After the City of Brentwood and East Contra Costa Fire Protection District voted to move forward on a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure a fourth fire station remains open, the City of Oakley and Contra Costa County refuted statements made by Brentwood representatives over the past several weeks.
Both Oakley and the County have both stated as of Tuesday that neither Board has said “no” to funding a fourth fire station and Brentwood has been misrepresenting their positions. Both have stated it was scheduled to be brought up during their April 18 meetings.
During the March 28 Brentwood City Council Meeting, the City of Brentwood unanimously agreed to send two options to the ECCFPD on funding a fourth station—in both options, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District would supply $4.2 million over 3-years.
- Option 1 – involved working with both the City of Oakley and Contra Costa County
- Option 2 – a Brentwood only funding option that required moving the Knigthsen Station to Brentwood.
During the meeting, ad-hoc committee consisting of Councilmembers Steve Barr and Karen Rarey reported how the County had concerns that the fire district had not changed its name and Rarey says there was a wall of resistance from both the County and Oakley. Both stated they did not get the impression a deal could be worked out and decided they needed to create an option 2 which was a Brentwood only solution.
Then during Monday night’s East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Meeting, Brentwood representatives continued to go on the offense against the County and City of Oakley repoeating statements made during the Brentwood City Council meeting.
Meanwhile, Board Member Joe Young stated he attended the ad-hoc meeting and that the likelihood that Oakley and the County would come around was unlikely.
The result was the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District voted to take Option 1 of a joint-MOU between Brentwood, Oakley and the County off the table and negotiate only with Brentwood under Option 2.
County Supervisors Diane Burgis and Karen Mitchoff, along with Oakley City Manager Bryan Montgomery and Councilman Kevin Romick, dispute Brentwood’s characterization and statements made of the two ad-hoc meetings.
All agreed in one form or another, that the Brentwood City Council and fire board representatives were misleading the public to get a vote to move the Knigthsen station to Brentwood.
According to Supervisor Diane Burgis, after the second ad-hoc meeting, she requested the funding of the Knightsen station to be placed on their April 18 Board of Supervisor Meeting.
“After the last ad-hoc committee, I submitted a request for our board to consider the continued funding of the Knightsen station to our county administrator and included the Brentwood and Oakley city managers in that email,” said Burgis. “It will be on our agenda on April 18th. My ultimate goal has always been and will always be to support the creation of a trusted and dependable fire protection district that is appropriately staffed and provides good coverage to the whole district.”
Burgis explained that the goal was to find a way to work together to ensure fire service was provided to the entire district while finding a way to fulfill both short-term and long-term solutions.
“While funding the fourth station was discussed at the two ad-hoc meetings there were also efforts to discuss creating a more cooperative and collaborative effort to get everyone to work together on that same common goal – something I think that has been lacking for a long time and obviously continues to be a problem,” said Burgis.
She explained that her concern now with Brentwood requesting the station being moved is that ISO ratings will increase which will mean higher insurance premiums for folks on Bethel Island and unincorporated Contra Costa.
In an interview with Chief Hugh Henderson last May, he highlighted how areas outside of five-road miles of the remaining fire stations would be re-classified as Class 10—meaning no fire service. That would result in increased insurance rates.
“What we’ve seen in the Morgan Territory Road and Bethel Island area is rates have increased 3 to 4 times higher. It is my understanding that some of the property owners fire insurance is $3,500 the year,” said Henderson.
Henderson fought multiple times public outcry to put stations where the call volumes were to protect the entire District and provide the best coverage for everyone without sacrificing a particular community.
On Monday, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District’s Board voted 7-2 to take “Option 1” off the table and negotiate with Brentwood on supplementing a station–the request was to move the Knightsen station to downtown Brentwood.
The move also goes against last years Citygate report which recommended a station be placed in Knightsen and that assets were to be deployed from the outside in as opposed to inside out as part of the Brentwood plan to focus on response times, not call volume.
Brentwood appears to have changed course mid-discussion as Supervisor Burgis and Mitchoff who both confirmed Option 2 of a Brentwood only funded station was never brought up during the ad-hoc committee meetings. Meanwhile, Oakley councilman Kevin Romick stated during the March 28 council meeting that he was surprised to see Brentwood put Option 2 on the table without informing anyone.
Supervisor Karen Mitchoff explained how she told the Brentwood ad-hoc committee the county would be happy to consider a request, but wanted a budget and only to pay for the fourth station through December 31, 2018 where there would then be an elected board in place.
“We would be happy to look at it; it was always about keeping Knigthsen open, not opening up a Brentwood station. It wasn’t that we weren’t willing to look at helping out financially, but we have to go back to our full board to make that decision.”
Mitchoff also pointed out that the ECCFPD board never did meet all of the county’s requirements the first time they provided financial assistance per the MOU–the last MOU was an effort by the cities and county to open a fourth station which included five conditions.
According to the November 18, 2015 Board of Supervisor Meeting, the ECCFPD was to do the following:
- ECCFPD would pursue independence special district through LAFCO
- ECCFPD would move to an elected fire board
- ECCFPD would seek a name change
- ECCFPD would create an citizens oversight committee to oversee new funds
- ECCFPD would accept the Chiefs recommendation to open 4th station in Knightsen
The conditions were later clarified by both the Board of Supervisor and County Administrator in March of 2016 as not being recommendations, but requirements of actions that needed to be taken.
