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State Responsibility Area "Fire Prevention Fee" Now Effective!

UPDATE #2: SRA Fire Prevention Fees Now Implemented

REGULATIONS ISSUED: On January 23, 2012, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection approved revised regulations to implement California’s State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fee (“SRA Fee”) which was enacted last year as emergency legislation when Governor Brown signed ABX1 29 on July 7, 2011 (“SRA Special Fee Law”).

The new regulations:

  • define necessary terms for the assessment of the fire prevention fees on structures located in the State Responsibility Areas (“SRA”).
  • set the fee amount at one-hundred-fifty dollars ($150) per habitable structure on all property owners within the SRA as defined in Public Resources Code (PRC) Section 4102 and pursuant to PRC Sections 4125-4128.
  • allow a fee reduction of thirty-five dollars ($35) per habitable structure for structures located in both the SRA and a local fire protection district.
  • specify an appeal process that property owners may use to challenge assessed fee.
  • list the fire prevention activities for which the fee revenues may be used.

AFFECTED LANDS & COLLECTION: The SRA Fee will affect over 1.1 million parcels of land and over 800,000 structures (residential and commercial) within the SRA. The SRA Fee is an annual fee. Note: The SRA Fee will not appear on real property tax bills but rather will be assessed through a separate process implemented using a “Designated Fee Administrator.”

Continuing Controversy

Since passage of SRA Special Fee Law, the special fee has been highly controversial. Opponents assert that the first attempts to collect the SRA fee could trigger lawsuits. Fire agencies warn that existing communities within the SRA jurisdiction may seek to be annexed by local agencies to avoid paying the fee, thus reducing the land area under SRA oversight and, of course, the revenues that the SRA fee is expected to generate.

On January 12, 2012, a bill to repeal the fire prevention fees was introduced (Assembly Bill 1506) by Assembly Members Kevin Jeffries (R-Lake Elsinore) and Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley). The bill was coauthored by nearly two dozen other legislators in the California Assembly and Senate and is currently pending in the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources.

Although a $35 fee reduction is allowed for structures in both the SRA and a local fire jurisdiction, the law’s opponents regard any remaining part of the fee to be a double tax. “Homeowners in SRAs oftentimes pay for fire protection through local fire districts”, notes Assembly Member Cook. “For these owners, the state fire tax will result in a double taxation, because they will pay twice for the same service.”

To view the text of the approverd regulation, visit the Board’s website here.

NOTE TO READER #2: The information below is based on the original emergency regulation adopted on August 22, 2011, by the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, and now superseded by the revised emergency regulation approved by the Board on January 11, 2012, as explained above. Refer to the article above for updated information.


UPDATE #1: State Modifies SRA Fire Prevention Fee

On August 22, 2011, pursuant to Assembly Bill X1 29 as recently signed by Governor Brown, the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (“Board”) adopted an emergency regulation modifying the new Fire Prevention Benefit Fee (“Benefit Fee”) to be imposed annually on property owners in wildland areas where the state has responsibility for providing fire protection.

According to the emergency regulation, the Benefit Fee will not exceed one hundred fifty dollars ($150.00) per dwelling in the State Responsibility Area (“SRA”). The fee for each “permanent habitable structure” will be capped at $90.00 where SRA zones are classified as High or Very High Fire Hazard Severity, and reduced to $70.00 outside of those high hazard zones.

In the regulation, a “dwelling” is defined as a building that contains one or two dwelling units. For parcels containing three or more dwelling units, the annual Benefit Fee is as noted above for the first unit, and $25.00 for each additional unit. Such “multi-dwelling parcels” include, but are not limited to, condominium complexes, apartment buildings, and mobile home parks.

In addition, the Board’s regulation provides three exemptions that can reduce the annual fee by as much as $65.00 per dwelling. The exemptions are available to property owners (a) who already pay a local fire protection fee that supports a local fire prevention program, (b) who comply with certified fire-safe landscaping and building practices, and (c) where the parcel is in a county jurisdiction having a General Plan Safety Element and regulations that support fire safety. Habitable structures below a minimum value of $5,000 are exempt from the fee entirely.

Approximately 850,000 property owners, in 56 of the State’s 58 counties, will be affected by the new fee. The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (“CalFire”) will determine which buildings on parcels in the SRA are subject to the annual fee and then notify the Board of Equalization, which will calculate and levy the fee. A property owner who believes the Benefit Fee is assessed in error may request a review by mailing the request simply to the Board’s Sacramento office, according to the new regulation.

The Board’s emergency regulation is temporary (valid up to 180 days) and is subject to change. To view the text of the regulation, visit the Board’s website here.

NOTE TO READER #1: The information below is based on the text of Assembly Bill X1 29 as signed by Governor Brown on July 7, 2011. It has been superseded in part by an emergency regulation adopted on August 22, 2011, by the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. Refer to the article above for updated information.

New State Levy for Wildland Area Property Owners

The State of California will collect an annual “fire prevention fee” from property owners in wildland areas where the state has responsibility for providing fire protection. A fee of one hundred fifty dollars ($150) will be charged on each structure intended for human habitation in this State Responsibility Area (“SRA”), commencing with the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

The fee is established in Assembly Bill 29 by Bob Blumenfield (D-Van Nuys), which was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on July 7, 2011 (as ABX1 29).

The $150 fire prevention fee is not a “per parcel” charge, but is to be levied on each habitable structure on the parcel. For example, a parcel containing one habitable structure would be charged $150, while a parcel with three habitable structures would be charged three times that amount, or $450 each year.

Approximately 850,000 property owners will be affected by the new fee, which affects 56 of the State’s 58 counties. The Board of Equalization will collect the fee from property owners identified in the SRA by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (“CalFire”).

Not a “firefighting fee”

The bill is very clear about the fee’s intended purpose. The moneys collected will create an “SRA Fire Prevention Fund”, which will be used for specified “fire prevention” activities that will benefit the owners within the SRA who are required to pay the fee. The bill does not earmark any portion of the fee for firefighting services.

Examples of specified fire prevention activities include grants to municipalities to fund public education programs in the SRA, grants to qualified conservation groups and nonprofit organizations for fire prevention projects in the SRA such as brush clearance, and CalFire services in the SRA such as defensible space compliance inspections and fire severity and fire hazard mapping.

The law is being challenged by opponents who see it as diverting CalFire’s funding to fire prevention and away from the department’s critical firefighting budget. Republican lawmakers and local fire officials are contesting the law, some calling the fee a double tax on SRA property owners already taxed for fire protection services, and are seeking its repeal. The Governor, in his signing letter, has already called for the language to be revised to ensure that revenues projected from the fee are realized.

JCP-LGS already discloses when a property is within the SRA. With this new levy, our report now also includes a special “State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fee Disclosure”.

The new disclosure is in the Tax Report section of JCP-LGS's combined report packages. It explicitly notifies the buyer whether the property is subject to the annual $150 fire prevention fee per habitable structure as determined by the State, and clearly explains the fire prevention fee.