Op-Ed: Oakley Councilman Offers Thoughts on East Contra Costa Fire

Submitted by Kevin Romick

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The following was submitted by Oakley City Councilman Kevin Romick for publication.

Providing fire services is not a function of the city of Oakley or Brentwood and, for that matter, almost all of cities in Contra Costa. Richmond, El Cerrito and Pinole are the only cities providing that service. There are seven fire protection districts in the county. The largest is Contra Costa County Fire Protection District which includes these cities and unincorporated areas: Antioch, Clayton, Concord, Lafayette, Martinez, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill, San Pablo, Walnut Creek, Bay Point, Clyde, El Sobrante, Pacheco, Port Chicago.

The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) was formed in 2002 when the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors consolidated the East Diablo Fire District, Oakley-Knightsen Fire District and Bethel Island Fire District. ECCFPD serves the cities of Brentwood and Oakley, as well as the unincorporated areas of Bethel Island, Byron, Discovery Bay, Knightsen, and Marsh Creek-Morgan Territory. Responsible for an area of some 250 square miles, the District is the second largest fire service in the County. ECCFPD was a dependent special district and was governed by the five-member county Board of Supervisors.

After lengthy negotiations between the County and the cities of Oakley and Brentwood governance of the ECCFPD was turned over to a new governing board in February of 2010. Under authority of State Code (California Health and Safety Code § 13837), each entity appointed the appropriate number of board members. The new Board included 9 members: 4 from Brentwood, 3 from Oakley and 2 from the County. Under this appointed structure, the City Councils or Board of Supervisors appointed directors according to each entity’s proportionate share of population.

The ECCFPD is a special district that manages and governs fire services within its area. Special districts in California provide over 50 types of diverse services including, water, mosquito abatement, irrigation, fire protection, libraries, cemeteries, sanitation, lighting, parks and recreation, street maintenance, airports, harbors, police protection, trash collection, and many others. Some Special districts serve a single purpose, such as sewage treatment. Others address multiple areas of service, such as community service districts, which can offer up to 15 types of services.

Special districts enjoy many of the same governing powers as cities and counties. They can enter into contracts, employ workers, and acquire real property through purchase or eminent domain. They can also issue debt, impose taxes, levy assessments, charge fees for their services and like other forms of government can sue and be sued.

The ECCFPD is funded primarily through property taxes. This funding source is woefully inadequate. The primary reason for the governance change was that the cities of Oakley and Brentwood thought that with local governance, as opposed to County control, it would be easier to address the funding problem. After three failed attempts to increase revenues this thought was painfully inaccurate. Each attempt was flawed in its own way and these flaws lead to defeat.

What needs to happen now:

  • The leadership void needs to be filled and tomorrows leaders need to come from the within the Fire District.
  • Oakley and Brentwood need to stop appointing members of their City Council to the board and instead appoint members from our community who are free from the internal politics and put the Fire District first.
  • The elected Fire Board is coming but we can’t wait 18 months to determine what needs to happen next. The board must start immediately creating a long-term solution to the myriad of problems currently confronting the Fire District.
  • Change doesn’t happen by itself. Any long term solution must involve the public to succeed. Steps must be taken by the Fire Board to educate and empower supporters so they will better understand the complexities and challenges facing the organization.
  • The public has lost trust in the message coming from both the cities and the Fire District. Relationships must be reestablished and/or developed to ensure that a clear and comprehensive message is being delivered from a single source, ECCFPD.
  • ECV has proposed a funding solution that involves reallocating property taxes. The plan proposed by ECV would ask the taxing entities to voluntarily shift 5.2% over to the Fire District, about $7.8 million, incrementally over a 4 year period. Nearly 70% of the shift in property taxes would come from the K-12 schools and community colleges serving East Contra Costa. Administrators from the school district have all publicly stated that they will not support this plan. Last week Discovery Bay rescinded its previous support joining 5 other special districts that had recently stated they were against the plan. ECV needs to set up meetings with each taxing agency and appeal to their elected directors. If ECV can’t convince a sufficient number of agencies to follow their plan, then other options must be explored and pursued.

Neither the cities or county can continue to provide long term funding to support the Fire District, it is not within our current revenue structure, and such funding is not sustainable.  The Fire District needs to develop a strategic plan that involves community residents and a long-term solution.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Joel Bryant is the biggest liar of the bunch. He said he would only serve 1 year and here he is 3 years later. Romick is correct, all council should be off the fire board because its a conflict of interest.

  2. This appointed fire board should be replaced come election time. Oakley should also remove Meghan Bell from the fire board and find a replacement. Did anyone see how she knew very few answers when asked by councilmembers about the fire district? What is she even doing up there? She doesn’t even have a clue and Brentwood is using her for a vote.

    • Good Morning Michelle,

      I am up for reappointment this month. Please contact City of Oakley with a candidate you would like to have replace me.

      I appreciate your comments and concerns.

      Meghan Bell
      Vice President
      East Contra Costa Fire Protection District

    • Volunteer yourself then and get in there. Its very easy to arm chair quarterback, critique and complain from the sidelines, maybe you do volunteer somewhere, but in my opinion if you are going to throw out criticism of someone like that, have a solution or someone to replace that person.

  3. Shall a special tax payable solely from lands within the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Community Facilities District No. 200.4-1 (Fire Services) (the “CFD”) be levied annually upon lands within the CFD to be applied only to pay the costs of the services authorized to be funded by the CFD, and to pay the costs of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District and the County of Contra Costa in administering the CFD, and shall the annual appropriations limit of the CFD be established in the initial amount of $2,000,000? (Election held 3/16/2004.) Passed with 100% ballot vote Yes. This is a Mello-Roos special tax from the large Shea Homes Chrystal Lakes development. Did this tax sunset or has the tax been extended and increased? Are there other developments that pay for fire in their special tax assessments? Follow the money because no where in this speech is a budget short fall explanation.

  4. Romick stated it clear and correct. His comments have been stated many times since 2002 while no one listened AND more over acted with hard decisions. Sticking your hand out to the public is easy. Remember the cause of this entire fiasco is funding AND development. The district should have and still can create an assessment on all new structures. Development has not paid their share of the impact created on east county.Now it’s up to the district to excersize its powers and correct the issue. This can be achieved through placing fees or assessments to new development or place a moratorium on new structures intil the ordinance or assessment is in place. This has not been done because council members are in conflict with the district when it comes to the developer city relationship. The district should seize all fire appproval stamps on all new construction plans. This will gain atttention and bring the proper people to the table for a perm intent solution. Assessments should have been done while negotiating development not after. A good example is cypress lakes. Had these types of requirement been implemented since 2002 the district would be seven stations and well funded. By allowing the fox to guard the hens ( city council members double as directors ) about 15 million in annual revenue has and is forever lost.

  5. 1) A large part of the reason for this constant crying of ‘shortfall,’ is that the district relies too heavily on homeowners for the funding via property taxes. This soon becomes too much of a burden to bear, and if it continues, we will find ourselves back at the point where people are losing their homes for lack of ability to pay the steep taxes. This is what brought about Proposition 13 in the first place, back in 1978!
    2) Instead of ever more residential development, consider some LIGHT industry, which could easily be accommodated out Bridgehead Rd., on the old DuPont site. We need a tax base of that nature to fully fund the ECCCFPD without breaking the bank for homeowners.
    3) Investigate whether there has been any mismanagement of existing funds, and if so, remedy the problem.

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