“Nothing has changed since we gave them money,” said Mitchoff. “They were requirements that had to be done, not recommendations. The bottom line is that I feel that the Board of Supervisors does not look at the fire board as taking responsibility and are now they are throwing their hands up in the air looking for help. Okay fine, but why do you expect another elected body to help?.”
She also highlighted the first ad-hoc meeting was also around the idea of Brentwood forming their own fire department. It was decided that the next meeting they would bring a budget and provide more information.
“I asked for a budget and supporting documents ahead of time and was told there were not any,” explained Mitchoff. She also shared that she did not attend the second meeting because of a death in the family, but her staff said it did not go well.
Burgis confirmed that both an agenda and documents were requested, however, Brentwood did not provide any documentation before the meeting.
Mitchoff explained that it was not unreasonable to be provided with a plan of how the monies from the county would be spent and where the ad-hoc committee was going with a plan for sustainability.
“There was not a plan,” said Mitchoff. “There is a station in Knightsen and I will not vote to support an option which puts a station in Brentwood. Why should the county pay for another station in Brentwood when we have the unincorporated areas who have a need.”
Mitchoff also challenged the Brentwood representatives on their rhetoric saying that the county never told the ad-hoc committee they were not interested, only that they wanted more facts.
“We were going to talk about it, but needed more information and a timeline which was not provided,” said Mitchoff. “Then all of a sudden we see on the Brentwood Agenda this option 2 of a Brentwood only funding for a station.”
She admits what caught her off guard was the claim the county was unwilling to participate.
“I’ve never discussed Brentwood, it’s always been how to keep Knightsen open. They came back at the second meeting saying that we had to send out layoff notices on April 1, which they never gave us that fact, they said the station was closing June 30th.
She also stated that she would not be afraid to recommend the county pull back the nearly $800k from Byron Bethany Irrigation District monies that was earmarked to the fire district and put back into the county general fund for the unincorporated areas based on Brentwoods manipulation to the public.
“The issue is revenue, the people in East County don’t want to tax themselves,” said Mitchoff. “What we said to the ad-hoc committee is we are tired of enabling a dysfunctional board. You can’t keep throwing money at something when people aren’t willing to take some responsibility. You wouldn’t treat your children that way, you want to fix it.”
She further highlighted she was willing to work with East County officials on how to solve and address the current shortage, but would agree to funding through December 2018 and take up the issue again once an elected board was seated.
“There really is no leadership on the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Board which is why the Board of Supervisors in our MOU last year requested their be more accountability for their actions and the people of east county get that accountability once an elected board is in place,” said Mtichoff.
Oakley City Manager Bryan Montgomery stated both Oakley and the County told the Brentwood Subcommittee that they would have to take back to their respective Board/Council. This is appropriate and was even noted in Brentwood’s Staff Report.
“The earliest it could be on the County’s agenda was later in April and our budget prioritization discussion in Oakley was already set for April 18th,” said Montgomery. “It sounds like Brentwood is prepared (and has the funds) to go either way (with County and City “in” or not).
Montgomery further highlighted regardless of what Oakley or the County does, the District will get a 4th station and thus prevent layoffs.
“There is no rush and the appropriate time to address such a request (nearly $1M) over three years is when all budget priorities are discussed,” said Montgomery
Oakley Councilman Kevin Romick said the first time he heard about a “Brentwood only” funding option was once he read their council agenda.
“When we left the second meeting both the city of Oakley and the county told Brentwood that we would bring the issue to our respective boards for a discussion and possible action. At no time during either meeting did Brentwood raise the possibility of funding the 4th station on their own. The first time I heard of this was when they released their staff report prior to their council meeting.,” said Romick. “I reported out after both meetings stating that we had met to discuss keeping the station open, that a budget had been offered but that Oakley would meet on April 18, to talk station funding in the context of a full budget discussion.”
Brentwood City Manager Gus Vina was asked why he believes both the County and Oakley would not come to the table, he replied with the following:
“I can’t really speak for them on the why or why not and can certainly appreciate the difficulty in the decision given the pressures on our budgets. Having said that, the issue should not be one of insufficient time for a decision or “we were not included”. When the UUT failed in November we all knew this conversation and discussion would be needed with the funding for Knightsen ending this June. The Brentwood City Council took the initiative of establishing the ad hoc to discuss this and other options to help with fire and medical services in our community. In February both Oakley and the County were asked if they wanted to extend the existing MOU. While we understood that it still would require approval by the board/city council, starting in February should have been sufficient time to do this. That first meeting in February lead to the second meeting in March on the same topic. It was in March that we felt this thing was not going to be moving forward and with the impending closure of the station things became urgent. All this lead to the Brentwood only option, but clearly that is not where we started and we had hoped for the partnership to continue. “
With the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Board voting to take an option off the table that includes a model that works with the City of Oakley and the County, its unclear what impact a “yes vote” would mean for the District.
The actions by the Bentwood ad-hoc committee and the ECCFPD along with the statements made by Brentwood and Oakley indicate that their continues to be a divide on a common goal going forward.
With Brentwood set to supplement a station with the help of the fire district’s $4.2 million over three-years, neither Oakley nor the County will get that same option since the fire district would hypothetically have already committed to Brentwood and the money would have been spent.
The belief by the representatives in both Oakley and the county is that Brentwood has manipulated the public and fire board with an incorrect characterization of the ad-hoc committee in an effort to get a fourth fire station placed in their own community.