Board sets hearing on proposed fire mitigation fee payments


RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors Tuesday set an Aug. 4 public hearing to consider the Riverside County Fire Department’s request to attach fire mitigation charges to the tax bills of nearly 450 property owners, who officials say have not paid the cost of abating weeds and other potential fire hazards around their parcels.
The hearing will determine whether the owners of 445 lots in communities countywide should pay a total $199,198 assessed under the county’s Fire Hazard Reduction Program.
The total amount due on the 2019 calendar year delinquent list is roughly 130% more than in 2018.
Supervisor Karen Spiegel questioned whether all of the fees were applicable and expressed concern that the 2009 ordinance under which they will be assessed might be overdue for revision.
Fire officials said that of the 7,423 property owners who received notices of violation, only the 445 on the delinquent list were unresponsive. County Counsel Craig Priamos added that the ordinance is scrutinized by staff from time to time to ensure validity.
Residents who are facing mitigation-related tax liens will have an opportunity to argue for reductions or exemptions during the Aug. 4 board meeting.
The reduction program involves deploying contractors to clear weeds and related overgrowth that might otherwise fuel brush fires during wildfire season, which generally spans May to November. In most cases, the parcels that were mitigated were vacant or set off from main residences, according to the fire department.
Property owners were served with orders to abate, or mitigate, the potential fire hazards, and when inspectors received no reply or saw that no action had been taken, landscaping contractors were sent to the locations under fire department authority to clear away the excess foliage.
“The purpose of the Fire Hazard Reduction Program is to reduce or eliminate fire hazards created by vegetative growth and the accumulation of combustible debris, which poses a danger to the health, safety and welfare of the residents in the vicinity of any real property, as well as irreparable harm to sensitive habitat and species,” according to an agency statement. “Each parcel owner is provided the opportunity to abate the property prior to the county conducting the abatement.”
Properties in each of the five supervisorial districts were identified in a fire department report posted to the board’s agenda.
According to agency documents, property owners were billed to recover the county’s expenditures, which ranged from $250 to $2,254 per property. A $254 administrative fee was also folded into the final bill sent to the property owners.