California Fire Prevention Fee called tax, declared illegal by local legislator Jay Obernolte
Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, former mayor of Big Bear Lake, to host forum on state fire prevention fee
Republican California Assemblyman Jay Obernolte of Hesperia will host two community information forums in the San Bernardino Mountains on Saturday, June 17, to discuss what he calls an illegal state fire prevention fee. The fee sends an estimated $150 assessment bill to residents of unincorporated areas in the state.
One town hall is slated for the Big Bear Valley, the other in the Lake Arrowhead area. Obernolte will be joined by Republican State Senator Mike Morrell from Rancho Cucamonga.
Obernolte says he believes the assessment is not a fee, but a tax and that it was illegally levied on affected California residents. He asks that all residents who pay the fire tax attend to learn about the Fire Prevention Fee and hear about legislation that affects this issue.
The Big Bear City Community Information Forum will run from 9 to 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 17, at the Big Bear Area Regional Wastewater Agency, 122 Palomino Drive, Big Bear City.
The Lake Arrowhead Community Information Forum is scheduled for 1 to 2 p.m. the same day at the Lake Arrowhead Community Service District office, 27307 State Hwy. 189, Suite 104, Blue Jay, CA.
What Is the Fire Prevention Fee?
The Fire Prevention Fee is an annual fee for fire prevention services that owners of habitable structures in the State’s Responsibility Area (SRA) are required by law to pay. The SRA is the area of the state where the State of California is financially responsible for the prevention and suppression of wildfires. The SRA does not include lands within incorporated city boundaries or federally owned land.
The Fire Prevention Fee was enacted following the signing of Assembly Bill X1 29 in July 2011. The law approved the new annual Fire Prevention Fee to pay for fire prevention services within the SRA. The measure was passed by a Democratic majority in the state legislature, with Republicans opposing.
Obernolte feels that levying a “fee” with less than two-thirds approval by the Legislature does not pass muster under Proposition 13.
To exist as a “fee” and not a tax, the levy must be “A charge imposed for a specific benefit conferred or privilege granted directly to the payer that is not provided to those not charged, and which does not exceed the reasonable costs to the local government of conferring the benefit or granting the privilege.”
This fee funds a variety of fire prevention services in the SRA. Such activities include fuel reduction activities that lessen risk of wildfire to communities and evacuation routes. Other activities include defensible space inspections, fire prevention engineering, emergency evacuation planning, fire prevention education, fire hazard severity mapping, implementation of the State and local Fire Plans and fire-related law enforcement activities such as arson investigation.
Is anyone else challenging this tax?
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association believes the Fire Prevention Fee is really a tax that needed (but did not receive) two-thirds legislative approval. The Association is challenging the legality of the fee.
Assemblyman Jay Obernolte represents the 33rd Assembly District, which includes the San Bernardino County communities of Adelanto, Apple Valley, Baker, Barstow, Big Bear City, Big Bear Lake, Big River, Crestline, Fort Irwin, Hesperia, Johnson Valley, Lake Arrowhead, Lenwood, Lucerne Valley, Needles, Oak Hills, Phelan, Running Springs, Silver Lakes, Trona, Twentynine Palms Base, Twin Peaks and Victorville.