Wednesday, December 4, 2019
[Marin County] Marin wildfire tax measure gets final OK for March ballot
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
Marin supervisors gave final approval Tuesday to placing a parcel tax for wildfire prevention on the March 2020 ballot.
“This is a terrific first step; for a while there I thought we’d never get to this point,” said Supervisor Kate Sears. “There really has been an extraordinary effort to get as much stakeholder input as we possibly can.”
Supervisor Katie Rice and Richard Shortall, the president of FIRESafe Marin, will head an effort to raise private contributions to mount a campaign to help pass the initiative.
“Our goal is to raise $250,000,” Shortall said outside the meeting. “That is pretty typical of what it costs to run a ballot initiative in the county.”
The measure has already been endorsed by Marin’s Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers (COST) and faces no organized opposition.
“I think that is reflective of the process we went through,” Shortall said. “There was a lot of discussion and feedback from people.”
The tax being proposed would amount to 10 cents per building square foot for improved residential and commercial space. Multi-unit residential properties of three or more units would pay $75 per unit. The tax on unimproved parcels would range from $25 per parcel for parcels of .25 acres or less to $150 per parcel for parcels .50 acres or larger. An exemption would be provided for low-income seniors. The tax could be increased up to 3% annually to adjust for inflation.
Perhaps most vital to its broad support, the tax, which is estimated to bring in $19.3 million annually, would sunset in 10 years.
In August, Marin County fire Chief Jason Weber told supervisors that preliminary polling indicated enough voter support to pass some variety of parcel tax for wildfire prevention. The Marin County Civil Grand Jury called for a quarter-cent sales tax to help fund preparedness efforts in its April 25 report. Weber, however, said the polling indicated support for such a tax was well below the two-thirds majority needed to pass.
COST also stated its preference for a per-square-foot parcel tax instead of a sales tax or flat parcel tax, which would require the owners of a small condo and a large mall to pay the same tax.
Supervisor Damon Connolly was among those who commented Tuesday on how crucial collaboration has been in creating the new Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority.
“What will be a model for others is the way we were able to come together,” Connolly said.
Connolly added, however, that he is getting feedback from Marin residents interested in knowing how much of the money raised will benefit their particular community.
“We have done and need to continue to do a good job explaining the structure and philosophy behind this,” Connolly said.
Sixty percent of the revenue generated by the tax would be dedicated to core functions such as vegetation management, wildfire detection, evacuation improvements, grants and public education. Twenty percent would be used for annual defensible space and home hardening evaluations, and another 20% would be used for wildfire prevention efforts designed for specific locales.
The proposal was tweaked several times in recent weeks in response to criticism. For example, the authority will divide Marin into five zones: Ross Valley, San Rafael, West Marin, Novato and Southern Marin. Initially, its board was to have consisted of two board members representing each of five proposed zones, plus one board member to represent the remaining small districts. Instead, each of the 17 participating agencies will have a representative on the authority’s board.
Another last-minute provision assures that at least 80% of the revenue generated for vegetation management by each operational zone shall be allocated within the respective zone.
And after some Marin environmentalists criticized the proposal for doing too little to address climate change, the measure’s proponents pledged that the authority would utilize an “environmental/climate change lens” while doing its work.
Commenting on the measure’s board support Tuesday, Belle Cole of Organizing For Action Marin said, “It’s a reflection of how those in charge of running this operation are listening to what is being said.”
November 19, 2019
Marin Independent Journal
By Richard Halstead