County leaders decided Tuesday to hold off on a motion that would waive building permit fees for residents of Big Pine who are rebuilding after the Center Fire earlier this year.
The potential move comes on the heels of Inyo County Public Works receiving requests from fire victims to waive certain building code provisions, such as snow load requirements and fire safety measures that were not required of older homes due to a grandfather clause.
Interim Public Works Director Doug Wilson said, and the Board of Supervisors agreed, that waiving safety measures on homes could lead to insurance and possibly liability problems in the future.
Wilson told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that he does not recommend waiving building code provisions, but understands that residents affected by the fire need assistance and that the county vowed to help the fire victims in any way possible.
With that in mind, he proposed waiving building permit fees for anyone who lost a home or structure in the fire.
Wilson said that, should the county agree to waive the building permit fee, it would be responsible for covering a $30 state fee for anyone who pulls a permit.
As of Tuesday, no one had pulled building permits to rebuild after the March 18 Center Fire, he added.
The four members of the board (Second District Supervisor and Board Chair Susan Cash was absent) said they supported the idea of providing additional relief for fire victims, but feared that it would be unfair to waive building permits for victims of one disaster and not for another.
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius said that a single family losing their home to a blaze is as much a tragedy, for them, as a fire that destroys a city block.
Third District Supervisor Rick Pucci pointed out that homeowners with insurance will have building permits covered by the insurance companies. He asked if the county could waive the fees for only those without insurance.
County Counsel Randy Keller said that move would be discriminating against insurance companies, and advised the board to steer clear of that move.
According to Fourth District Supervisor Marty Fortney, whose district includes both Independence and Big Pine, the majority of homes destroyed in the fire were located in the Glacier View Mobile Home Park, and that the county does not issue permits for mobile homes. Those permits must come through the state.
Fortney also expressed reservations about waiving fees for these disaster victims when such assistance was not offered to victims of the Oak Creek mud slide in 2008. He said he feared the waiver would “open a can of worms,” and also didn’t want to see taxpayers paying the $30 state fee.
“I have some issues on this,” Fortney said. “On one hand I want to support these people, but on the other, no one on Oak Creek got help. And this would only help a couple people” – those who did not have insurance and did not live in the mobile home park.
Pucci suggested that the county hold off on any move to waive fees and consider a blanket “discount” on permits that would be available to all, for a pre-determined amount of time, or consider waiving building permit fees on an individual basis.
The board agreed and directed Wilson to return to the board at a later date with a proposal for a blanket discount.