Paul Terris | Fire Inspection Fee Plan a Burden

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

In an earlier post it was published that an appeals process would be available for property owners who are being placed in the expanded brush clearance inspection area.

For those not aware, this expanded list of properties will result in a $151 per year addition to the property owner’s property tax bill. The L.A. County Fire Department was supposed to be sending letters to all property owners affected in early February. As of this date I have not received my letter. 

Property owners are being given the opportunity to appeal the decision of your property at the Santa Clarita City Hall on Feb. 24 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

First let me say I am a brush clearance advocate, having been a brush clearance inspector for 20 years with the Los Angeles Fire Department. I am not an advocate of inspection fees !

The L.A. County Fire Department already charges property owners $75 — at least that’s what I am charged on my property tax bill.

Brush clearance was instituted in the state after the Oakland Hills fire. The Bates bill (1992, Assembly Bill 337) was enacted requiring local jurisdictions to identify and establish Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones. These zones are established by Cal Fire based on topography, fuel load, structure construction and fire history.

There are areas being included in this expansion that are classified as wildland urban intermix, simply defined as properties that are up against brush-covered hills or surrounded by brush or chaparral, as well as interface, meaning that you are in proximity to brush but could be miles away from any brush.

The process in the county of Los Angeles is that firefighters are given the responsibility to inspect thousands of properties. Usually this entails driving the fire engine down the street and checking a box. There are simply too many properties for each station to do a complete and thorough inspection of this many properties. After the inspection is complete and no compliance is obtained, the L.A. County Agricultural Commissioner, who has private contractors who bid on properties to clear, is now given the overwhelming responsibility to clear and charge property owners. Every year county Agriculture leaves hundreds of properties in violation as they simply can’t clear the amount of properties in violation.

Certain vegetation is more susceptible to fire and as such is not recommended to be planted. Anyone driving around Santa Clarita can see that this recommended planting list has not been followed. Eucalyptus trees, pine trees, acacia, all line the streets of the Santa Clarita Valley. Why allow these plants then tell the property owner it’s a violation?

So with all these abnormalities and contradictions, why are property owners who are not anywhere near brush being penalized by being charged $151? Why hasn’t the Fire Department sent out the letter outlining how property owners can dispute their property being placed in the expanded inspection area?

In 2001, the LAFD implemented a small $13 inspection fee for properties being inspected. The outcry for the $13 fee was so overwhelming that the (L.A. City) Fire Chief William Bamattre rescinded the fee. The fee was reimplemented in 2010 by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and property owners sending in proof that their property was in compliance were not charged. This system ultimately proved so burdensome for the L.A. (City) Fire Department that finally the Fire Department only charged properties in violation. Why can’t the county implement a violation-based fee?

This (appears to be) a revenue-generating scam on property owners already burdened with fees, taxes and regulations. Brush clearance works, and is necessary, but do not put another financial burden on property owners who are nowhere near brush or who are in need of inspections on properties that have been in the same area for 40 years with no problem.

Paul Terris

Retired LAFD Inspector 

Santa Clarita

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