CAA Files Suit for Revised Alarm Ordinance in S.F.


The California Alarm Association (CAA) and an individual
alarm system owner filed suit this week against the city
and county of San Francisco to halt its revised alarm

The board adopted changes to the city’s ordinance Feb. 18 to mandate alarm monitoring companies to collect licensing fees from alarm system users who are technically customers of alarm installing companies. They would also be held financially accountable for any uncollected fees and could also be criminally prosecuted, as stated by a letter sent to alarm companies March 24.

“What this is doing is telling these monitoring stations that even though their contracts are with alarm installing companies or national entities, they are required to bill out their non-customers imposed by this ordinance,” says Arthur Fine, an attorney with Los Angeles-based Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp representing the alarm industry.

A superior court hearing for a preliminary injunction has been set for May 7.

Fine says the amended ordinance violates California’s Alarm Company Act, which outlines what local municipalities can and cannot enforce under local ordinances. Under the act, municipalities can require alarm company operators to obtain business permits, require customers to obtain permits to operate an alarm system as well as permits for false alarm activation and responses. “They cannot require an alarm company to bill and collect license fees and remit them to the local municipalities,” he says.

He adds that the ordinance also violates the Brown Act, the state’s opening meeting law, which mandates municipalities to allow for public comment on any type of legislation being considered.

Fine says the board of supervisors did not hold public comments related to the ordinance but referred it to the city’s finance committee. The committee, made up of three board of supervisor members, were given 30 days to consider the purposed ordinance. Fine says not only did the committee take longer than 30 days to make its decision, the number of members on the committee was an inadequate representation of the full 11-member supervisory board.

Although the monies to be collected under the amended ordinance are deemed to be for license fees, Fine says alarm companies would be acting more as tax collectors. “We believe this is a tax for two reasons. The money is not earmarked to go to the police department but to a general city fund. Secondly, this tax is not proportional to the expenses that are to be incurred in connection with alarm systems.”

The city estimates that it costs approximately $3 million to administer alarm systems and respond to alarms. It projects that it would generate somewhere around $6 million from licensing fees and false alarm fees under the amended ordinance.

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