On Tuesday, the Brentwood City Council agree to move forward with a plan that would allow for funding to be provided to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District to ensure a 4th station remains open.
The city council agreed after an hour of discussion, but not after being critical of the County Board of Supervisors and the City of Oakley, to present two options to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District that would allow for funding for a fourth-station to remain open and prevent firefighter layoffs.
OPTIONS RECOMMENDED BY THE COMMITTEE
- Option One: Amendment and continuation of the existing Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Oakley, City of Brentwood, Contra Costa County, and the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District using the contribution amounts identified in Attachment “A” for a three-year contract. Per communication from both the City of Oakley and the Contra Costa County this option would be presented to their respective council/board no sooner than April 18, 2017.
- Option Two: This option assumes that the only agency participating in a Memorandum of Understanding would be the City of Brentwood. The City of Brentwood would contract for additional fire and medical services for a period of three years through a Memorandum of Understanding with the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District, and would fund to operate an additional fire station in the City of Brentwood. The City of Brentwood’s contribution per Attachment “A” would need to increase to include the contributions listed from the other agencies, less the District’s available funding.
The fiscal impact of Option One would require a funding commitment of an estimated $1.5
million over the three-year period to operate a fourth station. The remaining $5.7 million needed to keep the fourth station open for three years would be funded through contributions by the District, the County and the City of Oakley. At the end of the three-year period, including the funding for the fourth station, the projected CFD unallocated cash balance would be $2.8 million.
The fiscal impact of Option Two would require a funding commitment of an estimated $3.0 million over the three-year period to operate a fourth station, with the remaining $4.2 million
being funded by the District. At the end of the three-year period, including the funding for the
fourth station, the projected CFD unallocated cash balance would be $1.3 million.
The action came after Brentwood created an ad-hoc committee consisting of Councilmembers Steve Barr and Karen Rarey to address fire and EMS services and they held meetings regarding the possibility of amending and continuing the existing Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Oakley, City of Brentwood, Contra Costa County, and the District in order to continue funding a fourth station. In addition to the Committee members and City of Brentwood staff, present for this discussion were Contra Costa County Board Supervisors Diane Burgis and Karen Mitchoff, Oakley Council
Member Kevin Romick, and Oakley City Manager Bryan Montgomery.
Councilwoman Karen Rarey said both meetings were interesting
“The first meeting I’d have to say, county supervisors were more concerns with the fact that the District had not changed its name yet and that both the county and Oakley have put up a wall of resistance. The county representatives likened the act of extending the MOU to that of enabling a child,” said Rarey. “They would possibly consider it but only for 18-months and that 18-months would be when the newly elected board would take place and elected.
She explained how Oakley Councilman Kevin Romick told us that the public made it clear in the previous election that they did not want any more fire stations.
“I responded to him that I think the public did not want to pay for anymore fire stations. That they did want the fire service but wanted the cities and county and the fire district to figure out how to pay for it,” said Rarey.
She added she didn’t get a good feeling from the meetings.
“I didn’t get a good feeling leaving the meeting, either of them. We did ask them if they would go back and sell it to their boards and while they said they would take it back but would not commit to selling it,” said Rarey.
Councilman Steve Barr concurred with Rarey’s comments on the makeup of the meetings. He added that it became clear that the biggest priority for the ad-hoc committee was keeping the 4th station open.
“We all know the task force recommendation got the Knightsen station opened and it wasn’t easy,” said Barr. “If it closes, it starts the whole clock over again. We understand the urgency. We met with county officials and Oakley and didn’t get a warm enough response to realize that we need to look at two options. It would be great if those bodies came around and realize that keeping the 4th station open benefits everyone in East County, but in the meantime I feel like if we don’t look at it as Brentwood becoming that backstop, if we wait and get more delays, the 9 firefighters that were hired and trained will be laid off and the time is now to make that decision.
Barr said based on urgency that is why the Council is being presented with options in two forms.
“I think we have left the door open that if future meetings of the Board of Supervisors and City of Oakley there is a decision made by those bodies, I still think this allows us some flexibility to enter into a multi-jurisdictional MOU and without that it would allow us to proceed on our own,” said Barr. “That is how we got to that recommendation.”
There was discussion by the council on response times prior to the Knightsen fire opening and its benefits on response times.
Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor asked if Oakley and the County had resistance because they were concerned over “money.”
Barr stated it was multiple levels of concerns.
“I think there was a feeling that the fire board had not done enough,” said Barr. “Having been one of those fire board members and personally attending those meetings and know being on their finance meeting, I know they are doing everything they can do with the revenue they have. It’s clear without additional resources the service model is 3-stations period. There is no shuffling the deck or finding more efficiencies, I know all those things have happened.”
Barr further highlighted they went to the voters three times “no”.
“I agree with Councilwoman Rarey about what I heard during the election that a lot of money is paid to the cities and county and the fire district and they want us to figure it out,” said Barr. “And that is what we are doing.”
Taylor stated he was fascinated by both proposals.
