10/15/2019 – By all credible and reliable accounts, the State of California has not turned its back on Amateur Radio as an emergency communication resource nor have established repeater owners been asked to remove their equipment from state-owned sites unless they pay sizeable fees. The California controversy, inflamed by a viral YouTube video, stemmed from a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) communication telling a repeater owner or group that Amateur Radio equipment would have to be removed from a state-owned site or “vault” if the owner(s) determined the cost was too great to proceed with a formal application to keep it there.
“I do understand and appreciate all of the service you have provided in the past,” CAL FIRE’s Lorina Pisi, told the unknown repeater owner(s) or group(s) last month. “However, with constantly changing technological advances, there is no longer the same benefit to State as previously provided. Therefore, the Department no longer financially supports HAM operators [sic] radios or tenancy. If you desire to enter into a formal agreement to operate and maintain said equipment, you must complete and submit attached collocation application along with fee as outlined on page one of application. There is cost associated with getting an agreement in place.”
It’s not clear to whom Pisi’s memo was addressed, since any name or names were redacted from the version of the memo that is being circulated. ARRL reached out to Pisi this week but has not heard back.
After receiving a lengthy communication from attorney Nathan Zeliff, K6DPS, of Shingletown, California, citing Pisi’s letter, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko did some asking around of his own. He reported that Jim Price, the Communications Center Operation Officer for the State Office of Emergency Services, explained to him that the matter is not a new one, and the issue of repeater equipment in state radio vaults has been going on for 5 years or longer.
“He said this gets down to a local level, if the local officials feel there is a need to have the ham radio repeaters in vaults in their area,” Bosenko told Zeliff. “As such, this gets down to authorization for vault space, clearances and authorization to access equipment in the vaults and contract agreements for the equipment to be in the vaults. The matter of cost and who will bear the cost for contracts and vault space has also been an issue for years.”
ARRL officials who have also looked into the situation agree that it’s been blown out of proportion by parties with their own agendas.
“The State of California has not made any determination we can find ‘that Ham Radio [is] no longer a benefit,’” Pacific Division Director Jim Tiemstra, K6JAT, is quoted on the Sacramento Valley Section website. “What happened is that CAL FIRE has transferred responsibility for its communications sites to its property management department. That department has the task of evaluating each site, its condition, use, and tenants. If a repeater not known to be associated with the emergency management function of a local jurisdiction is found in a CAL FIRE vault, the default action is to move it out or subject it to commercial rental rates.”
“Our contact in the California Office of Emergency Services suggests that, if any affected repeater is in any way involved with local emergency or government support activity, they should ask that agency to engage with CAL FIRE concerning the repeater. If the agency makes the case, there is a good chance that the repeater will be unaffected,” Tiemstra added.
ARRL Southwestern Division Director Dick Norton, N6AA, has been responding to inquiries with the same message.