Six bills have now been introduced in the California legislature concerning the recently-implemented Fire Prevention Fees. As you may know, these fees are chargeable to each “habitable structure” located within a State Responsibility Area (or “SRA”), where the State government is primarily responsible for prevention and suppression of wildfires. Wildfires are a particularly serious problem within SRA’s, and so the State has decided to target fire prevention programs within SRA’s, including implementation of this fee to fund those programs. The California Legislative Action Committee (CLAC) has opposed these fees from the outset, primarily based on the unequal treatment of condominium common interest developments (CIDs) – i.e., property owners must pay a fee for each condo unit, while owners of apartment buildings are only required to pay one fee per apartment building.
Three of these bills (AB 23, AB 124, and SB 17) would repeal the fire fees and all related provisions, in their entirety. One bill (SB 125) would exempt structures located within an SRA but also within a local fire district; one bill (SB 147) would exempt property owners below a specified income level; and the last bill (AB 929) proposes an insignificant phrasing change. However, none of the pending bills would alter the fees applicable to condominiums, so none of the bills resolve CLAC’s opposition to the Fire Prevention Fees.
In policy terms, the repeal bills would eliminate an entire program of funding for state fire prevention efforts for homes within SRA’s, with the apparent goal only of reducing government spending, bureaucracy, and/or taxation. As such, most of these bills are, in a nutshell, simply tax protests. If the fees and programs under this Chapter are eliminated, either taxpayers outside SRA’s (including those living in CID’s) will be forced to fund those efforts via the State’s general fund, or (more likely) the fire prevention program will be eliminated altogether. It remains CLAC’s goal to ensure that the fee is fairly assessed against condominiums and other habitable dwellings, but it is not CLAC’s primary mission to serve as a broad “anti-tax” or “anti-bureaucracy” lobby. As such, the committee’s position on these bills is “seek to amend.”
Jeffrey A. Beaumont is senior partner for the law firm Beaumont Gitlin Tashjian. Mr. Beaumont is an AV, Preeminent Rated attorney with over 12 years of experience providing general counsel and litigation services to community associations, was admitted to CCAL in 2013, and is an active member of CACM and CAI.