The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Board voted unanimously to approve recommendations by the multi-jurisdictional Fire Task Force that would move forward recommendations to provide funding for a fourth fire station while exploring the possibility into a 2016 ballot initiative and moving towards and elected board.
With approval, the ECCFPD, City of Brentwood, City of Oakley and the County will work to re-open a fourth fire station (Knigthsen) as soon as possible where $2.2 million in one-time funding will be provided over a period of 18-months. It’s estimated the station will open in the spring of 2016.
Funding Breakdown includes:
- ECCFPD – $873,978
- City of Brentwood – $666,000
- City of Oakley – $382,202
- Contra Costa County – $311,617
With the approval on Monday, the action frees up the task force and grassroots efforts to reach out to the community on a number of items such as researching the possibility of a 2016 ballot initiative, presenting the community with the idea of moving to an elected fire board, changing the name away from East Contra Costa Fire, and establishing a community oversight committee.
Although there were some reservations by members of the Fire Board and some in the community, the board did vote in favor of the recommendations after a presentation by Brentwood City Manager Gus Vina.
Gus Vina shared with the Board some very important concepts the Board and community to understand.
“For the first time, we have political support to move forward with the county, cities, district joining hands for a common solution. The safety of the community is directly addressed, although its important to note that the solution is temporary, but does bring important to response times,” said Vina. “I also want to mention that the firefighters are working in an environment that is very difficult. This brings a temporary relief and solution to the firefighters. I don’t believe we can continue to rely on neighboring service providers, less reliance on auto aid and mutual aid comes through this resolution while I believe we have a real shot at a long-term solution and a vision for the future so we are not having this same discussion years from now by continuing to Band-Aid the solution.”
Vina further noted that the community is now demanding accountability, openness and transparency and believed an elected board and citizen oversight committee will help bring that by saying the community has to be involved.
“Failure is not an option and I believe we have an opportunity that cannot be passed up,” said Vina.
Vina further highlighted next steps of what will transpire if the Board approved the task force recommendation.
“We are in a crisis and I think you are the last group that needs to be told that. But we do have an opportunity to work our way out of the crisis. I can’t stress enough for this board to stand united behind these recommendations and give the community we all serve a chance to receive appropriate fire and medical services,” said Vina. “The partnerships have come together. The stars are aligned and you have the county, the City of Oakley, the City of Brentwood, Local 1230, Contra Costa Fire, the Executive Fire Chiefs all ready to go to work. Now we need you and time is of the essence.”
Director Cheryl Morgan asked the question about response times and if it was going to be spread out equally across the District or only target the areas who support this.
Vina replied that the proposal will reduce 25%.
“I believe that right now the system is so broken, the goal is to add 25% resources back into that system. Response times are never equal because you never know where or when they will come from. So when your response times are averages and you have some calls above that time and some below, the goal is to add 25% to a system that sorely needs it and everyone in the District befits.
Morgan followed up by asking “how is everyone in the District going to benefit if the improvement is in Knightsen?”
Vina again replied.
“At this point in time, I don’t think it matters where the brick and mortar is, it will make a difference. These stations are empty and chasing calls all day. I totally understand your question and if you were in great state as a system and the next station was the discussion and where you need that station, I understand that question perfectly, but I am of the opinion that we are out an about so much that where the brick and mortar opens is not the appropriate focus as this time,” explained Vina. “It’s adding 25% more resources to the District and that is why it’s temporary.”
“The resources are currently fluid and where they are housed, but the engines flow across the District at any given time due to the emergency that comes in,” said Henderson.
Directors asked about cost of the election going forward each year and it was shared this would be a cost placed on the District that it would pay for out of its operating budget.
Director Randy Pope sought clarification from Supervisor Mary Piepho on the conditions of what the ballot initiative would have and the timeline of an elected Board.
“You can have on the same ballot a funding initiative, second right below it do you support an elected governing board and right below that a slate of candidates running for the governing board, who do you want to serve you,” explained Piepho. “So you do not have to have multiple election costs, it can all be contained in one-election and share the cost. As Mr. Vina said, this is an intent to create local community momentum, trust, faith, and ownership. The community owns not only the problem, but they own the solution. We cannot get to where we need to be without the community, they need to be the driving force. They have to have confidence.”