“Brentwood has to do something and we have to face the issue,” said Taylor. “I’d be very disappointed that the county didn’t face the issue because they also have county issues. Oakley didn’t face the issue, they have Oakley issues. It would be much better in a cohesive manner with all the agencies.”
Taylor asked what guarantee does Brentwood have if they put up the money that the station will be in Brentwood.
Rarey explained that was the option they were giving the fire board under a Brentwood only financing.
Brentwood City Manager Gus Vina interjected where he explained that what the model provided tonight was a three station district model and Brentwood would be contracting out for a higher level of service—under an MOU it would require that station to be in Brentwood or they wouldn’t enter into the agreement.
Barr stated it was the desire of the Ad-hoc committee to prevent that 4th station from closing and that their funding proposal would allow them not to lay off 9-firefighters while leaving open the opportunity with the County and the City of Oakley to join in.
Taylor confirmed it would be a three-year contract to keep that 4th station open which would come out of the Community Facilities District revenues.
Taylor then asked how they felt about the ad-hoc committee if they felt Brentwood was going to go on its own.
Rarey said right now they are still looking at keeping that 4th station open.
“We are still going through the avenues of looking at other options but the urgency is to prevent the layoffs, that is why we approached the County and the City of Oakley to prevent the layoffs, keep that 4th station open while we continue to look at other options on the fire medical services ad-hoc committee. This is just one of many we are looking at,” said Rarey.
Barr added it was there goal in committee to bring all the options to the strategic planning session in August—he added that the more services they add to fire, it will impact Brentwood services in other areas.
Councilwoman Claudette Staton asked if there was a reason why the County wants to wait 18-months?
Rarey replied they didn’t say that.
“At the first the meeting that if they consider it they might consider it in 18-months because there would be an elected board and make their own decisions and that they shouldn’t be locking the elected board into an MOU that they had no part in,” explained Rarey.
Joe Young, a fire board member and Brentwood resident, urged the council during public comments to authorize both options to be presented to the fire board.
“Right now, we are having a fire sale. You can get a 4th station for a million dollars a year for the next 3-years,” said Young. The 5th station, whenever we start to talk about it is $3.5 million to $4 million. I urge you to buy that 4th station as quickly as you can. It’s essential to Brentwood to get option 2 on the table.”
Young also compared Cortona Park (a senior community) to the recent Oakland 4-Alarm fire which according to CBS News, Records show that the building that burned has been the target of building department investigations and citations since 2010, when the city allowed the owner to convert the structure into transitional housing for recovering drug addicts, people struggling with homelessness and others. City records show a building inspector on March 6 had verified a violation involving deferred maintenance. Young also made comparisons to the Oakland Ghost Ship fire
Hal Bray, Brentwood resident and co-Chair of East County Voters for Equal Protection, stated they would like the council to pick “option 2” for a Brentwood funded station.
“We would like you to go with option 2, but we have a third option we would like you to consider which is a little longer solution, but this plays into Option 2 to go together. The first thing you should do is to petition LAFCO to dissolve the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District. We think the City of Brentwood should become the successor agency to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District,” explained Bray. “By picking option 2 tonight, you now have something there that you can start with. We think then you should appoint a Director of Public Safety so you have the police and fire both under the city of Brentwood. The fourth thing you should do is take advantage of Assemblymember Jim Frazier’s $10.5 million re-allocation proposal from East Bay Regional Parks which would give this city enough money to run 6-stations, maybe 7 stations. You would have a long term vision you are going to go and we think by having the City of Brentwood take over the fire district that the ability to pass the reallocation plan within the state legislator would be much higher and would be a lot of people who would support your effort to become the Brentwood Fire Department.”
Stephen Smith, Brentwood resident, stated he supported presenting both options to the fire board.
“If something comes of Assemblyman Frazier’s efforts that is well and good, frankly I don’t believe it will,” said Smith. “I see so many ways that could get shot down and cannot see why Alameda County would be willing to commit to a district that they are a part of re-directing $10.5 million of funds to one corner of Contra Costa County, especially if it has to go to a vote of the voters in the East Bay Regional Park District. I frankly. think it’s a waste of time and effort. What has not been put forward at the State Level is a constitutional amendment to lower the voting requirement to 55%. There is a bill on the table to go to library and for transportation to go to 55% from 66.6% but there is no bill on the table to take public safety down to 55% which is I think is far more likely to result in a positive outcome.”
Smith added that he realized Brentwood would carry the other communities but said it has to be done.
“What needs to be remembered is the station re-locating to Brentwood means that another segment of Brentwood gets an urban fire response,” explained Smith. “Yes we cover Oakley and we cover Bethel Island, but they’re going to get suburban or rural fire response. We at least will have a larger percentage of Brentwood within 4-drive time minutes of an operational fire station.”
He also added in closing he did not believe Brentwood could afford its own fire department without gutting its own budget and services. He also added he doesn’t believe LAFCO would ever be willing to support a plan where Brentwood would be allowed to create its own fire district.
