The Cal Fire fire prevention fee “notice of determination” indicates I owe $150 to the state and informs me of an appeal process termed “petition for redetermination,” pointing to an important distinction in law - a petition for redress, to be considered, must demand some action of those being petitioned. The redetermination petition helpfully lists the basis on which a modification of the fee can be requested - suggesting the important documentation of evidence that should be included. This is an important feature of this new approach to revenue extraction - as stories of improper billing amass, but the option of questioning the legitimacy of this fee as a whole is left to the space marked “other,” with no such suggestions.
Simply put, a fee implies a charge for some service, but there is no evidence that any service will be received by the individual paying. Further, a fee is a legal term that derives from the feudal system of tenant fiefs and their ruling lords. Will paying this fee in any way effect or change the land owners relationship to the state, creating a precedent for arbitrary assessment that has no relation to property value or conditions?
The concept that government can charge a flat fee to a particular class of citizens with no provision for the actual details of risk, parcel size, construction methods or proximity to vulnerable fuel sources is unfair on its face, but some of the details in the bill legitimizing this are simply unproven. For example, AB x1-29, that established this fee cites the State Resources Code 4210(b) for its claims that the presence of structures (presumably, all structures not just the habitable structures billed) within State Responsibility Areas can impair wildland firefighting techniques. There is no provision to establish or claim the contrary - the benefits of established access roads, firebreaks and water storage that may come with those structures that can enhance firefighting efforts. No credit is allowed for contribution to local fuel reduction efforts or local volunteer firefighters if the structure in question is outside official district boundaries. SRC 4210(d) claims that individual owners of structures within SRA’s receive a disproportionately larger benefit from fire fighting activities than that realized by the state’s citizens generally, yet the goals of the State Resource Code that establish SRA’s claim that the public trust resources protected by Cal Fire benefit the entire state. The activities this fee purports to enable would be more equitably and affordably funded by a statewide tax.
My demand for action will include requesting evidence that this fee is not an unconstitutional tax, as defined in Article 13A, section 3(a) of the California State Constitution, because it was not passed by two-thirds of all members elected to the two houses of the legislature. Section 3(b) defines a tax as any levy, charge or exaction of any kind imposed by the state. Proving the status of this fee is the bill’s return address envelope: Special Taxes Remittance Processing.
Unfortunately, until challenged in court, the strongest protest of this fee is to refuse to pay, while petitioning for redress. This holds the risk of incurring penalties and interest and additional billing over the time required to settle the issue. I am still on the fence, it is a more legitimate flexing of civil rights to refuse this payment, but the real threat of financial risk will force the hand of most towards payment. If you pay, be sure to include notice that it is under protest and does not relinquish any of your rights.