Almost all of the letters to the Light about the proposal for a new Inverness parcel tax to fund fire safety projects and improvements to the water system have overlooked the creation in 2019 of the Marin Wildfire Protection Authority.
At that time, 17 towns and fire protection agencies, including the Inverness Public Utility District, approved a joint powers agreement that set up the authority with a board of directors, an operations committee, an advisory/technical committee and a citizens oversight committee. Dennis Rodoni is on the board, representing Marin, and Inverness resident Kathy Donahue represents IPUD.
Then, in March 2020, voters approved Measure C, which levied a parcel tax of $.10 per square foot for single-family residences to fund fire safety projects for the next 10 years, managed by the wildfire prevention authority. The tax is expected to raise almost $20 million annually countywide. Other rates apply to other property categories.
The proposal for Inverness calls for a new tax of $.20 per square foot for single-family residences in Inverness; again, other rates apply to other categories. This tax would effectively triple the rates homeowners are already paying under Measure C.
Representatives of local environmental organizations separately formed the Environmentally Sustainable Practices Partnership to work with the wildfire prevention authority. The group is compiling best management practices and other guidelines to assure that vegetation management and defensible space projects funded by Measure C protect natural resources and minimize carbon emissions that might result from this work.
For members of the wildfire prevention authority to obtain Measure C funds, the onus is on the local jurisdiction to propose its own projects and present them for funding approval. There is a robust approval process already underway and many Marin localities are enjoying the benefits or Measure C.
For the 2020-21 work year, one IPUD project was approved: about $20,000 for improvements to the evacuation route and unspecified vegetation removal. In addition, California State Parks obtained about $30,000 of Measure C funds to restore a shaded fuel break near Shell Beach in Seahaven. The work was completed this past fall, but most observers agree that more needs to be done there.
In an email exchange about the situation in Inverness, Mark Brown, the executive officer of the wildfire prevention authority, acknowledged that IPUD may lack the resources to plan, propose and carry out vegetation management projects. But he added that the Marin County Fire Department would be available to work with IPUD to develop projects for our area. He also said that “we need the community to engage and embrace the house-out approach by making their homes less ignitable and having defensible space around their homes. Unfortunately, the compliance rate in Inverness is very low.”
When I talked to Jason Weber, chief of the Marin County Fire Department, he confirmed that the department would assist IPUD in developing projects. He emphasized that over the 10-year period that Measure C is in effect, Inverness would receive in the form of projects the $1,000,000 or so that it will contribute in taxes; it will also benefit from matching grants that the wildfire prevention authority is seeking. He pointed out that the authority is in its infancy and he said the community will increasingly see results going forward.
So where does this leave Inverness voters? It would seem that the discussion needs to address several points, including whether the Marin Wildfire Protection Authority will adequately address our local needs, how this tax program would be coordinated with the authority or whether Inverness should withdraw from the authority, whether the IPUD board has the resources and expertise to administer these funds and propose and carry out projects, whether the tax would fund new staff positions, whether the measure properly allocates funding for fire safety versus the water system, whether and how protections for rare species and natural resources will be implemented, and what citizen oversight would be provided for such a program.
I urge the tax measure’s proponents to address all these questions as soon as possible.
Carolyn Longstreth is a member of the Environmentally Sustainable Practices Partnership, the Fire and Environment Resilience Network and the Marin Wildfire Protection Authority’s citizens oversight committee.