Piepho then explained that going forward; election costs would then become part of the District’s budget. The Board then highlighted how you wouldn’t want all the Board spots filled in a single election and they would be staggered. Piepho clarified you would have one slate, however, some folks could run for a 2-year-term and others a 4-year term.
“That needs to be determined, as Gus said, there is a lot of fine tuning and a lot of unknowns. The governing board make up could be three members, five members, the body that you exist in today was a compilation of the request of the two cities primarily. You are as big as you are today quite frankly because of the two cities. You don’t have to be a 9-member board and someone consider that too large. You can be three members, five members, 7 members, we do not know that,” said Piepho. “That would be part of the polling and the community deciding who do you want to represent you and how many do you want representing you and what do you want it to look like.”
Director Ron Johansen questioned the idea of having folks run for an elected board during the time they are seeking more funds a distraction.
“Those who have a desire to run may be against any initiative that we put forward that can create and provide misinformation to cloud the issues at hand,” said Johansen.
“Anything can happen,” replied Piepho. “We are at the edge of the cliff right now and we need to stop that forward motion and go over like the lemmings. We have to stop and head in a different direction that is going to be more productive. None of this can do what we do without the community. We have to get them at the table, in the room. What is going to bring them in the room? It’s ownership. They have to know it’s their problem. It’s their district. This is their emergency medical response, fire response; pull the kitty out of the tree response. It’s their department and they have to own it and have a vested interest in the outcome. And one way to build interest is what do you want to call the District? How many people do you want on your board? Automatically they get to give you answers and provide that solution so you are weaving that together so you are not over the cliff and teetering anymore. They should go simultaneously. There is no reason for them to not go simultaneously because one leads to the other, leads to the other, leads to the other.”
Johansen asked with regards of a name change, what they would do is on the initiative give the citizens several choices on a name to pick the one they want.
Piepho replied that it was possible, but that the governing board could select the name change highlighting the problem the county has is the county name is in the Districts name giving the appearance the county is responsible for East Contra Costa fire which is misleading and not true.
Director Joe Young argued that the Resolution before them tonight gives the District no flexibility on the issues of name change and governance because of the wording and called the issues complex before they could even go to a ballot.
“There are significant issues that need to be addressed such as the size of the board, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11. The gerrymandering of districts of which the board would represent or would they be at-large. Those are political hot potatoes that would become an election issue,” said Young. “I have some questions on whether an elected Board really is the way to go. This district does not have taxing authority and does not have rate paying authority, it can make some fees, so most of the activity on this board is business decisions on operating the business. I think in some ways, a board appointed based on qualifications to make those decisions maybe better than an elected board based on who has the most special interest and money.”
Young said he was disappointed that the county was unable to go along with the cities and elected to put political issues into a financial crisis.
“The resolution written doesn’t say consider this and whether it’s feasible do polling. As far as question on cost its somewhere between $150,000 to $200,000 just to have your line there so every time you have an election for the board, maybe you can roll the first one in with this funding action, but subsequent years this would be an additional cost. The name change, I speculate that’s well into the $100,000 range,” said Young.
Director Young requested the language be changed to allow them more flexibility based on what the polling says.
Gus Vina stated that Director Young should realize that the language says “potential 2016 ballot intuitive,” which assumes that when you go into a ballot initiative process that you have to poll a number of things to see if you even pull the trigger.
“As I said earlier, I think those questions are going to enhance the opportunity of all the questions we have to ask the community to see if we have a chance in you know what to pass anything to support this district. The potential measure means all of those things need to be tested,” explained Vina. “I don’t know that tonight you are going to get all of the details to the questions you might want to have but what you should be comfortable with is that we are going to test those with the community. Without the community you are not going to get anywhere on this effort.
