Home Brentwood Brentwood City Council Agrees to Ask Residents to Fund Additional Fire Stations

Brentwood City Council Agrees to Ask Residents to Fund Additional Fire Stations

by ECT

Tuesday night, after a two-hour discussion by the Brentwood City Council, they unanimously agreed to ask voters to support a Utility Users tax (UUT) ordinance to fund public safety services.

As part of the plan, they are seeking to add two additional fire stations and that when full implemented, will raise $6.1 million annually.

The council was presented a plan by City Manager Gus Vina that would open 3-additional stations giving the city 4-stations, but the council ultimately decided the ask was too great and settled on 2-additional stations.

City-of-brentwood-operationalCity Manager Gus Vina explained Tuesday that the Citygate master plan that was developed for the District identifies the need for nine stations within the District to serve the approximately 110,000 residents in the District. Of the nine stations, the report recommends that four be within the City of Brentwood, three within the City of Oakley, and two in the unincorporated area of the District. Since there already is one station in the City of Brentwood, the goal is to add three additional stations in order to meet the response times identified in the master plan.

Vina explained to the council that under a UUT plan, if approved, they could re-open the downtown fire station in July of 2017. Meanwhile, they could constructed and open a fire station on Shady Willow  in the northern part of the city by July 2018 giving Brentwood three fire stations.

Under the proposal, the January 2017 UUT would be 3%. The 2018 UUT would be 6% and going forward it would be locked at 6%. The UUT is a general fund tax an could be used for any municipal service.

Vina highlightCity-of-Brentwood-Fire-Pollinged under a UUT, the rates would be applied to electricity, gas, telecommunications, and cable services. Citizens who qualify for any life line type of programs within the specific utilities would be exempt from this tax.

It was also explained that in order to keep the “ask” less, the City was spending its own money from developer fees and unallocated community-facility districts as part of the process in opening fire stations.

Vina noted that a community group is trying another method of reallocation to fund fire services, he explained that if they are successful, then the UUT would be repealed. The cost to place the measure on the ballot would be between $5,000 to $10,000.

Public Comments

Brentwood resident Karen Rarey stated she was 100% behind bringing 4-stations to Brentwood.

“We need something now and the UUT will be something that will get us there now,” said Rarey.

Mike Hyde explained that regardless of the rhetoric, fire stations are closed.

“Brentwood has 60,000 people. We can’t have any fire stations closed. This tax is a good idea but the 8% PG&E part is $12.75 a month times 12-months is $144 per year. That is a lot of money and we need to make sure that goes to the right place,” explained Hyde. “It’s time for Brentwood to form its own fire department. We can buy these stations, build them ourselves and staff them ourselves for the same efficiency that we got out of the police department we got years ago… it’s a very fine department and we need that kind of focus. If your going to come at us with a tax, we have to make sure it goes to the right places and to throw it at a district where its already been turned down by us, doesn’t make much sense to me. What makes sense to me is forming our own department and call our own shots.”

Steve Smith, Brentwood resident, thanked the council for allowing the city manager to lead a task force to find a solution to fire services.

“It amazes me that there are still some who deny we are in a crisis. The crisis has been documented by two separate organizations with nationwide expertise in fire damages,” explained Smith. “Both have described our situation as one of the worst they have ever seen.”

Smith noted that homes have been lost due to a rural response fire district for a shed fire that extended into a home.

“Brentwood is an urban area where objective professionals have 3-years of data have determined that four fire stations are necessary in Brentwood to provide an urban level of fire response,” explained Smith. “This proposal gets the job done in a reasonable time frame. It ties each increase in the tax rate to an objective result which is the opening of a fire station… I fully support this measure.”

Joe Weber, an insurance agent, highlighted the impact if nothing was to be done and remain with 1 firehouse that if you are more than 5-miles there is a realization that insurance premiums will increase.

“I am currently 4.7 miles from the firehouse, but if I fall outside the boundary line in terms of dollars and sense the insurance rates would increase by at least $500 every year just as a result of the lack of fire protection,” explained Weber. “The Northeast Corridor in Brentwood is really a troubled area and if ISO moves forward with annual findings, it’s something that may be hitting the residents in a short-term situation. In Bethel Island, we now have residents with nice well maintained homes have seen insurance rates triple on an annual basis…. To protect both current and future residents, we have to act.”

