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A collision in Surf City could cost you

August 17, 2010 |  2:52 pm

Visiting Huntington Beach? Drive carefully or you could pay.

A law approved this week will charge out-of-towners responsible for car accidents for the costs of sending firefighters to the scene.

The ordinance is meant to help pay the cost of responding to car accidents that spike during the summer months when tourists and visitors flock to the beach city and cause an estimated 300 traffic accidents each year. City officials say fees that could total several thousand dollars per accident will help defray the burden on city finances.

“We have a city that grows in population during the summer by anywhere between 10 and 13 million people, “ said Huntington Beach Mayor Cathy Green. “So this is really about people who are impacting our services so much paying the costs.”

Huntington Beach residents pay property taxes to help pay for emergency responders, but visitors do not, Green explained. The fees are a way to make nonresidents who are at fault in accidents chip in. She added that insurance companies would be on the hook for the fees as long as the driver is insured.

Starting next month, the city will charge nonresidents $595 for a car accident with spilled gas or oil, $750 if the vehicle is on fire and $1,995 if someone has to be extricated from the vehicle.

What if an accident was bad enough that a fire truck had to be sent? That will cost $505 an hour.

If the chief shows up, he’ll ask for $210 an hour.

Residents would not have to pay.

The ordinance also will charge utility companies for the cost of firefighters responding to downed power lines, burst pipelines and hazardous-materials spills, which the city estimates happens about 60 times a year.

The fees could generate $100,000 a year for the city, according to a report. Fire officials, who proposed the new law, pointed out that dozens of other cities in California have similar laws to help pay for increasingly stressed fire and police departments.

“I would be surprised if there wasn't any city that wouldn't bill you if you hit a sign and knocked it down or hit a power line and knocked it down,” said Judy Cameron, a spokeswoman for the Huntington Beach Fire Department. “There's a cost incurred by your error in driving, and you're responsible for that.”

-- Tony Barboza