“Those conditions were part of the agreement among the conditions of the city councils and the county at that time. Unfortunately they were not moved forward. The District was handed off with roughly $24 million in annual revenue, 8 stations, and half that revenue was in reserves. Then nothing happened because the cities knew, they felt, no criticism here, but they felt they could run the District better than the county was. One of the reasons we handed it over was for local governance, community control, community confidence, so a local elected governing board would be created and the local should be governing their own fire district,” explained Piepho. “The conditions in the agreement did not occur. Two years later, the recession hits. The stations close. The revenue goes away. We are now in the status which we are today. We can’t go backwards, but we have to go forward. The way to go forward, resolve the issues, and build the confidence has been laid out by my board and the cities… if we don’t listen to the community; we are not going to get to where we need to be. I feel they are very important to how we get to there from here. They are very important because they are not new, they were on the table 10-years ago.”
Paul Hein, of Brentwood, stated that one of the problems facing the district from the start was how it was created.
“It was created because the City of Oakley and City of Brentwood thought they could do a better job with it. The residents had not an opportunity to vote on any of it. It was pretty much said here is what we are done and here are the people who are going to run it, all appointed by a city council or the county,” explained Hein. “The public has nothing to say about your problems here and that is why you are having your problems getting your money. Nobody trusts you because you guys.”
David Piepho, Discovery Bay, highlighted the grass root effort that has already started.
“We have folks that are talking all over the District, we have spoken to the Contra Costa Taxpayer Association, they are very engaged and worried. They are confident they could kill the initiative if they feel it’s not effective. They feel what has been proposed by the task force is effective, its something different, its putting the responsibility back into the public’s hands,” said Piepho.
Piepho addressed Director Young while providing an example that back in 1997, the Town of Discovery Bay moved to a CSD and did both votes together with five seats available for a 4-year and 2-year and they had a record turnout.
“I don’t know where you are coming up with the figures for a name change and election, but where we do our elections in Discovery Bay, they are not nearly as high,” said Piepho. “I don’t think the name change needs to be on a ballot, it’s been indicated this Board can initiate. It’s something the Board, grassroots effort, and community could all work cohesively on.”
Piepho highlighted the Board cannot continue to do what it’s done in the last two elections noting they already have the last two polls which did not end up very well and urged the Board to try something different.
Bob Mankin, Discovery Bay, highlighted the grassroots effort began after the last ballot measure did not pass.
“We have done a lot of groundwork, we are not coming into this cold or a pipe dream,” said Mankin. “I want to point out that the sentiment out there is different from seven months ago. I can tell you that as a matter of fact, I can’t quantify it. There is clearly a different attitude with the voters. We find the best medicine has been a thorough explanation of the issues and what caused the mess we are all in. It’s shined the light on the issue for some…. There have been minds changed, but we have a lot of work ahead of us with some heavy listen, but there is a reason to be optimistic. I urge you not to let the pursuit of the perfect be the enemy of the good. Don’t tear this up on little details and pass up the only opportunity you got. I am going to ask for the unity of this board and hopefully its for the support.”
Iris Obregon of Oakley, asked the board to be bold in moving this forward.
“I don’t have any interest in this other than my family who lives here. We need a solution. A lot of details I hear you discussing. The safety of my family is important. Plese be bold, move this forward, try something different” said Obregon. “What I can see, the task force came up with reasonable recommendations.”
Kevin Graves, CSD Director at the Town of Discovery Bay urged the Board to move forward.
“When we moved to an elected board in Discovery Bay, it was the biggest election we ever had because it engaged everybody out there,” explained Graves. “It engaged the community because if you are running for the Board, you are out there engaging the community telling them what you believe in and you are generating momentum towards what the final goal is and that is a good thing.”
He urged Director Young not to throw out numbers highlighting Discovery Bay’s election costs $11,000 and did not know where Director Young got $100,000 to $200,000 from.
“I know you are not meaning to mislead, but when you throw numbers out there it makes me question your other numbers like $100,000 for new stationary. It’s not as expensive as you think it is,” said Graves. “ I want you to provide accurate information.”
Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor urged the board to support the task force recommendation.