Vince Wells, President of the United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, highlighted in the Citygate report stated there is no regulation that mandates response times or response capabilities which comes at a local community defining what adequate means to them.

“This is why it’s so important to firefighters and the public that we have councilmembers who are educated on who can assure response times are adequate and ensure the proper level of response and services,” said Wells. “Adequate response time and capabilities are not easy to measure.  It’s typically not questioned unless we have a catastrophic event happen that has a significant impact on a community. Unlike other services, quality is hard to measure when incidents occur individually.”

Wells highlighted that all of the councilmembers ran campaigns that said public safety is and are aware of what level of fire service was needed in Brentwood.

“With a District that involves two cities and the county, with Brentwood being the largest portion of the District and has the most residents and calls for service, it’s fitting that Brentwood moves forward to moves forward to benefit its community. We believe the UUT is a great step in that direction and hope to see that your efforts will trickle down onto the other parts of this fire district and they help find solutions,” said Wells. “I appreciate the fact that Brentwood is stepping up and considering to do something on their own for their community and hope others follow.”

Hal Bray explained that because the UUT funds do not go to the Fire District, but instead were going into a public safety fund, it does not mean they would necessarily go just to fire and instead go to police or other safety issues. He also noted Councilmember Stonebargers concerns of School Districts Participation in re-allocation.

Bray explained that he was working with the State Legislator to rewrite the law regarding participation of school districts and property tax reallocation.

Joe Young, Director at the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District, stated the Task Force has done a great job in finding a solution but noted the current plan would place 4-staitons in Brentwood. He highlighted that with opposition likely to come that the city may want to reduce the number of stations they are hoping for to ensure more likleyhood it would pass.

“In the example, Brentwood residents would pay around $350 annually for the UUT which is higher than both previous measures that were not successful,” explained Young. “It might be prudent to attempt to try a smaller bite even though it won’t provide everything,”

Council Discussion:

Mayor Bob Taylor stated they were here tonight to be transparent and discuss the issue that he took a stand on without the permission of his council.

“Tonight is all about Brentwood. Its not about neighboring cities, not the council, its about the city of Brentwood. Public safety, police and fire are key to the quality of life in our city,” said Taylor. “Everyone is agreeing, here I go being optimistic, that we need police, fire and medical services. Brentwood residents receive 50% of the calls. These are undisputed stated facts. We all know we have a wonderful thing that Knightsen has a station but in June of next year its gone. Brentwood is used to doing and taking control of our own decisions of what impacts us in our city. This will save our lives and we have assets we need to protect–$8 billion dollars. I don’t want to see this city go to heck and make sure we keep this city whole. Brentwood is going to take a stand; the ultimate is we are going to let our citizens decide. Not a fire board, not a city council, we are going to put it up to the city constituents, our voters will decide about the ballot measure.”

Gene Clare stated that it was time for Brentwood to step up and pass this UUT to ensure fire service is better in Brentwood.

Steve Barr asked to clarify a few public comments which included salary increases, starting its own fire department and reallocation.

Gus Vina replied it was not for starting its own fire department, but rather to increase revenue in the fire department for fire services in Brentwood. This would provide a higher level of fire and medical services within the community.

“You can’t get to your own fire department for a variety of reasons. For starters, $5 million of our revenue already goes to the fire department to support the 1-station we have open,” explained Vina. “There is a process such as detachment from the district, LAFCO processes that you leave the $5 million stranded which could take years to get back. That is why the Task Force looked at solutions short of that. If you consider the $9.7 million it will take for three stations and the $5 million we currently goes to the District you are easily looking at $15-16 million to start your own department. It’s a very complicated process.”

Barr asked about a sunset clause. It was highlighted that a sunset would kick in based on a trigger of reallocation meeting the needs of the District.

Barr highlighted that the city had looked at forming its own fire district years ago and realized that was not realistic but noted the UUT was appealing to him due to polling.

“My evaluation of the polling, which everyone else has their own opinion, in my opinion its 71% thought we were doing a good job and making good decisions. 63% of our residents recognized we don’t have the resources for our fire and medical services. But only 41% said they were willing to pay that additional tax,” said Barr.  “To me when I look at that what was important and different what we are looking at tonight, this isn’t just going to the tax payers asking for more money, we are also looking at our own budget and allocating funds we already have and combining those with the additional tax. That is appealing to me because it’s respecting what the voters are telling us. They think we should receiving these services in the taxes we already have.”

