Editorial: Fire District Should Hit Pause on “Brentwood Only” Fire Option, Then Reset

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With Brentwood set to likely approve its Memorandum of Understanding on Tuesday that would supplement funding for a fire station in the downtown Brentwood area; the fire district should pay close attention to the repercussions it could face by accepting such a one-sided deal.

Remember, this is a Fire Board whom the public does not trust and overwhelmingly voted to move from an appointed board to an elected board. Their sole purpose now in “lame duck” status is to maintain the District and ensure a foundation can be built for when an elected board takes over. In other words, they need to act responsibly and not lock a future board into a decision that has long-lasting financial impacts based on the wants of today.

Over the past month, what has transpired involving the City of Brentwood, the City of Oakley, Contra Costa County and the ECCFPD has shown the worst kind of politics at play, political grandstanding, and exposed potential conflicts as elected city councilmembers serve on the fire board.

Sadly, more fingers of blame are being pointed around instead discussions of substance. This has led Brentwood to steamroll an MOU process at hyper speed which moves the 4th Station from Knightsen to Brentwood–all in the name of “saving lives”.

My question to Brentwood is do people outside of their city limits count? It appears not.

Brentwood claims it’s an emergency item and action must be taken now to prevent closure of a 4th station and protect firefighter jobs. Oakley’s stance is there is no urgency because they say the fire districts budget has enough funding to keep a 4th station on its own for up to one year.

In reviewing the most recent budget document available, with the inclusion of the BBID money from Discovery Bay, the District on its own could keep open a fire station for up to 2-years.

That said, the fire district is so desperate to keep a 4th station open, they are ready to jeopardize not only the future of the District, but throw the public under the bus in the process.

As it stands now, the ECCFPD is a three-station district that is funded for 10-years with a 20% reserve. The good news is under this model; the District can become responsible and begin to work on firefighter retention, replace fire engines, upgrade equipment and make capital improvements.

Instead, under the proposal by Brentwood, the District’s budget is gutted over the next 3-years to fulfill the entitlement mindset of Brentwood who is not even offering a 50-50 split of funding. Over 3-years, the cost of the 4th station is $7.2 million. Brentwood is proposing they pay $3 million while the District pays $4.2 million.

As part of their MOU proposal (page 512) to be finalized Tuesday, Brentwood is requesting the District to reimburse or credit them $2,700 for each excess brownout—which happens when there is not enough staffing to keep stations open. Meanwhile, the termination clause is 9-months written notice. Both outrageous requests.

Furthermore, with the County MOU with BBID money and this new Brentwood MOU which requires 2-stations during the duration of the 3-year term, the entity without protection becomes Oakley and unincorporated Contra Costa County. This means fire service to Oakley, Bethel Island and Knightsen now comes from either station in Brentwood or Discovery Bay during brownouts.

On principal alone, anyone looking at the overall big picture of the fire district can see this operational dictatorship by Brentwood does not look out for the best interest of the District—only Brentwood!

If the fire board is really set on this MOU with Brentwood, the public should begin to challenge the fire board on this decision.

For starters, who really benefits in the deal and where are the tough questions being asked?

The Fire board had the option of allowing Option 1 (joint agreement between Brentwood, Oakley and the County) to continue funding Knightsen and Option 2 (Brentwood Only) to both be presented at its May 1 meeting. Board Member Joe Young made the power play to remove Option 1 and only bring back Option 2?

The question is why kill any chance of money that could come from the County or Oakley? This essentially put both those entities on the outs.

The explanation given by not only Young, but Brentwood City Manager Gus Vina and Councilmembers Steve Barr and Karen Rarey was that they did not believe other entities would participate and come to the table—this is where all the finger pointing started because of Brentwood’s lack of transparency by not providing agendas or supporting documents as requested Oakley or the County. In return, Brentwood blindsided Oakley and the County with a “Brentwood only” option.

In response, both Oakley and the County accused Brentwood of misleading not only the public, but the fire board with exaggerations, false statements and half-truths.  That proved true as last week the County agreed to fund Knightsen as long as Oakley would participate and the fire board cancelled its MOU with Brentwood.

Oakley’s stance is the fire district has the money to keep Knightsen station open and wants more supporting documents before making a final decision—which is not an unreasonable request given the politics being played.

Sadly, when this whole ad-hoc committee started it was Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor who stated he wanted “total transparency to the public”—there was none. The ad-hoc committee also was supposed to solicit public input on future fire services in Brentwood—that never happened either.

Ironically, even the Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa, Local 1230, has been all but shutout from these plans as President Vince Wells stated at the County Board of Supervisors last week they are only learning details by what is coming out during public meetings.

