Despite wildfires, San Diego voters nix fire tax

Despite wildfires, San Diego voters nix fire tax

6 November 2008

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USA — Despite devastating wildfires that ravaged San Diego County twice in the last five years, voters there rejected a landowner’s tax ballot measure that would have helped establish a county firefighting authority.

The measure failed to earn the two-thirds majority of votes required, garnering 63 percent of the vote. That leaves the county as California’s largest without its own fire department, despite wildfires in 2003 and 2007 that swept into the heart of the nation’s eighth-largest city.

“No brass rings this time, but it does tell us that a significant majority of citizens throughout San Diego County are willing to pay for improved fire protection,” said Augie Ghio, president of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association. “We just needed a little more time and little more outreach and I think it would have passed.”

Proponents said 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 San Diego. The recent firestorms started in those rural areas.

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.

The tax would have raised 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.

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