Barr further highlighted although Brentwood is not required to provide it, but they morally are responsible to provide it.

“I am not a big fan of city run fire departments because fire services are a regional approach,” said Barr. “Even if we had four stations, it wouldn’t be adequate for a single structure fire response. It’s a five engine response…. We are not an island, we are simply adding resources to the District.”

Councilman Erick Stonebarger stated that the District is no longer rural and is urban. He explained that he hoped Senator Steve Glazer or Assemblyman Jim Frazier could get the ball rolling on reallocation at a state level noting that reallocation at any other level for them to consider would be irresponsible since they had no control over it.

“At the other level, if Brentwood wanted to fund the whole thing and have its own fire department they could. They simply would not have a community development department, a parks and recreation department and a 1/3 of its police department,” said Stonebarger. “That is an option for us to do. Staff did not bring us back that plan because it probably wouldn’t go anywhere but they brought us back something in between.”

City-of-Brentwood-UUT-ExamplesHe further explained that before they go out and ask voters for more revenue, that the City of Brentwood first had to pony up more funding. He thought the UUT was the most logical tax to ask for more revenue of all the taxes they have seen before.

“The level we choose to go at is the most important piece to this discussion,” said Stonebarger. “We saw a result of 41% at 6.5 to 8% UUT. I think that the benefit assessment at $95 dollars came back at 54% when we broke it down… We are at 41% at the equivalent of a $400-500 tax… how do we find the right number of where we find the right number to get the community to participate.”

Stonebarger suggested to possibly go for 1 station at 3% and hoped Oakley could pass 1 station and create a base.

“I will say this right now that Brentwood cannot settle for one because we are kicking sand. We need a minimum of two stations,” said Mayor Taylor.  “This would put us at three stations in Brentwood.”

ECCFPD Chief Hugh Henderson noted that the current response time in Brentwood is greater than 4-minutes and any station will make the difference. He noted the Citygate report suggest 4-stations in Brentwood and 9-stations in the District.

Vice Mayor Joel Bryant stated that until there is a re-allocation of funding at a state level, the UUT is a permanent solution.

“I have gone down the road in thought process as Erick Stonebarger has gone down tonight to figure out a number that is acceptable to the public to get this passed. That is one of our fatal errors as being part of every effort since 2010 to try and get additional revenue for the District,” explained Bryant.  “I think one of the reasons is families are blissfully unware of the dangers we are in. In our former processes we had no way to reach the amount of people we have with the processes we put in with the public media. We really need to focus on is what is the level of service our community wants and what number is attached to that.”

Bryant further highlighted this is about public safety and protecting families noting recently the District is in such bad shape with no engines available for a period of 8-hours. They had a fire engine from Livermore Fire show up to an Oakley fire. He asked how long it takes to get a Livermore Fire Engine to Oakley.

“Instead of trying to figure out a number to get people to buy in, instead we have to go out and educate them as to what the risk they are in currently and what the tax is going to do to keep our families safe,” said Bryant.

Stonebarger explained Bryant had a great point that as much as they may want fire services improved because they know the level of service, the public is unaware.

“We had 9-speakers tonight, one a fairly significant issue we have seen here… 1 of them is a fire board member, 1 an ex-fire board member, another is the head of the union. That number dwindles pretty quick of our ability to go out and generate a lot of yes votes to support the measure no matter how much I want it to happen,” said Stonebarger. “We cannot get clouded by the significance of this lift of asking the residents to support at that 8.5% level. When people try and calculate their bill, they are going to see the biggest number they have seen us ask them for. It’s $9 million a year. That is a large number.”

Stonebarger says Brentwood has a total of 22,000 parcels in town divided by $9 million you are talking around $400 per household.

“$9 million is a lot of money for us to ask for. I am not saying it’s the wrong number, but it’s a lot to ask for,” says Stonebarger. “I think it deserves a lot of conversation because if it fails the reality is 3-stations next June.”

Gene Clare stated they needed to educate the public noting that until it happens to someone, it really doesn’t matter.

