIRST the State should manage OUR money responsibly and there would be enough funds to cover these type of things.

    • coveloThe

      the revenues collected don’t go to fighting fires. They go to pay for slick brochures on how to keep your land free of vegetation like in the desert. And a consulting firm in Fairfield, Ca. is running the program. They get about $3,000,000 each year to “consult.” The local volunteer fire department is now out this money of $l50.00 I use to give to them to actually help them operate to fight fires. The total take each year to the State Franchise Tax Board (fee) is about $l50,000,000. Now that is a lot of money to print up some brochures.

  • Richard

    I agree that the legislation is very good. I take exception to the claim that California is “defined by fire”. What does that mean? Anything other than there are a lot of fires in California?

    • That the primary shaper of the California environment is fire.

      • Richard

        I think that is quite an overstatement

        • joel hanes

          Most ecologists I have read are solidly with Erik on this one.

          • Richard

            My feeling is that anybody who is not an “ecologist”, such as lifelong California residents like myself, see the statement as a gross exaggeration (unless “primary shaper” means something different than what the ordinary dictionary definition would be.)

            • Environmental historians have said the same thing about California. If this doesn’t make sense, what else would? Aridity perhaps, but aridity and fire are obviously intertwined, as is water.

              • Richard

                OK, explain it to me slow. Why is fire the “primary shaper” of the California environment rather than the forests, the proximity to the ocean, the basin that is Los Angeles, the SF Bay, the immigration patterns, etc. I’m no academic (and certainly not an environmental historian) but it seems to me that the environment of California has been shaped by a number of things which includes fire but that there is no “primary” shaper of the environment and that, if I had to choose the most prominent shaper, fire would not be it.

                • DrDick

                  California, like much of the American west has what is known as a fire ecololgy (we have that here in Montana as well). Many species require burning to germinate and the distribution and density of species on the landscape is largely determined by fire. These are ecologies which also become unhealthy if not burned regularly (parasites mount, overcrowding occurs, etc.). Many people in the West do not see this because the federal and state governments have aggressively suppressed fire for a century or more. Policies have now changed to permit and even selectively encourage burning in these areas. In part, this is because fire suppression produces conditions which create larger, more destructive fire (which is what has been happening in California and elsewhere in the West in recent years).

            • If there’s one thing I come to LGM for, it’s their steadfast allegiance to leveling off our conceptual schemes at the level of “ordinary dictionary definitions.”

              Down with academicistical re-thinking of the common sense intuitions of life long California residents!

              • Richard

                My initial problem was the statement that California is “defined by fire” which seemed nonsensical. I actually think California is defined by the beaches, Hollywood, Disneyland and the little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars.

                • MightyBigCar

                  Yep, that certainly defines my part of California. I just can’t see the beaches, Hollywood, Disneyland and little cable cars for all these freaking big ass fire adapted trees that are cluttering up the fire adapted ecosystem here. I tried hiking a couple of ridges over, but all you can see there is a different fire adapted ecosystem of knobcone pine and manzanita. And in between there’s all this stupid invasive and extremely combustible eucalyptus and scotch broom.

                • Your comment to which I was responding, which including putting “ecologist” in quotes in a way that was ambiguous between citation and scare quotes, came after Erik had clarified “environment,” so this bit here about cultural landmarks is offbase.

                  I’ll wait to hear what Erik has to say, but if you put “environment” together with the post’s concerns with development “particularly in the mountains above Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Bay Area” then I’d certainly sign on to fire as “an essential part of the ecosystem.”

                  I’ll admit that eco-systems have multiple ways into them, and from a “fire ecology” standpoint fire is certain more than defensible as the primary shaper of the environment: the forests, the slopes of the hills, the erosion patterns of those hills, etc. can all be seen as primarily shaped by fire.

                  But the bigger point is that LGM is an academic blog. Ever since Socrates, academics have tried to disrupt common sense dictionary definitions in order to get us to see beneath them to see previously unseen connections, which can reveal critical points for intervention and modulation of systems.

                  So as an academic I tend to snark when I see common sense and dictionary definitions deployed as a means of commentary. If you had said, “hey, what’s this ‘fire ecology’ business, sounds fascinating and provocative, it doesn’t fit with my common sense intuitions, maybe I’ll learn something, so let me ask Erik what’s up” then I wouldn’t have snarked.

                • It depends on what your definition of “definition” is.

              • Richard

                “So as an academic I tend to snark when I see common sense and dictionary definitions deployed as a means of commentary.”

                I don’t mind snark. If Erik had said the fire was an important part of the ecosystem, I wouldn’t have a problem But first he said that fire deines California and then that fire is the primary shaper of the California environment. The latter is inaccurate (IMHO), the former is meaningless. When I call him on that, I’m not attacking academia (and in any case, Erik’s academic credential are neither in ecology or biological scienses)

                • The larger point is about what one does when one comes upon a claim from an interlocutor one respects that one finds at first glance to be “exaggerated” or “meaningless.” A generous, open, inquiring mind does not turn to the dictionary but asks open-ended questions, because the person possessing such a mind *wants* to learn new ways of thinking, not measure new claims about what one already knows. It’s all about being open to challenging your common sense first reactions.