One would think Brentwood would want input from the firefighters. That is not happening either.

What needs to happen on May 1 at the fire board meeting is the fire board should question the credibility and motives of Brentwood City Manager Gus Vina and council members Barr and Rarey. It also should question its Board President Joel Bryant and Joe Young. They were all either flat out wrong on their assumption that Oakley and the County would not participate, or were intentionally misleading the fire board into a decision under the ruse of an emergency.

Photo posted on Great Wolf Lodge Resort Facebook Page

One should also question if this is a quid pro quo agreement by Brentwood to close the deal on Great Wolf Resorts.

If you recall, at the same time Brentwood created its ad-hoc committee for fire service, it approved a $275,000 contract to study the fiscal and economic impacts of the potential commercial project.

The study likely didn’t get very far when it came up that the City only has 1-fire station. After all, would you build a more than $150 million, 4-story hotel resort in a town with 1-fire station?  Let alone a district with just 3-stations? The answer is no.

It also raises the question of whether or not the landowners where Great Wolf will sit have ties to the City Council or fire board members and if potential conflict’s—campaign contributions or ties into the landowners or development groups.

With Great Wolf Resort likely being the driving force, Brentwood can then afford to come to the table with more than $3 million and at the very least become a 50-50 partner with the District in terms of funding.

In the end, the fire board should decline the offer by Brentwood and instead request they fully fund their own station, thus leaving the financial future of the fire district in tact.

Unfortunately, by no one asking any tough questions during this entire process, it can be deemed either gross incompetence by all involved or deliberate deception.

Other items to consider:

BBID Money Will be Pulled
Should the fire board accept Brentwood’s proposal, they are rejecting an $800k per year payday from the county via Discovery Bay from the BBID money. The county who is now locked out of a deal with ECCFPD is prepared to pull the BBID money. Over the next two-years alone, with the money that would be provided for Knigthsen, the District is walking away from $2 million each year.

Future Partnerships

When Discovery Bay was told their station may shutter, they packed the fire board meeting.

With three entities not getting along, the approval of a “Brentwood only” option would likely kill any future task force type agreement to fund stations. This won’t hurt elected officials, but it will hurt the public which is reason enough to give it second though.

Any future fire board that is elected will then have to overcome this obstacle and regain trust of not only the public, but now other government entities–especially if current fire board members do end up getting elected.

Brownout Scenario

File Photo

With Oakley and the County representatives on the fire board outnumbering Brentwood representatives 5-to-4, they can kill this MOU at any time—which they should.

As stated above, under brownouts, due to MOU’s proposed reimbursement by Brentwood, it could mean that the Oakley station closes. This means a city of 40,000 is left without a fire station and the 12-minute response times to Bethel Island and Knightsen further increase which is not acceptable. I don’t really need to go into detail on what happens in this timeline during a heart attack or a working structure fire, both are loses.

Ultimately, it leaves the chief in an awkward position where he either has to pay Brentwood for a brownout or shut down Discovery Bay and Oakley who have no penalties associated with the closure of a station in a brownout scenario—most likely, it would be Discovery Bay based on a smaller population.

County/Oakley JPA Agreement
It is easy for Brentwood to claim Oakley and the County can fund the Knightsen station in the future if they wish. The problem is Brentwood has already taken the fire district money. If Oakley and the County wanted to do an agreement later, the fire district now has no money on the table to assist opening what would then be a 5th fire station.

Why is it okay for Brentwood to expect Oakley and the County to fully fund a station, but not Brentwood?

Meanwhile, where does this leave the folks at Summer Lakes who already pay a premium for fire service that they are not receiving. Sadly, they are receiving the rawest deal of all.

Firefighter Retention
What this fire board seems to be forgetting in its argument of “saving firefighter jobs” and “preventing layoffs” is they have failed to solve the fundamental problem of the District which is firefighter retention.

They could have funding for 4-stations, 7-stations or 10-stations, but the pay, benefits and quality of life for ECCFPD firefighters will forever cement the district as a training ground for young firefighters looking for better pay and opportunity elsewhere.

Does this board really think a 1-year or 3-year window of funding will prevent new hires from looking elsewhere? No, because firefighters in the district will take the first job they are offered somewhere else.

If the fire board was truly concerned about keeping its firefighters as it claims, it would use some of the $4.2 million they will funnel out of the District and instead ensure the pay structure is more competitive with Bay Area firefighter pay. They will also start to take care of the district as a whole to ensure firefighters stop leaving.

Where does the fire chief even stand?

