TERU Focus Report - California's Emergency SRA Fees
Board of Forestry
Approves Emergency Regulations at January 11, 2012 Hearing
January 12, 2012 -- Michael Theroux
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
© Teru Talk by JDMT, Inc 2012. All rights
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.