On Tuesday, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors agreed to come to the table and assist the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District keep a fourth station open.
The Board of Supervisors stated they would help fund the Knightsen Station under two conditions which were that the City of Oakley comes to the table and the ECCFPD Board rescinds its MOU tentative agreement with the City of Brentwood.
Meanwhile, the City of Oakley who also held a work-session later in the day did not come to a decision and is requesting budget documentation and more information for a future city council meeting before making a commitment.
During the Board of Supervisor Meeting, Supervisor John Gioia was set to approve funding for the fire District without discussion, however, Supervisor Karen Mitchoff stated there where things that needed to be discussed before moving forward.
“We have been out on the front lines and have had an action taken that is precluding us from continuing to have a discussion, that is why we need to have a discussion today so we can provide board direction and go back and have a conversation,” said Mitchoff. “It has been shut off.”
Supervisor Diane Burgis stated what has happened the past few months have been unfortunate.
“There seems to be a struggle for power versus leadership. We have experienced a lot of growth in our cities and have been several attempts for revenue and those have been rejected by the voters,” stated Burgis. “There have been different interpretations of those fails. Some believe it means to go for reapportionment, some people think it’s a message that people feel the services are just fine and dandy. I just feel like there is more too it and we need to move forward.”
Burgis stated there has been a lot of back and forth chatter but that people needed to show leadership.
“I am challenging everyone that is involved to step up and become a participate in helping us create a stable and more appropriately staffed district that provides optimal coverage,” stated Burgis. “Unfortunately, people do not understand that our fire service is not at the same level as people would expect in other communities.”
Burgis asked the Board to consider fund the 4th Station because of more than 11-minute response times in certain areas of unincorporated Contra Costa County and closing a 4th station means a 25 percent reduction in fire service.
“I do have concerns about putting this funding into a fourth station and I am challenging our fire protection district to step up and talk to us. There are reporting a 20% reserve with a fourth station. I don’t know if that is true and I think they are committing funds to a fourth station without providing funds to provide capital improvements and replace equipment that needs to be replaced,” said Burgis. “There are some other things we are not sure about, what are the impacts on insurance rates for someone losing a fire station in Knghtsen and having it moved. So I am asking people to really think about what we are doing.”
She further highlighted that firefighter safety is also a concern because they are working more calls and are paid 30% less than neighboring districts saying they are doing more for less which is causing a retention issue within the District.
“I am here to ask all of our leaders to come together and start creating that certainty for the residents, for the folks that work within the fire district, and for those of us who are trying to create a strong fire district,” stated Burgis. “I am asking my board to provide that commitment for the next 3 years for the Knightsen station with the goal of preparing for an elected board and not creating a fire district that is going to be even more diminished in two years when they come in.”
Supervisor Mitchoff stated although she appreciated Supervisor Burgis comments, there needed to be some perspective.
“When this board took this up two-years ago, there was a requirement for us to give them money that it was the chiefs direction and not the fire board direction and not the fire board as to where that fourth station would be placed,” explained Mitchoff. “What has happened is the funding for that closes off on June 30th, so we were asked to come out for a meeting along with Oakley. It was a bit of a different tone like gee county; we really need you to step up, gee Oakley we really need you to step up because we can’t afford to lose this Knightsen station. We agreed!”
Mitchoff stated at that point, they would hold another meeting and requested a budget and a plan.
“I am not willing to commit to three years of funding, I am willing to commit to 18-months (Dec 2018) because they will have an elected board at that time,” explained Mitchoff. “The issue has then devolved because of those representatives in Brentwood, neither the City of Oakley nor the County really showed any interest which I am paraphrasing. We didn’t get the budget information. How can we make a decision if we didn’t get the information we asked for at the previous meeting.”
“From there, it has devolved further. The fire board has thrown up their hands, which I continue to use that phrase because it’s like oh we don’t know what to do. I am irritated because they are a body that has a responsibility and all they do is throw it back at other entities if they are willing to help them out,” said Mitchoff. “We are willing to help them out, but what happened is that they voted to let Knightsen close and give money, the reserves, to re-open a fire station in Brentwood.”
Mitchoff stated that the Knightsen station, operationally, is a better station to have open. Meanwhile, was concerned the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) money ($800k) was going to fund a Brentwood station at the expense of unincorporated Contra Costa residents.
She wanted the Board to provide County Administrator David Twa with direction on how to approach the ECCFPD Board.
“We have no platform right now to have a conversation with them to say you know, we really are wanting to be partners and we really want to help, but you shut that door,” said Mitchoff. “Would you please re-open the door, reconsider your position and let’s have a conversation based on what we were supposed to have on that second meeting. That is what we are asking for.”
Supervisor Federal Glover called it a 20-year old problem and have always come back, without taking ownership of the problem, and relied on the Board of Supervisors for help.
“Enough is enough,” said Glover. “I am okay with doing this for two-years, but I am not in favor of it and I am going to go ahead and do it because of the safety issue we are presented with but they need to be put on notice. Don’t come back here anymore.”
Mitchoff added that this fire board has to rescind its action with the Brentwood MOU because they needed to make a commitment to Knightsen.
Supervisor Burgis stated comments from the fire board have indicated that there is not any real effort to improve funding sources or take any action going forward.
