Residents of De Luz, a community north of Fallbrook, are fighting an annexation bid by the North County Fire Protection District, which claims the area has received free protection for 15 years and should now help pay for the service.
Annexation would force De Luz’s 300 or so residents to pay $180 a year each. Residents say they fear they would not have control over the use of the fees.
The issue will be decided in a June 19 special election; if the annexation proposal fails to gain the necessary two-thirds vote, De Luz may be cut off by the fire district completely.
Residents say they don’t need the district’s help, since it is too far removed to do any good and because the California Department of Forestry provides all the fire protection the area needs.
“The district is going to annex us and not be able to do anything for us,” resident Ron Wyman said. “All that we’re being annexed for is a source of money, to get a larger tax base and enlarge their district.”
“They have no plans to put any equipment out here, and they can’t service us,” Wyman said. “They claim that they’ve been providing free service for us, but they haven’t been out here. There have only been two fires out here in the last 10 years.”
Fire Chief Andrew Vanderlaan said annexation would provide 24-hour, year-round fire and emergency protection, including paramedic and ambulance service. The CDF operates eight months out of the year.
Ruth Wright, whose house and wholesale nursery business burned to the ground in 1985, also opposes the annexation. She believes the community would lose control over its fire protection.
“It’s just a Boston tea party,” she said. “We are going to be taxed on something that we will have no improvements on, and we will have no say-so on what happens to the money.”
But Vanderlaan said that, once De Luz became part of the district, residents would be eligible to be elected to the district’s controlling board when at-large elections are held in November.
Wright and Wyman would like to eliminate the fire district and have De Luz deal with the CDF directly, partly because they feel the CDF would charge a smaller fee.
For that to occur, De Luz would have to form a fire district itself, something the Local Agency Formation Commission, a state agency, has prohibited because De Luz falls under the North County Fire Protection District’s sphere of influence.
“We really discourage the formation of districts within districts that will be providing the same types of services,” said Mike Ott of the agency. “LAFCO’s whole mandate is to discourage the proliferation of districts in counties, and here it would be potentially duplicative.”
Ott said the North County Fire Protection District is the most logical agency to provide fire services to De Luz.
Residents of Fallbrook, Rainbow and Bonsall, which already fall under the North County Fire Protection District, do not pay the $180 annual fee because they were part of the district before Proposition 13 was enacted in 1978. The fire district relies mainly on property taxes to operate.
Had Proposition 13 not been enacted, De Luz could be annexed and money from property taxes apportioned to cover fire protection.
Vanderlaan said that, if the annexation attempt fails, he will recommend to the controlling board that service to De Luz be discontinued.