        • Stag Party Palin

          As a native, long time resident, and environmentalist, I think the statement is true as long as it applies to the environment outside of recent human constructs such as cities and farms. That doesn’t leave much any more. But, in what used to be and what still is ‘natural’ the ecosystem is not just shaped by fire, it depends on fire. Many native seeds do not sprout unless burned, and many native plants seem to be as flammable as an oil refinery. Native peoples used fire as a tool for farming and, perhaps less obviously, tool and implement making. For instance, redbud branches were used in basket making, but only fresh branches would do, so the natives burned the redbud to stimulate fresh growth.

          So, if you have to pick a prime factor in shaping the state, fire is right up there. Today, not so much. Today I’d put population and water at the top. Soon it might be earthquakes.

          • DocAmazing

            Cf. Ecology of Fear, Mike Davis

  • MightyBigCar

    As long-time residents are forced out by rising property taxes

    Um, Prop 19 basically ensures that in California long time residents pay trivial amounts of property tax, and newer residents wind up bearing a disproportionate share of the property tax burden. If you can call it a burden – my property taxes on a recently purchased place in the mountains above the Bay Area are far lower than similar properties have been elsewhere in the nation, and are well within my ability to pay. Of course, along with that lower tax comes a lesser infrastructure than I’ve received elsewhere: unmaintained roads, no public water, park closings, poorer schools, closed libraries, and all those other benefits that come along with drowning your government in a bathtub.

    Anyway, if $150 per year means that when the redwoods finally go up in flames (and they will, it’s just a matter of when) Cal Fire will be able to send the DC-10 tanker in and bomb my yurt with bright orange retardant, then I’m all for it.

    • Larkspur

      I agree. Plenty of rural homeowners would welcome a $150 fee if it supports continued services. Hell, $150 is a bargain. The people I know who might be affected by this would be happy to know there’s an actual mechanism or program for charging them. They want to write a check.

  • What happens if, as in that small town in the South, you don’t pay?

    Will your house burn down while the fire fighters watch? Will that fire then spark and spread into another wildfire?

    • I don’t think this is optional like that situation in the South was. Refusal to pay would be akin to refusal to pay taxes and dealt with in that way. But people in the West are too knowledgeable about fire to let a house burn in open country.

  • That would be great if CalFire hadn’t just announced they were cutting engine staffing from four to three. California “officials” say that will not impact effectiveness but that is an absolute, bald-faced, lie. A three-person engine company is of very limited effectiveness; that has been shown in many studies.

    • firefall

      wow. Thats just such a terrible idea – from memory, back in the 90s several (non-US) studies suggested that cutting appliance manning from 4 to 3 delivered roughly 50% less effectiveness (and IIRC upping to 5 man delivered more than 25% more effectiveness too, but that was politically a nonstarter).

      • Studies within the US have found about the same result.

        Penny wise, pound foolish.

        • NonyNony

          Penny wise, pound foolish.

          This should actually be our new national motto.

          • Hogan

            False Economies ‘R’ Us.

          • Bill Murray

            or pay Wal*Mart prices get a Wal*Mart death spiral

          • dave

            Still Brits at heart, I’m glad to see.

        • bph

          Well, once they have to cut the budget again this fall, it will presumably go down to 2.

          This is going to be fun, fun year.

  • Holden Pattern

    And you’re blaming CalFire for that? As if they control the TeaTard lunatic superminority that strangle’s California’s revenue?

    • Holden Pattern

      So, here’s what happens — I tried to reply to firehat. I type fast, WordPress decides it’s too fast, and doesn’t post the reply. Then when I hit the “back” button on my browser and repost, WordPress decides that what I wanted to do was comment on the post, not reply to another commenter.


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    • Bob

      first of all we didn’t vote for any fricken tax period,,

      second of all we pay for our own fire services all ready,, so this is BS,,, just giving more money for the legislature to spend to get votes, and free money for the illegals ,,,

  • John Thomson

    Read the bill. This $150 is NOT a fee for fire services. The $150 will NOT go to pay a fireman. this is not for fire PROTECTION, this is a fee for “fire prevention,” as in posters and school education. This is to pay Smokey Bear, if you please. How much does Smokey make? Nothing. And what’s left over will go into the black hole of government called “Sacramento.”

    So we who live in the wildland-urban interface will get nothing for our $150 fee. And the rest of the taxpayers in the state will still have to pay for Cal-Fire. Sigh.

    • Chloe

      Finally, someone who actually read the bill and understands what words mean! We have paid for fire protection for years and years but now others need those funds for something else. A little here and a little there and whala, you’re a slave to big government!