“So my goal is to keep the District as whole as possible until an elected board,” said Burgis. “I am the eternal optimist and I hope people who are willing to go through an election and prove themselves are going to prove thsmelves as leaders and actually take this as a District issue and not an issue on representing a particular community.”
Vince Wells, president of the Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County Local 1230, stated although they were a part of the original task force, firefighters were not included in any of the recent discussion.
“We are learning as we attend Brentwood City Council meetings, East Contra Costa Fire meetings and Board of Supervisor Meetings of what the details of the agreement is,” explained Wells. “At this time, I would hope that at the end of the day, what is clear is in 2002, LAFCO and the Board of Supervisors agreed to create the District with the two cities and the county, what we are seeing it’s clear that the three entities do not get along and because of that, you can’t pass anything.”
Wells highlighted that the public is hearing and witnessing all the fighting between the three entities and no trust in any measure that is put out before the public because there is no synergy between the three entities
“Rather than just move forward and just say we will throw in the $220k, because it’s clear from the ad-ho committee, in the comments made by Brentwood about the attitude of the County and Oakley that somebody needs to say let’s all get together and talk about this again,” stated Wells. “What we are talking about is fire service for 110,000 people that is inadequate and I think that has to be the priority not who is doing what and who said what.”
Wells further highlighted lots of infrastructure that needs to be dealt with such as replacing fire engines and mold issues.
“I am concerned that the fire district is doing a 50-50 and giving all their money to Brentwood and therefor, what are we going to do with our capital issues,” said Wells. “So I would hope we can all work together and talk about this. I think putting money on the table and showing people you are willing to put money on the table is good so other entities know the county is in and willing to play. Let’s get together again and not let what happened at this ad-hoc committee and what happened there be the direction that everything spun off of.”
Mitchoff replied that the County did come to the table and the $220k was there and that all they wanted to see was a budget in the second meeting.
“I am with you (Vince Wells), I don’t want to point fingers I want to solve the problem but also I have a different view because I think the county and cities want to work together, but there I another group out there and you are aware of that group. They have churned up the fever pitch about Prop 13 and Assemblyman Frazier’s bill and they think it’s going to solve everything” stated Mitchoff. “We were willing to talk and they more or less said we are going to do this and forget it.
Mitchoff stated she was willing to continue conversation but the ECCFPD needed to rescind their action, we would commit to the $220k.
Administrator David Twa stated that unless the county committed to the three-year proposal, the fire board and cities would not change their position.
Mitchoff stated Oakley Councilmember Kevin Romick was happy about 18-months because that was when an elected board would be seated.
“All we are doing is perpetuating for three more years this petulant behavior and they are not going to do anything. That is why I am only committed to the 18-months,” said Mitchoff. “Three years just gives them that much time to do nothing.”
Burgis stated she understood the 18-month idea because of a “frustration” and “kicking the can down the road” or a “band-aid” and she felt that way to, but there was so much conflict and power and fighting.
“There is not a lot to accomplish with these folks, but I believe an elected board is going to be the one who can step up and do that. What I am saying by three years is not to deplete the money that they do have, the reserves, I am trying to give them a cushion so that elected board can get into their seats and be prepared to then tackle the really important issue which is that they are revenue poor,” said Burgis. “I want to give this elected board a chance and set them up to be further behind that where they are at this point.”
Mitchoff stated she would not go three years and would do 18-months.
Glover explained part of the problem was they kept giving them money.
“Part of the problem is as long as we give them money there is not going to be a lot of energy around it. I am for the two years and we could see if there is something going on maybe we could consider a third year,” said Glover.
Mitchoff stated she would go two years through June of 2019 but said the elected board, whoever it may be, is on notice today. Gioia supported the recommendation.
Burgis appreciated the gesture by Glover and Mitchoff.
The County agreed to go forward with coming to the table if the ECCFPD would rescind its MOU with the City of Brentwood and that Oakley came to the table with funding to keep open the Knightsen station.
“Brentwood can do whatever it wants to re-open its Brentwood station, but the resources need to go to Knightsen first,” said Mitchoff. “If they want to reopen Brentwood with Brentwood money, fine. But this is not a conversation to give them money to re-open Brentwood, they need to keep Knightsen open.”
Oakley Set For Future Discussion
Oakley, who held their workshop Tuesday night, did not make a decision on whether or not to come to the table on assisting the fire district. Instead, they are requesting additional documents to prepare them for a future city council meeting where the decision will be made.
In a statement from City Manager Bryan Montgomery:
“I think there was a misunderstanding of what our meeting was – it was the annual pre-budget strategic planning discussion. Fire was brought up as one of the many requests of City funds. The Council asked that we get more firm what the Fire District’s numbers are and any plan the District has. I met some with the Chief after and we’ll continue to chat in the next couple of days. but it sounds like the Fire District Board wants to act by May 1st no matter what,” said Montgomery via email.
According to Oakley Mayor Sue Higgins, Oakley will meet with all the stakeholders to get a better grasp on what the “real numbers” are from the fire district before coming back to the council for a decision.
Higgins also stated that the ECCFPD has the money and its not truly an emergency as claimed by others. She says the financials show the fire district could keep Knightsen open for another year without assistance of outside entities.
It’s unclear when these meetings with stakeholders will occur and if they will bring it back before the May 1 ECCFPD Board meeting where they have an MOU on the table with the City of Brentwood to fund a downtown Brentwood station.