San Diego Voters Reject Fire Tax

November 6, 2008

Wildfires claimed more lives and homes in San Diego than any other county in California’s devastating firestorms of 2003 and 2007, yet voters in that county rejected a proposition that would have established a parcel tax to help fund a firefighting authority.

San Diego has the distinction of being the state’s largest county without a fire department. Proposition A would have established a $52 parcel tax on the county’s landowners. The measure required approval by two-thirds of voters, but only received 63 percent of voters were in favor of the measure, according to the County of San Diego Registrar of Voters.

Proponents say the measure would have addressed what is widely considered a big hole in the state’s defense against wildfires: lack of protection in the sparsely populated, chaparral-covered mountains east of the nation’s eighth-largest city.

A county grand jury report in May found the San Diego region remained “woefully unprepared” for a major wildfire, saying that a patchwork of chronically underfunded fire agencies are assigned to protect rural areas where a majority of the fires start.

Proposition A was expected to raise about $50 million a year, half of which would pay for the new agency’s aircraft, engines and other equipment. The rest would be shared by existing fire agencies.

Some critics said the measure would have created bureaucracy and unfairly burden taxpayers served by existing fire departments. Other critics said a lot more money is needed.

Supporters, including San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, urged voters to give it a try.

“It’s a start,” said San Diego Fire Chief Tracy Jarman just before the election. “I think we owe it to the citizens to give us a chance, give us a start, and let us show you what we can do.”

Additional reporting by Patricia-Anne Tom.

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