East Contra Costa Fire Chief Hugh Henderson spoke to provide clarifications on comments made during the meeting.
“The District’s budget is in the best shape it has been since 2006 as the economy started to drop. That budget supports a 3-station model,” said Henderson. “After all the work that he Board has put in, we have a 20% reserve. There is some additional funding on top of that 20%, but it’s not enough or projected over the next 10 years to ever be enough to open a 4th station.”
He said the 4th station adds 25% service to the system.
“You have both options before you tonight, sitting here as your fire chief for another 2-days and a Brentwood resident, I think you have no choice but to move forward with this,” said Henderson.
Barr stated his choice would be to move forward with both options and allow the fire board to look at the merits of both.
“My preference is to encourage them to make a decision, ask Brentwood to fund that 4th station for three-years and move on with the process,” said Barr. “I did not feel in any way shape or form that representatives from the county or Oakley would turn around. That is my personal feeling. I base that on observations, gut feelings or whatever, I feel very strongly about option number 2 and we owe that to our residents of Brentwood to provide the level of service as much as we can afford to pay for. This council has said it’s a priority to find a solution.”
Barr highlighted that he was in favor of a district model, but that to increase the level of service cities or areas could pay to add to the model which was what Brentwood was proposing.
Vice Mayor Joel Bryant said that the fire solution was his priority which was more than line items, but lives—they had to keep
“In order to do that, we have to do everything we can as a city to keep this fourth station open,” said Bryant. “Our firefighters are overworked; doing the job with four stations that are recommendation from CityGate said we should have 10-stations. We have 4-stations with these guys doing the job of 10-stations right now. That gives you some idea of how woefully overworked that our firefighters are.”
He further stated that the number of buildings in a district didn’t matter if they did not have bodies to respond to them—you have minimal response.
“If we don’t send a clear message to the fire board and our community that we are willing to step up and do everything we possibly can do to protect our families, then we should be held accountable personally for the issues that arise from that,” said Bryant. “I’ve spent many years doing everything I can to keep our families safe as possible.”
Bryant said his recommendation was to recommend both options be proposed to the fire board.
“Bottom line is this; I am in hopes that the fire board takes this seriously and extends the option for the fourth station. But I also think we need to extend the courtesy to the City of Oakley and our Board of Supervisors to perhaps listen to our conversation tonight, listen to the community members that have spoken and see that we also will hold them accountable for our safety as well. That is why we voted them into office and I am not going to forget it,” said Bryant. “But I think we have to give them an opportunity to respond properly and if they don’t we don’t have to take more time to come back. The fire board can have an immediate option to vote on.”
Councilwoman Claudette Staton added that this was an issue not only for Brentwood to take “very seriously” but for the communities within the fire district.
“I know it’s about money, I get it, but money is just a piece of paper and I am hoping that the county and city of Oakley will consider funding this fourth station for three-years. When you really look at it, its not a lot of money for all the lives you are going to take care of. God is going to bless them for it,” said Staton.
Staton said she hoped both the City of Oakley to “please listen” and the County to “have a heart” and fund the fire station for three-years while figuring out what can be done to add even more stations.
Rarey said that she preferred recommending both options to the fire board.
“We also heard from the voters, the voters made it very clear that they wanted us, Brentwood, Oakley and the County to look into how we can work with the District to find the funds to fund a fire station,” said Rarey. “I think this is the first step for us moving forward to keeping this one fire station on until we can look into other avenues to increasing and adding onto the fire stations.”
She added that offering both options were crucial.
“We went to the county, we went to Oakley and we said we want to partner with you on this and we want to give them the opportunity to bring it back to their councils and their budget workshops they will be doing. Hopefully by the 18th we will have an idea if they are looking at doing this and by May 1 going back for a vote. Either way if we have both options, it allows the District from having to lay off firefighters.”
The city council then voted unanimously in a 5-0 vote to recommend both options to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.
Future Agenda Items
This bill under its current form as of Wednesday morning, is only a placeholder bill and has not been formally proposed. Last week, however, it’s draft form was leaked and Frazier aims to re-allocated $10.5 million annually from the East Bay Regional Park District and place that funding into the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.
The East Bay Regional Park District has said it plans to oppose the Bill and stated Assemblyman Frazier never spoke to them about his plan or discussed it with them prior to the draft form being introduced.
Beverly Lane, Director of the East Bay Regional Park District blasted Frazier last week saying the bill sets a bad precedence where money could now be moved around automatically from agency to agency which may not even be legal.
“Moving tax allocation around is a really complicated process. It seems to me at the very least; it’s a good idea for the author of a bill to have that kind of allocation clarified before you introduce a bill. That is a general expectation, you want your elected official to be thorough before they introduce a bill,” explained Lane. “I can’t speak for him or what he is thinking, but we were shocked that the rest of the county would have funds taken away to pay for the fire district. It’s a mystery to me how the thinking is going.”
For more on those bills, here is what we put out on March 26.