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Supervisor Jacob, Senator Kehoe Battle It Out Over Fire Fee

San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob and California State Senator Christine Kehoe debate the new $150 fee for rural residents for fire prevention services.


San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob

California State Senator Christine Kehoe represents the 39 district in San Diego.


California Fire Prevention Fee

$150 per habitable structure within the State Responsibility Area (SRA)

Does your home fall within the SRA?

FAQs about fire fee

Last summer Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law that requires rural homeowners to pay the state a fee for fire services. The fee for each structure in the state responsibility area, or SRA, is $150 a year until 2013, when it will be adjusted for inflation.

Cal Fire, the state fire agency, is responsible for fighting fires in those areas, which cover 31 million acres in California and 1 million acres in San Diego County.

San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob is leading the charge against the new fire fee. She told KPBS the fee asks too much of rural residents.

"It's tax upon tax upon tax upon tax," she said. On that list are property taxes, which include fire protection, and a special assessment of up to $400 a year, she said.

Jacob added the county's fire authority has spent more than $230 million in the SRAs on fire prevention since 2003 and pays $10 million a year to the SRAs to keep fire stations open.

"So this would be a quadruple tax on people in this area that were already paying for three different ways," she said.

Jacob said once the county receives its first bill for the fees, it is "poised to file a lawsuit" against the state.

State Senator Christine Kehoe, who represents District 39 along San Diego's coast, voted for the fee. She told KPBS it is important to support the Cal Fire firefighting budget.

"In the 12 years I've been in the legislature, the Cal Fire firefighting budget has doubled," she said.

"We know wildfires are going to be more frequent, larger and more intense," she added. "We need to do more prevention, that's what this money is aimed at. It's very important."

But Jacob said the fee unfairly weighs on San Diego County's rural residents.

"We're different in this county," she said. "We have a cooperative agreement with Cal Fire like no other county in the state. It's a seamless system, we contract with Cal Fire through the San Diego County Fire Authority. We're already paying for that fire prevention, fire protection services directly into Cal Fire for about $10 million a year, and that's exactly what this fee is supposed to generate."

Jacob said she argues San Diego County should be exempt.

Kehoe said the fee will generate $88 million statewide each year, with about $10 million coming from San Diego County.

She said the money will be used for fire prevention, but "not the glamorous stuff" like helicopters and other equipment.

"The most cost efficient way to deal with fire prevention and fire fighting is to prevent it in the first place," she said.

Jacob said there is no guarantee San Diego County residents will get back the $10 million they are sending to the state.

"This is an absolute ripoff, it's a classic example of how dysfunctional our state government is," she said.

But Kehoe said San Diego gets firefighters from all over the state when it is facing a major wildfire.

"It is a back and forth," she said. "We don't stand alone down here."

Claire Trageser contributed to this report.

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