    • joe from Lowell

      Um, no. ‘Fire prevention’ does not mean Smokey the Bear posters.

  • manolito

    I have a couple of problems with the Tax or Fee. I live in a very rural area and we have a volunteer fire department. Cal Fire is well over 40 minutes response time and they are only available if not involved in a wild lands fire.
    As stated earlier this fee does not pay firemen it is an education fee.
    Look at Cal Fire a new name for a new bloated government program. They have even started a program for armed fire marshalls having their own police force if you will.
    For those of you that think this is a good thing how about us rural people that have to continue to pay for rebuilding the areas that flood down in suburbia or the oakland hills that burned.
    Nothing but a Tax that did not get a 2/3 vote.

    • William Denham

      We grew a tree farm here folks, enough to supply all of californias needs, the wood products industry used to supply the thinning around communities generating tax revinues for local government in the process. This was before the sierra club and friends lobbied and outlawed most all commerical thinning that was occurring around some very lucky communities like mine in the mid 1990s, They lied and called it”clear cutting” and convinced people that all thinning was bad and we need to rely soly on fire to thin our overgrown tree farm density forest, The sierra club set us up for this, and now the options are,We pay more in taxes,We borrow the money from the chinese or We print up some more and pass it around.
      I think it would be great if rural sierra club members would develop a sense of resposability and pick up the tab for us under capitalised rural residents, FYI many of us rural could use that tax money to feed our families.

  • Bert

    Hypocrisy all around. Sickening amounts.

    The counties have to APPROVE all these new homes, right? Then they slap a tax on us and say they are concerned about “fire safety.” What a joke. Nevada County, California removed an ordinance in 2004 that previously banned new homes in dangerous places–a steep slope ordinance–and the new homes are just asking to fry to the ground but of course, we all have to pay THEIR fire tax. On top of this, they want to add an additional county fire tax.

    It’s all one big giant hypocrisy scam and the average person who works hard all day and is oblivious to it all gets stuck with the bill, as always.

  • Peter

    Why don’t we just let fires burn? How about people face the consequences of living in a tinderbox? I know todays sissies can’t handle the footage of charred bodies on the evening news and will demand ‘the govt’ do something. Well folks, decisions have consequences and I for one think it is high time people start discovering the consequences of their decisions instead of expecting their neighbors to bail them out.

  • Anonymous

    Absolute TRASH

  • John

    New property owners?

    I have owned my place for the past 13 years and just got this outrageous threat in the mail.

    All sorts of robotic adjectivity essentially saying: “YOU MUST PAY” “YOU HAVE NO CHOICE” “WE DEMAND YOUR CO-OPERATION!”

    This is what I get for deciding to live in the rotting gutter, swirling cesspit hellhole of a State of California.

    Absolutely disgusting. I can’t wait to vacate this filthy state.

    • Malaclypse

      MEN WITH GUNS, MOTHERFUCKER! That’s all taxes are! Fight the power! WOLVERINES!!!

      You’ll find Freedom in Somalia, brother.

  • Bill

    Someone finally picked up on the fact that the fee is not going to firefighting; it is not going to fuel reduction. It is going to support a new bureaucracy and to some very undefined ‘prevention and education’ programs.

    And the legislature is reducing funds for CalFire as if they were going to be backfilled with money from the new tax.

    I might be persuaded to support this if it were actually to go to fund CalFire, or to a meaningful fuel reduction effort, but it’s not.

    As I write this a significant fire has been burning for almost four weeks in the Feather River Canyon; more than 63,000 acres have been burned to date. And a major contributor is that dead and down trees from the last fire in the area in 2000 were never removed over ‘environmental’ concerns.

    Another bureaucracy, more feel-good programs, and so we go deeper in depth, and deeper into the pockets of the taxpayer.

  • John Thomson

    You all miss the point. The fee is for FIRE PREVENTION, aka pubic announcements, and education, like putting up Smoky Bear signs that say “Prevent forest fires.” NOTHING for fire engines, NOTHING for firemen, NOTHING for bulldozers, NOTHING for air tankers.

    But it will pay for TV ads.

    Read the law. Read the regulations. Rural homeowners will get NO additional fire protection. None. Nil. Nada. Zip. Zero.

  • ridiculocracy

    what about the logging land where most of these fires occur. for example mendocino redwood with hundreds of thousands of acres that have no extra charge because there’s no habitat. jerry browns wife has huge ties to MRC, the GAP, and the Fisher family who owns huge wilderness that burns the same. Why should i pay for a service i dont need or want?

  • Anonymous

    What many of you don’t realize is that many of the communities affected by this tax already pay to fund a local fire district. There are line items on my property tax bill that goes directly to our fire district.

    Just remember the next tax these dumbasses in Sacramento pass might just be one that hits your wallet.

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