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.