For the second year the state of California will send out the bills for a $150 "fee" to land owners in the Backcountry, including Valley Center, Pauma and Palomar Mountain.
The official name of the fee is the State Responsibility Area (SRA) Fire Prevention Benefit Fee. It was created by Assembly Bill X1 29 two years ago. The fee is levied at the rate of $150 per habitable structure, which is defined as a building that can be occupied for residential use. Owners of habitable structures who are also within the boundaries of a local fire protection agency will receive a reduction of $35 per habitable structure.
Although it walks, quacks and walks like a tax, the state continues to call the bill a "fee." The money raised from this fee on structures in the unincorporated areas, and which is not billed to urban residences, will go to Cal Fire for use in fire prevention. Agencies such as the Valley Center Fire Protection District and the Palomar Mountain Volunteer Fire Dept. point out that they don't see a dime of the fee.
John Byrne, administrator for the VCFPD, told The Roadrunner, "When the bills go out, we will get a number of phone calls and we will have to explain to them that the district has no part of this."
The lawsuit filed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. against the State, arguing the SRA fee is a tax and should have been approved by the legislature on a two-thirds vote, was heard last Friday in Sacramento Superior Court.
While the court did not render a decision, the judge did rule for Jarvis against the State relative to Jarvis representing the class of taxpayers (class action) subject to the SRA fee. The State argued Jarvis did not have standing to do so, an argument the judge rejected.
The judge did not signal when he would render his decision, stating only "in the near future."