"At Risk" Living & California's Disaster Budget

I was listening to the radio on the way back from the Airport this morning. They were talking about how the state budget for fighting fires has reached $108 million only two months into California's fiscal year. I believe the total state budget for fighting fires for the year is somewhere around $160 million. So, with ten months yet to go, we have used up 67 % of the yearly budget for fire disaster.

California already can't afford the way it lives. Past legislation has caused the California of today to teeter on bankruptcy year after fiscal year. The mistakes of the past need to be rectified in order to make the state's budget behave in a more reasonable fashion. Expense often comes with risk, but the risk-takers are not paying for it.

What is the real cause of the disaster expense? Okay, you might say the fires. Yeah. But regardless of the fires, the money has to come from somewhere, right? Currently, the money to fight fires in California is coming from everyone who pays taxes, but is that fair? Afterall, most of the homes in California are not "at risk" of being burned due to mountain-side scrub brush fires or forest fires. Most of us do not live in such areas. Most of the developers have not built in "at risk" areas.

Developers build in such areas for two reasons: one, the view might be scenic (it's near or in a forest on the side of a mountain) -- two, there is no new land to build on anywhere else -- the flatlands have all been developed years ago. So, as a developer, eager to create income from the expansion of populations in and around Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego, if I want to build something new to sell to the public, steep hillsides near or in a forest is all I have left.

Permits to build in any area are granted by some state authority, so let's assume the state has said, "You've met all our demands. Go ahead and build in this 'at risk' area without providing the state with any guarantees of monies or other compensation if fires are to come any time in the future."

Then, the homes are built. Suburbs are built. Thousands upon thousands or homes are built in 'at risk' areas. Now, if anything burns, it will be at the cost of the tens of millions of homes that do not occupy these 'at risk' areas.

The homeowners build in the 'at risk' areas. They pay their fire insurance at premium prices (Hey, the Insurance companies know what might happen, even if the state doesn't). The fires come and go, and sometimes, the homeowners in the 'at risk' areas get paid to rebuild their homes by the insurance companies. Of course, built right back in the 'at risk' area again, and with no requirements of fireproofing the home any better that it was during the last fire.

So, LOTS of money is being paid to the insurance companies by the homeowners and possibly even by the developers of the 'at risk' homes in the mountainside communities, but none of the money is going to the state. You remember the State, the group that gets to pay for fighting the fires when they come? Notice I didn't say "if." That's a word that the insurance companies use to make LOTS of sales.

I propose that a more fair system would go like this: If you wish to develop or build in what the State designates as an "at risk" area, then monthly stipends must be paid to the state to fight the fires that will eventually come. You can decrease your stipend, if you maintain the brush cut back from structures to a given distance, but the stipend will be paid to the state to fight the fires if you continue to live in an "at risk" area. After all, it is your choice to live there, no one if forcing you to live there, and with that choice should come an added responsibility.

And this should not be just for those of us who reside in "at risk to Fire" areas, but for any and all "at risk" areas -- at risk to flood, at risk to mud slides, at risk to earthquakes.

Only then would the cost of fighting the disasters be equitable. Otherwise, all of us bear the cost by the risk that a few require. Yeah, putting the cost over all of us makes the cost less for those who are "at risk," but isn't the point of doing that to discourage from developing and living in the "at risk" areas?

Yes, it is.