Out of all the rhetoric and finger pointing, no one has even bothered to publicly ask Fire Chief Brian Helmick on record of where he stands on giving away $4.2 million of District money over 3-years.

Does he agree with the concept of sacrificing the future for today?  Does he believe in an “outside in” model of fire station locations or placing them where the call volume is at?  Quite frankly, does the fire chief believe the $4.2 million could be better spent building a foundation the District can build off of for the future versus another cockamamie band-aid fix?

It would also be a good idea for the fire board to ask the Chief to once and for all explain the current state of the budget. Does the District have funding to keep Knigthsen open past June? What are the pros and cons of the Brentwood deal? What does it do the budget?

It would behoove the fire board, as well as Brentwood, to even ask the chief his opinion on this “Brentwood only” option and the impacts of operational demands they are bestowing on the District. After all, the fire chief should be making operational decisions, not the Brentwood City Council who last time I checked were not fire professionals.

Better yet, where does Local 1230 stand on the issue and does the firefighters on the line even support the current MOU on the table? After all, Brentwood claims this is about saving firefighter jobs yet they were cut out of the negotiations.

Fire Board Should Reject Brentwood Only Option

On July 3, ECCFPD firefighters pull an all-nighter after a 2-alarm fire in Brentwood.

If the fire board comes to its senses, which is unlikely, they will reject any deal where they are jeopardizing the future of the district by partially funding a fourth station with money they don’t have.

After all, when this 3-year plan expires, nothing within the District changes and it will again be asking for help from Brentwood, Oakley and the County or go after another tax. This highlights the fundamental problem with the District that it keeps asking for money, the voters say no and money magically has appeared through a SAFER Grant or the cities and county giving up money. This has to stop at some point and real solutions begin to be offered.

It’s time for the fire board to step up and be the responsible and the dependable agency that people desperately want while resisting the temptation of instant gratification. We don’t need another band-aid, we need a board and elected leaders that will work to resolve the Districts problems.

An elected board can’t come soon enough. Hopefully a future fire board will find a revenue source or simply work to dissolve the district.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. These Brentwood council members are a bunch of selfish assholes. This is not about fire service, this is 100% about great wolf and anyone who says otherwise is fooling themselves. There is a reason why Gus Vina was run out of Southern california, just google him!

    ECT is right, this is a very bad deal for the entire fire district and we have a board that is dumb enough to just go along. Thank you ECT for telling the truth on this district and what Brentwood is really trying to do. Be all about BRENTWOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • All about me is exactly why this hasn’t worked and will not.The union was the very first to be all about itself. It remains that way today. No reserve firefighters is unheard of in other districts but this one.There is enough blame for all the players. Until all players are willing to do what it takes for success us residents will suffer. Then it’s time to remove the problem via the ballot box.

  2. ECT, you are supposed to tell the truth. Great Wolf and Fire Service have nothing in common. Stop reaching for conspiracies.

  3. Great Wolf could easily pull out of the deal if they don’t see proper safety staffing and fire service. The question about the fire department is probably in the big print in the contract. If I was going to build anything I certainly would make sure there was a fire hydrant.

  4. Thank you ECT for saying what most of the communities outside of Brentwood are thinking. I don’t always agree with you but you are right on this, Oakley & County reps could kill this stupid plan based on the greatest fear when the district was formed which was Brentwood control. Guess that is finally happening.

    Cannot wait until there is an election to vote out these fire board members who are making decisions which do not represent the people, but instead the will of Brentwood City Hall. I cannot believe members of the fire board in Oakley and the County are willing to shoot themselves in the foot.

  5. I think the fire board should be held liable for this behavior. If I read this correctly, Oakley and the County cannot even participate in funding Knightsen now? What type of irresponsible fire board do we have? The county is giving the District money and they are saying no thanks we only want money from Brentwood?

    ECT brings up a good point about no one even asking the fire chief some pretty loaded questions. I agree, start over the discussions. Get a better plan or wait until the election.

  6. I used to get all caught up in things like this and realized if I kept going at the rate I was, I wouldn’t see the age of fifty. I’m apathetic – a much needed state of mind. What a relief.

    All I can do is be an informed voter, and I am. I’ll leave the rest to others.

  7. The above editorial is based on hearsay and misunderstandings of the facts. In my reply, I will try to clarify the the facts and how we got here in hopes that the public can better understand the Fire Districts situation. Today there is only one funding offer available for consideration by the District. Oakley and the County have discussed this topic, but there is nothing for the District to consider yet.

