Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Supervisors update fire mitigation fees

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

The County of San Diego has updated the fire mitigation fees developers pay to fire protection districts.

A 3-0 San Diego County Board of Supervisors vote May 2, with Nathan Fletcher and Terra Lawson-Remer not present, approved the first reading and introduction of the ordinance and also approved the Fire Mitigation Fee Update Nexus Study. A 4-0 Board of Supervisors vote May 23, with one vacancy, approved the second reading and adoption and found the action categorically exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review. The new ordinance will take effect July 22.

The fire mitigation fee is paid by developers to fund the cost of fire department facilities serving the new development. The county established the Fire Mitigation Fee Program in 1986 to provide funding for fire protection and emergency medical services in the unincorporated communities.

Although local fire agencies lack the legal authority to impose mitigation fees on new development, the county collects a fee from building permit applicants on behalf of 12 independent fire protection districts and the San Diego County Fire Protection District.

The mitigation fees are distributed quarterly to agency accounts and must be used for capital projects or to purchase firefighting equipment or supplies which will serve new developments. The Fire Mitigation Fee Review Committee reviews the annual reports of the participating agencies to confirm that the improvements are necessary to serve new development.

The County Fire Mitigation Fee Ordinance allows fee ceilings to be increased or decreased in proportion to changes in the Cost of Construction Index. The ordinance also requires an evaluation of the base fee every five years based upon dividing the average cost in current dollars to construct a fully-equipped fire station within the county's unincorporated area by the average square footage of structures served by that average fire station. That result becomes the new base fee.

Changes not only in construction cost but also to state law, county strategic initiatives, industry standards, and community needs led to the nexus study which reassessed the cost of new fire stations and other equipment required by growth.

Over the past eight years, the cost to construct a county-owned fire station has nearly tripled and the cost of a new apparatus vehicle has doubled. Additionally the shared cost to maintain an existing level of fire protection and emergency medical services in rural areas is more expensive than in urban areas with denser populations.

The fire mitigation fee amounts had not been changed since 2018 when the fee for non-agricultural construction was increased from 56 cents to 58 cents per square foot and the fee for agricultural buildings without sprinklers was changed from 15 cents to 16 cents per square foot (the fee for agricultural buildings with fire sprinkler systems remained at two cents per square foot, and the fee for poultry and greenhouse buildings was unchanged at one cent per square foot).

In 2020, the Fire Mitigation Fee Review Committee recommended an increase prior to the coronavirus outbreak. The fire mitigation fee for non-agricultural construction had been scheduled to increase from 58 cents per square foot to 75 cents per square foot but, due to the hardship on businesses the coronavirus shutdown caused, a fee increase was deemed inappropriate.

The new ordinance has a maximum fee rate based on land use for each of the 13 fire protection districts. The increases will be phased in over a three-year period and the actual fee will be set at 50% of the maximum fee during fiscal year 2023-24, 75% of the maximum for fiscal year 2024-25 and 100% of the maximum in fiscal year 2025‑26.

The Vista Fire Protection District, which includes southern Bonsall as well as unincorporated Vista, has the lowest rates among the 13 agencies. The maximum rates per square foot for the Vista Fire Protection District are $0.80 for residential structures, $0.70 for commercial and retail buildings, $0.37 for hotels, $0.55 for industrial structures, $1.31 for medical facilities, $2.61 for office space, and $0.02 for agricultural buildings.

The North County Fire Protection District has the fourth-lowest rates. The maximum fee per square foot is $1.05 for residential, $0.91 for commercial and retail, $0.49 for hotels, $0.72 for industrial, $1.71 for medical, $3.42 for office use, and $0.03 for agricultural.

DeLuz is part of the San Diego County Fire Protection District as are the areas of Pala and Pauma Valley which are not on Indian reservations. The SDCFPD rates are the second-highest among the 13 agencies with the Borrego Springs Fire Protection District having the highest rates. The SDCFPD maximum fees are $2.65 for residential, $2.31 for commercial and retail, $1.24 for hotels, $1.82 for industrial, $4.33 for medical, $8.66 for office, and $0.08 for agricultural.

Under state law, a nexus study must be updated every eight years so, in the absence of a change of that law, the county will conduct another nexus study by 2031.


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