“We always here my friend had a medical emergency or their house is on fire but until it happens to you, it really doesn’t matter. We need to press upon the crisis mode we truly are in,” said Claire. “I am a firm believer that in addition to education, we need to take advantage of the pride our community has. They take great pride in stating we are the best. We have better this, better that.”

Clare stated the recommendation of stations was 4 and believed they needed to go for 4-stations.

“We live in one of the best cities in the state, everything is better in Brentwood and by gosh we need the best in fire services and that needs to be our mantra,” said Claire. “I think we do a disservice and give our voters enough credit.”

Mayor Taylor asked if they went for two-stations in Brentwood could they go back and get a fourth station later.  It was explained

Joel Bryant explained it comes down to education and making them aware that stations are empty and they are not getting the level of service they think they are getting because lives were at stake.

Brentwood-Sycamore-Fire-ECCFPD- IMG_4785“We need to make them aware of what it is we are trying to exceed at which is every time someone in Brentwood calls 9-1-1, I want someone there to come save them in a reasonable amount of time,” said Bryant.

Mayor Taylor says explained he was now looking at a three station model versus a four station model due to the ask to voters and wanted it to pass.

“What it comes down to is we have to agree how many fire stations we wish to get to. One, two, three or four,” said Taylor.

Bryant agreed said we needed to be considered to what the people wanted on response times.

Steve Barr noted this is not a short term fix, but a solution that brings in a certain amount of money every year—a little bit of this is based off projects including what is realistic versus risky.

“I struggle, I know we can say that it makes the most sense and we end up not getting any revenue where we are stuck with three stations in July of 2017, I am not sure the service we provide to our residents is the best service,” said Barr.  “I would rather continue on the track of baby steps being able to afford what we set out to do and not retract… so that side of me says try to get enough revenue so we can get to 3-total stations in Brentwood which is 2-new stations and revenue for that service.”

Stonebarger says he agreed. Asking for $9 million is too big of a number.

Taylor asked for the fee at 2-staitons.

Gus Vina noted the fee would be 3% in year 1 and another 3% when another station opens.

Stonebarger says the ultimate number is 6% which is less risk.

“It doesn’t get us where we need to go, but I get really nervous if we try and go ask for everything that it’s going to be easy to attack from the taxpayer groups who we know will attack it,” says Stonebarger.

Mayor Taylor stated he would rather side with caution and get something passed than not.

“The optimist versus the pessimist I want all four stations, but we really need to make sure we have a minimum of three stations in this city. I am going to lean that direction,” said Taylor.

By going for three stations, Taylor explained how he believed the City of Oakley will likely have an “optimistic view” of adding another station giving the area 6-stations across the District.

“That is a heck of a lot different than 3-stations we have today,” said Taylor.

Final Decision

The City Council agreed unanimously to seek two additional stations in Brentwood for a total of 3-stations should the voters approve the Utility User Tax.

The tax will be phased in over two years

  • Year 1 – 3% in 2016
  • Year 2 –3% added in 2017 for 2017 to raise $6.1 million. Going forward, its capped at 6%.
  • The UUT will include the tax on telecommunications, electric, gas, and cable.


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East County Aug 2, 2016 - 2:56 pm

Talk about out of touch and completely clueless. Brentwood City Council has the market cornered on both.

R.JB Aug 2, 2016 - 5:47 pm

Hmm… I wonder if Antioch can fund its own fire stations through low income voucher checks. After all, low income is the meat and potatoes of Antioch.

Joe Voter Aug 4, 2016 - 1:31 am

RJB-Brentwood is trying to take the lead away from Antioch for the most inept city council in east co. These jokers make Larry, Curly and Moe look intelligent.

How the heck Brentwood voters ever elected these wannabes is a head scratcher.

Most of the populace has never been to a city council meeting and they’d throw up in their own shoes if they had.

The biggest wannabe S. Barr wants to be a county official. That’s Comedy Central right there! It’s a script right out of bobo’s ‘I’m da mayor” playbook. What a bunch of Gomers

RJB Aug 4, 2016 - 7:28 am

Well said. Your post made my day.

John Eslam Aug 4, 2016 - 11:47 am

The entire city council should be ashamed. This board meeting comes across to me as the Abbott & Costello sketch of “who’s on first?” https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kTcRRaXV-fg
Shame, shame shame. Brentwood, it’s time to wake up and toss these clowns.

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