The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an inspection fee for brush clearance in high-risk fire zones across the county, which includes a majority of the Santa Clarita Valley, set to hit taxpayers in 2023.
The motion authorizes the L.A. County Fire Department to impose a special assessment on parcels declared to have hazardous vegetation and weeds in unincorporated areas of the county, as well as some incorporated cities, including the city of Santa Clarita.
The fee is set to increase in tiers as it’s implemented, costing homeowners $151 per year beginning in 2024.
“Establishing an initial brush clearance inspection fee is an important step to prevent wildfires,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the SCV. “Like in many other sectors, prevention is key and something we should all invest in. Wildfire recovery is much more expensive in the long run. These funds will help our Los Angeles County Fire Department hire and dedicate more staff to check properties thoroughly.”
Currently, the county only imposes abatement enforcement assessments on declared parcels that are non-compliant after two brush clearance inspections. However, the motion is set to recover the costs for the initial and secondary inspections, where weeds, brush and rubbish on designated properties are declared to be a public nuisance that should be abated.
Each year, the Fire Department conducts inspections of all residential parcels in high and very high fire hazard severity zones in State Responsibility Areas, as well as very high fire hazard severity zones in Local Responsibility Areas, deeming approximately 51,000 parcels across the county to have weeds, per the Fire Department’s letter to the board.
Starting in 2022, there are expected to be approximately 50,000 brush clearance inspections required countywide, which reportedly account for 98% of the costs to oversee the program and totals approximately $7.5 million countywide, according to the Fire Department’s Forestry Division Chief Ron Durbin. Of those, approximately 7,835 parcels are located in the SCV, according to Fire Department officials.
The move would make the brush clearance program cost-neutral to the county and comes as the state has passed two Assembly bills requiring the Fire Department to complete additional inspections in high-risk fire zones for more than 100,000 parcels across the county, which is set to dramatically increase the workload, Durbin said.
“There’s an expectation that almost all parcels are going to have some kind of issue that we’re going to have to enforce, and educate and allow people to correct, so that workload in itself is going to be tremendous,” Durbin added. “CalFire has estimated that it takes us approximately 15 minutes or so to do each inspection. We anticipate that it’s going to be a whole lot more than that.”
The fee approved by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday would allow the Fire Department to withstand the additional workload, such as by hiring additional inspectors, Durbin noted.
Based on an internal Fire Department study of time and motion, the county Auditor-Controller approved a tiered special assessment as follows:
- Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, a special assessment fee of $50 per parcel.
- Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, a special assessment fee of $100 per parcel.
- Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, a special assessment fee of $151 per parcel.
Approximately 88 Fire Stations countywide share brush inspection responsibilities, and the fee is expected to include the first and second inspections done by these stations, along with boundary determination, measurement, clerical and other related costs, but not brush clearance.
Property owners in affected areas are set to receive notice in January after an annual inspection list is created, and will then have the opportunity to come to a public hearing to learn more of the fees and ask questions, according to Durbin.
Affected property owners are then set to see the assessment on their property tax bill, beginning on or around November of each year, starting in 2023.