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California Farm Bureau Friday Review 5/9/08

SB 1512 (Wiggins) CFBF took a support position on SB 1512, which would take some modest steps in providing opportunities for customers to consolidate the usage of multiple meters for a solar installation.  It would allow the property owner to install a system to offset the demand for the entire property, but requires the facilities to be physically connected.  Currently, the solar facility must be matched to the load on a single meter.  The bill passed out of the Senate Energy, Utilities & Communications Committee and will be heard next in Senate Appropriations.

A bill that would impose a structural fire protection fee on all inhabited structures in the State Responsibility Area (SRA) was sent to the Senate Appropriations Suspense File due to its high cost of implementation. SB 1617 (Kehoe, D-San Diego) had projected costs of tens of millions of dollars to hold hearings and develop the needed regulations, set up the collection and an appeals process, to hire up 600 new employees, and acquire 377 new vehicles. The amount of revenue that might be generated by the new SRA fees was unknown but potentially in the millions of dollars beginning in 2010-11.

Farm Bureau has not officially positioned on SB 1617, although we have voiced very serious concerns in the Senate Natural Resource Committee and the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee. We have been working with Senator Kehoe and her staff to address the longstanding concerns that SRA landowners should pay for their wildland fire protection. As many may recall, in 2003 the Legislature and Governor Davis imposed a $35 per parcel charge on all landowners in the SRA for wildland fire protection. Since the SRA is the state’s watershed areas, the wild lands that produce California’s water supply, Farm Bureau argued that this was a matter of statewide concern.

Farm Bureau challenged the per parcel “fee” on the basis that it was adopted by a majority vote and we believed that it was an illegal tax. We were also concerned that farmers and ranchers were being asked to fund nearly 50 percent of the CDF budget when incident reports indicated that the vast majority of CDF resources were being spent outside the SRA. We eventually prevailed when Governor Schwarzenegger and the Legislature agreed to repeal the “fee” immediately following the recall of Governor Davis.

In more recent budget battles the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) proposed a “per acre” fire protection fee in the range of $6 to $10 per acre. This year the LAO is recommending another alternative $310 fee on all structures in the SRA. (Note: CDF wildfire protection budget has quadrupled in the last decade thanks to very generous labor agreements, uncontrolled suburban development in wildland areas, and catastrophic fires in urban area, as well as “mission creep” to include emergency medical response activities.)

It should be noted that local fire departments provide the bulk of the fire protection and emergency services in the state, including the SRA. Local agencies very often provide mutual aid for the wildland fire protection in the SRA, as well. We fear that SB 1617 would serve to affirm the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s (CDF) mission creep into the area of structural fire protection in the SRA. We also believe that authorizing a fee on all structures in the SRA would also jeopardize the ability of local fire departments to raise the revenue needed to meet their rising costs. We have recommended that homeowners and businesses in the SRA that receive structural fire protection from local fire departments should be excluded from any state imposed fee. This would dramatically reduce the potential revenue from the fee, however, and to date our suggested amended has not been accepted.

We also oppose the provision that would authorize the Board of Forestry to establish an unlimited fee on structures for fire protection. The “fair and reasonable” caveat contained in the bill gives us little comfort. We believe that the structural fire protection fee should reflect the average cost of the service in the region. Adding such a provision would significantly reduce the cost of developing the regulations, the fee, and the appeals process. If SB 1617 survives its visit to the Suspense File, we will continue to pursue our suggested amendments.


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