Inverness is once again split over whether a new parcel tax to fund wildfire prevention belongs on the ballot. Inverness Foundation board member Jerry Meral is spearheading the proposal, raising funds to place the measure on the ballot next November. But the Inverness Public Utility District, the agency that stands to benefit from the funds, remains uncertain. 

“If it passed, [the utility district] would have to implement it. They would find a way to do that,” Mr. Meral said last week at a Zoom meeting with Inverness residents. But he hopes it won’t come to that. “This measure will do way better if IPUD decides to endorse it,” he said. 

In September, the district’s board voted down a proposal to submit the measure to voters, citing a variety of concerns. The district said it did not have enough staff or office space to handle the proposed programs, many of which may be rendered unnecessary by the newly formed Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority and its work locally. What’s more, the board is planning a drought surcharge on water bills in the new year, with cost-of-living increases kicking in soon after, so an additional tax might feel excessive, administrators and board members argued.

Yet Mr. Meral said the 20-cent-per-square-foot tax would run the average Inverness household a manageable $340 annually and would help the town expedite and find funding for fire prevention projects that the M.W.P.A. can’t fund. It could also provide money for locals who fail the authority’s defensible space inspections and can’t afford the necessary fixes. 

The Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority allocates just half a percent of its spending to the Inverness Fire District, totaling somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000 each year. Mr. Meral said that amount is inadequate given the town’s disproportionately high fire risk along the wildland urban interface. 

One project Mr. Meral has in mind for special funding is the shaded fuel break created by private citizens at the end of Via de la Vista in Seahaven. The new tax could help maintain and expand the break, which cost residents more than $42,000 and established a buffer between homes and the overgrown Tomales Bay State Park. 

The town already has access to a larger pot of money that the M.W.P.A. set aside for larger projects in West Marin, IPUD customer services manager Wade Holland said. This year, West Marin received more than $635,000 for these projects, of which about $100,000 went to Inverness for projects including evacuation route clearing. 

Many of the programs the new tax would fund might be better suited to the existing fire prevention authority, Mr. Holland suggested. 

“M.W.P.A. is new and it’s just getting off the ground…you can’t expect them to have already done everything,” Mr. Holland said. “It seems silly to us to jump out and make our own competing program in the meantime.” 

Beyond cost, environmental reviews that are required for larger projects like fuel breaks can be a barrier to local fire prevention efforts, and the countywide authority would be better equipped to handle those planning hurdles, Mr. Holland said. The wildfire prevention authority has a planning manager dedicated to California Environmental Quality Act matters, but IPUD has no such expertise.

Residents appear to support a new tax, however. A poll the Inverness Foundation sent out to the town’s voters in February showed 80 percent support for the tax among the roughly 200 households that responded. Generally, initiatives need a two-thirds majority to pass, but depending on an upcoming court ruling, it’s possible that the measure would only need a simple majority. 

Some Inverness residents have been skeptical of the initiative since the beginning. Francine Allen, who attended last week’s Zoom meeting, said the tax would be redundant, pointing out that Marin residents are already paying 10 cents per square foot for wildfire prevention. And the tax would only benefit those neighborhoods where projects were undertaken. 

“To tax everybody in Inverness for that is unfair,” Ms. Allen said. 

Mr. Meral said he needs to raise $10,000 to hire a law firm to prepare the measure, which is still in draft form. Supervisor Dennis Rodoni and others have already donated a total of $5,800; in an email to Ms. Allen explaining his donation, the supervisor cited his general support for voter measures and the fact that Mr. Meral has been one of his own longtime supporters.  

“I think Dennis is really respected around here,” Mr. Meral said. “If he’s an endorser, and he already is by being a donor, then that will help us pass the measure.” 

In the meantime, IPUD is unlikely to throw its support behind the measure until Mr. Meral’s lawyer-approved draft is available and the district can work out the details with him.

“If if passes, it will be the district’s baby. So our big concern with the current version is: ‘Is it legally correct?’” Mr. Holland said. “It’s not 100 percent what we would want, but it’s getting closer all the time. We haven’t closed the door.” 

The district’s board will likely discuss the matter at its next meeting on Jan. 26. 


This article was corrected on Dec. 23 to reflect that donors have together contributed $5,800 toward the ballot measure; Supervisor Dennis Rodoni himself donated $1,000.