    1. On April 3, the Fire District Board by a vote of 7 to 2 directed staff to develop an MOU consistent with the City of Brentwood’s offer to fund an additional station in Brentwood. As an alternative Brentwood had previously offered to work with the County, and Oakley to jointly fund a station in Knightsen. However, there was absolutely no support from the Oakley representative at the Brentwood Ad Hoc for any funding option and very luck warm support from the County and then only for 1 year. Subsequently, the County has offered to support a joint effort with all 3 agencies for 2 years, which is 1 year short of the 3 years the Fire District feels is necessary to develop any future long term funding options.

    2. Since May 2015, the Knightsen station was reopened and has been operated on a temporary basis using funding from the County, Oakley, and Brentwood. The MOU, enacted in May of 2015, provided for joint funding of the fourth station to be in Knightsen through June 30, 2017. It is clear in the MOU that the District did not have sufficient funds to operate the fourth station and that without additional funding beyond June 30, 2017 the station would have to close. This was further amplified in a memorandum distributed by the Task Force along with the 2015 MOU to all agencies involved. As part of the Task Force effort, a third attempt to find additional funding for the Fire District in the form of a UUT was made and failed. The public has said no for a third time to additional funding. There are probably many reasons for this, but regardless the answer has been no.

    3. The District cannot continue to operate a fourth station without additional funding. The city of Oakley and ETC seem to think otherwise. A brief look at the “most recent budget document available” clearly shows the fallacy in the Oakley and ETC belief. The budget document link in the ETC editorial above shows the following:

    a. For FY17-18 the District revenue is $14.6 million and expenses for four stations are $15.1 million. This is a deficient of $430,000 in year one. So, continued operation of a fourth station without additional funding is a death spiral from the start.
    b. The operating funds available for rollover to FY18-19 under this deficient situation is $1.5 M or a little less than 10% of operating expense. The Districts Policy is to maintain at least 20%. Oakley’s Policy is also 20% and Brentwood’s is 30%. Cleary 10% is not a workable situation.
    c. For the second year of operation, FY18-19, the revenue shortfall increases to $799,000 and the yearend operating rollover reduces to $705,000 or less than 5% of operating expense.
    d. For the third year of operation, FY19-20, there is no remaining balance, in fact there is a shortage of $252,000 and it only gets worse beyond FY19-20.
    e. Oakley and Brentwood cannot operate on a 10% margin and neither can the District.

    4. Regarding the cost of operating a fire station. As demonstrated by the budget data from the link above it is about $3.8 million per year per station. This is the total cost of 4 stations operating, or $15.1 million, divided by the 4 stations. The $2.3 million cost shown in the exhibit above is the marginal cost above that of operating 3 stations not the total cost for a station. The $1.2 million shown as coming from the District is the amount it has above its 3 station costing that could be used to buy new fire engines, improve salaries, and or keep a fourth station open if there were additional revenue from other agency/ies.

    5. Regarding timing, the District is already down 3 fire fighters and without some assurance of additional funding it is unlikely the remaining fire fighters necessary to operate a fourth station will stay for long given the job uncertainty under these budgetary conditions. So again, timing is critical

    6. Regarding the need to address equipment replacement, the budget document attached includes a commitment of $448,000 to capital reserves. This may not be adequate but it is attempting to address the situation. The $1 million dollar a year cost sharing from the other three agencies as originally offered or Brentwood alone as now proposed will help with this situation.

    7. Regarding 3 fire stations versus 4 fire stations, there are pros and cons for each model. Without some immediate additional funding the 3-fire station model is the only feasible model.

    8. Regarding the location of a fourth fire station, we have more information today than we did in 2015. (The 2016 CityGate Report) Again there are pros and cons for the Knightsen location and the Brentwood location. I believe four stations is better than 3, but the real question is how to fund the 5th and 6th stations that represent the minimally acceptable model.

    9. Regarding the MOU, it does not require 2 stations in Brentwood at the expense of the other areas. It merely acknowledges that there would be two station in Brentwood. It also allows the Fire Chief to decide which station is browned out if the need arises. The credit for excessive brownouts at Station 54, the one Brentwood is helping to pay for, is a financial adjustment not a service dictate.

    10. Regarding the 9 month cancelation notice required by the proposed new MOU, the District needs this time period to plan an orderly readjustment of operations and staffing, should Brentwood wish to withdraw from the MOU. This also allows the District to consider other funding alternatives should one be proposed. To date only the County has earmarked any funding for another alternative and that alternative is short of the three years the Fire District feels is necessary to develop long term funding options and is only available if the other agencies are willing to participate too.

    • Mr Young, as a member of both the ECCFPD Board and Brentwood city council you should recuse yourself from this discussion. All Brentwood elected and appointed should as well.

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