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TERU Focus Report - California's Emergency SRA Fees

Board of Forestry Approves Emergency Regulations at January 11, 2012 Hearing 
January 12, 2012 --

 

The California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF) conducted a contentious and difficult hearing yesterday for approval of emergency regulations that establish the State Responsibility Area (SRA) Fire Prevention program, and immediately start collecting fees. The emergency regulations develop implementation mandated by legislative passage of ABX 1029 and will move from emergency provision to permanent regulations later this year. The Governor requested "clean-up language" when he signed the bill last fall. ABX1 24 and SBX1 7 were introduced in the legislature to address the Governor's concerns, but the bills never went any further and are now listed as inactive. The SRA fees being enacted by these emergency regulations can therefore only be used for fire prevention activities such as educational programs, mitigation planning, and fuel reduction programs. The "emergency" fees cannot be used for fire protection activities such as fighting fires. 

 

The BOF meeting was attended by numerous small community groups and municipal fire organizational representatives, all asking that the proposed $150 per habitable structure fee NOT be approved. Among the many reasons put forward to reject the current emergency regulation wording: lack of clear definition regarding what properties were to be assessed the charges involved; lack of nexus between the amount of the fee and any specific level of fire prevention service; lack of an efficient mechanism for dispute resolution; and unwarranted selection of a small segment of the population to pay for benefits to all Californians. Rather than approving a fee across the entire California population for a large portion of state fire safety education and risk reduction services, the "Benefit Fee" will only impact those property owners actually within SRA-identified lands.  

 

The community representatives were not alone in their displeasure; seated members of the BOF expressed similar opinions. Members complained that despite numerous data requests to the state administration and to the legislators responsible for this bill, no supportive materials of any substance had been provided as guidance for the program and fee implementation, only direction to "put it in place". Enactment has become a two step process; final regulatory provisions will be considered later this year and stakeholders will again have multiple opportunities to comment. For now, however, property owners with habitable structures within the area designated for state fire management can expect a hefty increase in their property assessment bill.  

 

The SRA Benefit Fee program exemplifies the difficulty inherent in developing and funding fire education and fuel loading risk reduction within the urban / woodland interface (WUI). Sustainable biomass removal practices surrounding homes and businesses abutting state forest and range lands are expensive and funding sources are scarce. Yet wildfires within the WUI constitute one of the most disastrous and costly aspects of urban growth into wild-land areas. The emphasis of ABX1 29 is placed on fire protection management, yet this mechanism, if effective, will generate a significant and increasing supply of waste biomass for which little use has been pre-determined. The entire program may be seen as acquisition control on the front-end of a supply chain generating sustainably managed forest and woodland sourced biomass for which there is an ever increasing demand. Where possible, Teru Talk will encourage integration of that source with the demand for the biomass as a renewable feedstock for conversion to energy, fuels and other commodities. 

 

At the close of yesterday's hearing, the BOF approved the current emergency package for submission on January 12, 2012 to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) for final review. Although the OAL is required to receive comments until January 17, 2012, the emergency status of these regulations means the BOF and the OAL carry no legal obligation to incorporate or even respond to comments. 

 

Mr. George Gentry, Executive Director of the BOF, has been designated as primary point of contact for questions on the entire program. Mr. Gentry may be reached directly by fax at 916-653-0989 or by email at

  

 

© Teru Talk by JDMT, Inc 2012. All rights reserved.

You are free to reprint and use this report as long as no changes are made to its content or references and credit is given to the author, Michael Theroux. http://www.terutalk.com

 

 
 

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