On Monday, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Board of Directors decided to hold off on changing the District’s name and will instead work on correcting those who fail to call the District by its actual name.
The move came after a November 2015 decision where the County agreed to come to the table with an Memorandum of Understanding where they provided funding to the ECCFPD to keep open a 4th fire station.
At the time, then Supervisor Mary Piepho requested four conditions of approval be placed on the fire district which was approved in a 4-1 vote.
- initiate action to change the existing Board of Directors from an appointed Board to an elected Board, including application to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), if legally required;
- initiate action to form a citizen’s oversight committee for any revenue enhancement measure that is sought, including residents and taxpayers within the District;
- initiate action to evaluate changing the District’s name to one that more accurately reflects the communities that it serves; and
- approve the recommendation of District Fire Chief Henderson to use the temporary fund allocation to re-open and operate the fire station in Knightsen.
In March of 2016, the Board of Supervisors had the item again before them and confirmed that these were “requirements” and not “recommendations” being made which was confirmed by County Administrator David Twa.
On Monday, ECCFPD Brian Helmick explained that the cities and county went into an agreement that will expire on June 31, 2017 and addressed many of the items of the MOU.
“As a District, we have been able to achieve all of the items minus one, which is the Districts name change,” said Helmick. “The complexity behind that is that it has been argued by many that the Districts name, East Contra Costa Fire Protection District creates confusion because it’s too close to Contra Costa County which I believe is why the supervisors made the recommendation as part of the MOU.”
“As of today, the District has not taken any direction on pursuing a name change. In doing so, it’s a pretty substantial question that needs to be addressed from not only a branding and marketing perspective, but also a cost and a time issue,” said Helmick.
Preliminary estimates show the cost would be $77,000 for the District to change its name but Helmick admitted there was no way to measure the amount of staff time it would take to implement a change.
“Secondarily although a name change could be beneficial to the organization, it would create some confusion on the front end. We are already in a pretty confusing situation where we are at,” said Helmick.
Director Brian Oftendal asked about the word “recommendation” versus “requirement” in terms of the MOU and the name change.
Helmick replied there was no mandate.
“The name change specifically itself, I have not found anything that reads that it’s mandated for us to do it,” said Helmick. “With that being said, it did stress the fact that they strongly recommend that the District do it
District legal stated there was no requirement in the MOU to change the District name, only that they consider it and stated by having this discussion tonight, they were considering it.
During public comments, Oakley resident and Ironhouse Santiary District Director Susan Morgan stated the county was strongly urging the name change.
“They implied a degree of unhappiness if it didn’t occur and potentially resulting in a withdrawal of voluntary funding, not necessarily stated that strongly, but I believe there are implications to not addressing the name change that should be considered,” stated Morgan.
Jessie Lachance-Mellan stated it was a waste of money because $77k is only the minimum and staff costs were unknown.
“This is wasted money that we can use elsewhere,” said Lachance-Mellon. “Having this discussion satisfies the consideration on the legal requirement. So let’s finish the discussion, close the consideration, and check the box.”
Mark Whitlock, Bethel Island, stated they were here talking about it and in one minute it fulfills the contractual obligation of the MOU that is going to be up in 23-days.
“East Contra Costa County is a geographical statement,” says Whitlock. “I am not trying to beat up on the Supervisors… but I think the whole thing is not very thought out.”
Whitlock says he believed the total cost would be $200k or more which could be better used at outreach for the District or pay for other items within the District.
“The only person who requested a name change was Supervisor Piepho, there was nobody else from the county that requested the name change and she is no longer our supervisor. Supervisor Burgis has not mentioned anything about this and I don’t think there is anybody else who is confused in the county,” stated Bray. “I would just let this go.”
During Board Discussion, they were not eager to change the name citing cost and time.
Director Joe Young stated they had discussed this in the past at the time they were considering the ballot measure.
“A major factor at that time was trying to explain a name change at the same time we were explaining a governance change would be really confusing. We decided not to explore a name change at that time. We are going out for an election in 14-to-15 months for directors and we would be right on top of trying to explain a name change at the same time,” stated Young. “They would say who am I electing and who do they serve. My feeling is that the name change idea needs to go to bed for a while. I would like to recommend we not do that.”
Director Doug Hardcastle said they considered it.
“I believe we did our duty to consider it, so our duty is done,” said Hardcastle. “I am okay to consider keeping it as it is.”
Board President Joel Bryant stated that one of the things that had been a regular event was the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors were not calling them the right name.
“When they are discussing the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District, which is the name of this District, I know it comes as a shock to everyone in this room, that the word county is not in the name at all, and yet consistently they refer to this as East County Fire which is like calling Walmart, Target,” said Bryant. “It is not in the name, it is the location that this group serves.”
Bryant highlighted the cost is ultimately going to be substantial and there were a lot of places the funds could otherwise be used.
Helmick stated that it would take 6-months to a year to make a “clean break” from the name and that while there is a value to a name change, but questioned if it was the best way at this time to be stewards of the people’s money.
Helmick further highlighted they needed to remedy the fact that people were calling them the wrong name and begin correcting them—that they begin following up with why the name says “county” in the news media or at the Board of Supervisors.
“I have not gone and said that is not who we are. We are not CONFIRE (Contra Costa County Fire), we are not East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, we are East Contra Costa Fire,” explained Helmick. “That is branding that is to be done through our outreach. That is something that we need to do, but I believe I take partial responsibility for not correcting those that have called us by the wrong name.”
Bryant explained how most recently Battalion Chief Macumber was on the news with the wrong fire district name.
“Personally, I think eventually a name change with an elected board with some of the changes coming in the future, I wouldn’t say a name change should never be done, but I think right now with the very limited resources that we have an all of the other issues that we have that have been brought forth, I think this board at this time should not necessarily move forward with a name change.”
Director Cheryl Morgan stated she agreed.
“The one person at the County Board of Supervisors who was instant about the name change for reasons that were ridiculous, she is gone,” said Morgan. “There is nobody now in terms of county supervisors that I am aware of who care one way or the other. But if the county insists on the name change, I would insist that they pay for it. If they want us to change our name, they have got more funds than we do, they can pay for it.”
The board voted unanimously not to move forward with a name change.