Mandatory Brush Clearing Leads to Tax Sale in San Diego

A California man is fighting efforts by San Diego county officials to auction off his property after he refused to remove combustible vegetation from around his home, and then refused to pay the expenses of the private contractor who performed the work. Joseph Diliberti, a Vietnam Vet who lives alone deep in rural eastern San Diego County, has until July 1, 2010 to pay the charges, plus interest.

State and local fire officials, reeling after years of tragic wildland fire losses, are stuck in the middle of this pitched battle.



Predictably, the media has characterized the battle as one of individual rights versus the big bad government bureaucracy, but fundamentally there is a serious question of individual rights versus individual responsibility. Whether it is the risk from wildland fires, or the threat of an approaching hurricane – people demand the freedom to ignore a dangerous situation until it is too late, and then complain (and often sue) when help doesn’t come fast enough.

The reality is that government doesn’t enough fire trucks to place hose streams between every home and the combustible vegetation around it, nor enough helicopters to rescue everyone who ignores hurricane evacuation orders. That is where individual responsibility comes in.

While part of me is sympathetic to Diliberti's plight, somewhere a balance needs to be struck. Perhaps this case will help better define the line between individual rights and individual responsibility… at least when it comes to safe practices in the WUI.

Here is a link to more on the story.

Here is a link to Diliberti's Facebook Support page.

The NPFA's Firewise program.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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