Questions are arising again about the State Requirement Area (SRA) fee, which goes to defer the cost of fighting wildfires in locales without municipal fire departments. Much of Mendocino County, obviously, falls within the so-called SRA.
Bills were sent out much earlier this year in Mendocino County, typically dated April 7th or 8th. The fee is a few dollars more (was Clint Eastwood consulted?) than in physcal year 2012-2013. An Albion Ridge resident finished making monthly payments for the previous year less than six months ago then received a new bill in April. State government officials have no straightforward answer for this other than to say that the billing cycle has been changed throughout California. According to the State Board of Equalization, the billing appears to be based on an alphabetical whim: Alpine County residents received SRA fee notices in the first week of March, Yolo and Yuba County fee payers will not be noticed until the middle of June.
One of the things that the fees are being used to fund is what CAL FIRE calls "defensible space inspection." The idea of inspections, of course, brings into question privacy rights. Inspections in Mendocino County are seemingly underway. A CAL FIRE notice appeared online about a month ago, stating, "The inspectors will be conducting their inspections during reasonable daylight hours, knocking on the door of the residence and being professionally dressed so that CAL FIRE staff can easily be identified as fire department personnel."
But they are not our local fire department volunteer personnel. The CAL FIRE press release doesn't even hint at phoning ahead to homeowners concerning inspections. Albion/Little River Fire Department Chief Ted Williams recently stated, "While I appreciate Cal Fire's focus on fire prevention education in my community, I do have concern over some specifics of this inspection program… Some of us might prefer to be present or not return home to find crews traipsing around our dwelling curtilage. I've suggested to Cal Fire that they schedule and provide advanced notice, but they say this is not possible."
Williams went on to say, "Offering chipping and brush removal to those who cannot afford defensible space would likely yield a greater benefit to our communities without breaching privacy. Imagine what an additional annual $117 per residence would do for our local [volunteer] fire departments."
Members of the Macdonald family have asked CAL FIRE (previously California Department of Forestry - CDF) for more than a decade to require Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) to place a rocked rolling dip, or something similar, at the mouth of McKay Gulch to provide access for fire trucks along the Albion River Road (known as the Masonite Road to long time locals). In 2001, after a boundary dispute with the Macdonald family, MRC essentially trenched out a "spite ditch" where the trickles of McKay Gulch cross the Albion River Road, cutting off all vehicle access. Of course, MRC got CDF and the Dept. of Water Quality to justify the deep ditch as beneficial to fish. However, nowhere else alongside the Albion has such a deep trench been dug to aid fish travel. Additionally the MRC trench is one of the only places between the coast and the Comptche Road that is immediately adjacent to livestock and human habitation.
Though I have personally made the request to CAL FIRE timber harvest inspectors that a more modest dip would still allow for the now rare passage of salmon, steelhead, or trout during the rainy seasons, CAL FIRE has done nothing to re-open this road.
The bottom line with CAL FIRE is just that: the 99% who do the hard work of fighting and preventing fires are to be commended, the 1% at the top of this bureaucracy are still in the pockets of large corporate entities.