For the first time, California forestry officials intend to give counties and organizations money raised through a contested assessment on property in wildfire-prone areas to be used for wildfire prevention projects.
The funds will be awarded as part of a one-time grant process after lawmakers included a $10 million appropriation in the new state budget. The remainder of an accumulated balance of $48 million raised by the assessment is being held in savings while a lawsuit challenges the legality of the so-called “fire fee.” The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association wants the fee to be declared unconstitutional, arguing it is actually a tax.
Gov. Jerry Brown sought the one-time $10 million appropriation from the State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fund and is expected to sign the budget in coming days.
The timing of the grants couldn’t be better, said Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Janet Upton, noting that California is struggling with an ongoing drought that is creating dangerous fire conditions statewide. “It will be the highest priority,” she said. “We need to get those projects on the ground because conditions are only getting worse.”
The department must solicit bids from counties, local Fire Safe Councils and other organizations for fire prevention projects, she said, adding it is too soon to say when the grants might be awarded and what programs will be funded.