I would like to provide some facts about the fire inspection fees levied by the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Defensible Space Program. Richard Castallo’s letter (Jan. 25) contained several inaccuracies:
• Brush inspections are a critical fire mitigation strategy that indisputably keeps lives and properties safe. The work is performed by our highly trained Brush Clearance Unit inspectors and meets technical Fire Codes standards validated by CAL FIRE. It should not be framed as “just 15 minutes worth of work.”
• Our Defensible Space Program has grown significantly in the past few years due to better mapping capabilities, along with stricter enforcement required by the state in response to larger, more frequent, and more destructive fires.
• For decades, the Los Angeles County Fire Department has not charged any inspection fees and entirely absorbed increasing labor and material costs, which has led to a serious budget deficit. I am working hard to correct that. The department’s current staffing challenges have led to personnel often working overtime to meet inspection deadlines while also ensuring there are no gaps in emergency response services.
• Our fee was set by the Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller to ensure objectivity and transparency in the process. The $151 fee now reflects the true costs of performing all of the work involved in our Defensible Space Program – which includes the initial inspection, hearings, clerical costs, data management and parcel verifications. We are not making a profit. This is a cost-neutral program.
Lastly, at the request of the Board of Supervisors, the $151 fee was phased in over three years to reduce impact to their constituents. 2024 is the third and final year of the approved fee increase.
The bottom line is that this is about fire prevention and fire safety. The Woolsey Fire destroyed over 1,500 homes and is a grim reminder of why safeguarding defensible space around properties matters. The old adage – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure – holds true to this day.
L.A. County Fire Chief