County supervisors consider fire prevention tax

A proposal initiated Tuesday by Santa Clara County Supervisor
Ken Yeager calls for a requirement that new buildings in such
fire-prone areas as unincorporated county hillsides

have fire-resistant roofs, siding and decks, double-pane windows
and solid doors,

a spokesperson said.
 
A proposal initiated Tuesday by Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager calls for a requirement that new buildings in such fire-prone areas as unincorporated county hillsides “have fire-resistant roofs, siding and decks, double-pane windows and solid doors,” a spokesperson said. 

Existing homes and other structures would be exempt, Yeager told his fellow Santa Clara County supervisors at their regular meeting Tuesday in San Jose, and they voted to refer the matter for staff review and recommendation back to the board, said John Myers, Yeager’s communications aide. 

The proposal asks the staff to come up with funding options for the plan that would include “the formation of a (property tax) assessment district,” Yeager said. Oakland residents within a similarly designated district have been paying a property tax of $65 per household that covers the costs of the fire prevention regulations, according to the news release. Supervisor Don Gage, who represents South County areas, said the referral was timely and much needed to thwart off fires such as the Croy wildfire, which burned more than 3,000 acres in the area and 99 structures in the summer of 2002. 

“We need to strengthen building codes so (any building) over 3,600 (square) feet is sprinkled” with fire resistant material, Gage said.  

While it’s never a popular idea, raising property taxes to pay for brush clearance and other proactive measures rather than acting on individual complaints – as the county currently does – it is necessary, Gage said. 

“I don’t like the idea of higher taxes, but when people don’t clean up their property it can damage other people’s property,” Gage said. 

Another issue that will come out of this proposal is discovery of unpermitted homes and structures. Gage said in the Croy fire, authorities discovered that only two of the 99 burned structures had valid permits. 

“There will be a lot of unhappy people,” Gage said. “I know a lot of people don’t bother to get permits, (because) they don’t want the hassle. But, at the same time, they’re not paying their fair share of property tax. We found a lot of trailers up there which were on solar power which is how that fire got started.”

In his proposal, Yeager said he would like to see the county come up with “large-scale evacuation plans” and step up efforts of educating residents about “upgrading buildings with fire-resistant materials.”  

At Yeager’s request, county staff are also evaluating all the emergency response systems and are expected to report back to the supervisors at an upcoming meeting. 

Yeager said he was motivated to research what the county can do to better prepare for large scale fires after the ravages left behind by the devastating wildfires in Southern California this past fall and because the county, facing draconian budget cuts and an estimated $200 million deficit for fiscal year 2008-09, doesn’t have the funds to inspect some of the county’s most dangerous fire prone areas.

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