SodaCanyonRoad | Quarter percent sales tax to fund fire suppression?

Quarter percent sales tax to fund fire suppression?
Bill Hocker | Mar 5, 2022 on: Fire Issues

At 1:30pm in their Mar.8, 2022 meeting (agenda here) the Board of Supervisors will be considering the placement of a ballot initiative on the June 7 ballot to increase sales tax in Napa County by a quarter percent to add to fire suppression funding. It might fund measures such as vegetation clearing and other hardening of rural homes, a potential boon to residents on the wildland interface like those on Soda Canyon Road, but not necessarily to other residents of the county. Amber Manfree, no stranger to the threats faced by rural residents, has sent along her thoughts on the initiative and a call to look at two other items on the agenda:

7I. A drought emergency declaration - will this have any effect on new project approvals or expansions, or is it business as usual?

9:30am 13A. Napa Schools for Climate Action presents "Fossil Free Future." Something to support and encourage.

1:30pm 13C. Consideration of a June 7th ballot measure to ask voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax to fund fire suppression (would raise ~$10M/year).

1. Biggest question: If we had adopted this 10 years ago and done a whole bunch of fuel management before 2017, would things have gone very differently? Personally, I doubt it. That's because conditions driving megafires are the problem.

Home hardening is good, and homeowners who wish to live in the Wildland-Urban interface should take the lead. There are grant funds available to landowners. There's no need for massive fundraising through a sales tax.

What we need to be spending public time, money, and energy on is eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels, and saving what's left of our carbon-sequestering wildlands. There is no other way out of the climate crisis. Funding landscape-scale fire suppression with a sales tax will likely make things worse in the long run, because we could have been funding things that mattered much more.

2. Fire suppression is an outdated policy that can lead to more severe fires after fuels have built up over time - it is largely considered to increase overall risk by those who understand the science on fire management. While the ordinance does allow for fuel management, it does not allow for control burns of the landscape or cultural burns - both of which are critical tools for managing our landscapes.

3. Who pays, and who benefits? Asking the general public to fund a 10-year sales tax that will mainly benefit rural landowners creates an unfair distribution of resources. Climate change brings many risks. If passed, this will reduce the tolerance of voters to approve additional taxes that would benefit lower income people and the general public, like sea level rise adaptation, flood management, heat wave mitigation, and Parks and Open Space.

4. When was the last time the BOS put something on the ballot? Why this, why now?

5. Why is the BOS keen on taxing the general public to suppress fire, and opposed to protecting public water supplies and carbon sequestering forests? The BOS dismissed calls to put the Watershed and Oak Woodlands Initiative (or something similar) on the ballot after it was determined that the signatures collected were not valid because of a technicality in the way they were collected. Instead, they designed and adopted a policy that looks good on paper, but is meaningless on the ground.

6. How are the proceeds to be allocated, after they go to the county and cities? Will we get full and transparent accounting of where the money goes? If funds go to Firewise, they are not subject to Public Records Act rules, and we may not be able to track expenditures.

7. Will Volunteer Fire Departments be supported? The Ordinance states, "Under no circumstances shall revenues be used for fire departments that are not operated or managed by a public agency," so it sounds like they will not receive funds. Volunteer Fire departments respond faster and have more local knowledge than CalFire. Let's find ways to support them.

8. Will there be a "Fire Czar"?

9. Is this funding needed? The state has been pouring money into coordinated fire-related management. Why should residents tax themselves for what should be a state-wide effort?