“At this point in time, we have to go to the future, now is the future. The past is behind us. Totally agree with some of the questions have asked, they are very legitimate questions, but I have to be honest for the first time, you have Local 1230, the City of Oakley, wait a minute, I know what it’s like to herd five cats, you have the City of Brentwood, Town of Discovery Bay, the County Board of Supervisors, are you kidding me?” said Taylor. “There were times it takes an army to get this group together. There is going to be a lot of vetting, we do not know all the details, it’s going to be vetted and if it comes out that is something really stupid, you guys are not going to let it go. If it’s that bad, we will sure as heck know… I put my trust in you guys, in our local firefighters, our chief, we have to make this happen. We are going to put the word out, this is a crisis and a huge crisis but it’s a crisis for all of us. We already know what the past looks like, let’s be bold and move forward.”
Doug Knowles, Oakley, highlighted his concerns with cost of an election and that he believed throwing a ballot of elected board with the revenue enhancement was not a good idea.
“I think we need to do all these things, but to put the election of a new board in the same ballot as the ballot initiative for funding is a disaster and a nightmare waiting to happen,” said Knowles.
“This is going to be a Band-Aid, it’s not like we are going to open 10-staitons like we should have out here, it’s just one more station. If we can’t throw the life preserver out there, what the heck are we doing,” said Hardcastle. “I’ve always said we have to look at this like a personal thing.”
“These requirements are not a statement on you as a board, but as an effort to bring the community together to own this district. I thought it was a very good point that by putting it on the ballot and bringing people in it brings in more support for the financial support you are going to need. I encourage you to be unanimous so we can send that message out to the community that this is a united effort to solve a problem,” said Burgis.
David Piepho was granted the opportunity to speak a second time and addressed the word Band-Aid that keeps being used.
“Nobody wants a Band-Aid, they want a solution. Reaching out already with the grassroots effort, people want a solution. We need to find out the nexus of what that is. What do they want and what can they afford. We can’t put out a $500 initiative on the ballot, its not going to pass. We have a very vertical hill to climb. Its going to need to be a fluid document, fluid effort and we are going to need to go to the community and see what they want,” explained Piepho. “What kind of fire department do you want and this is what it costs. Wherever the two lines meet, that is where we are going to be at. It can’t be 12-stations, people have to understand that because its not possible. But what can they live with and what can we do with getting off this kick the can down the road that is a Band-Aid, we can’t do that anymore.”
He urged the Board to get in the mind-set of educating the public by ripping off the Band-Aid and telling people this is what it costs to run a fire department.
Director Morgan requested the Board add in language that states that no station currently open or funded will be closed—referring to the $300,000 CALFIRE contract for the Marsh Creek Morgan Territory Station.
Board President Joel Bryant stated he understood the desire for that but that it was unrealistic.
“Without funding for that, we can’t guarantee that,” said Bryant. “If this does not move forward, its eventually going to be a moot point. By course, it will take care of itself.”
Director Morgan responded she did not see how it would take care of itself.
“I see that if this is an elected Board and Marsh Creek-Morgan Territory is not represented, honestly the first thing this board is going to do is terminate the Amador contract because it’s a money saving item and as this board has proven in the past the concept of community doesn’t extend equally to all communities in this District,” stated Morgan.
Director Bryant stated a recommendation like that is basically is putting obligation and tying hands of a newly elected board.
“Frankly, in this conversation, I understand your desire, but I think that is more of a distraction to the point. This should be a very simple thought process. Are we in favor of the idea of bringing forward a fix to the long-standing problem. We all know what they are without an effort with this board standing behind. We all know what the end result will be. This shouldn’t be a very difficult decision,” explained Bryant. “Do we want to provide a mechanism to keep our family safe or do we not?”
He further explained that the fourth station they are recommendations by no means fixes the problem.
“Four stations cannot cover 100,000 people within 250 square miles. Five stations can’t, eight stations can’t. As far as this district is concerned, each person in that fourth station, everyday a fourth station being opened represents numerous lives that can be saved,” said Bryant. “The fourth station isn’t going to fix the problem, but it’s going to extend the availability of the closest station to you more times than not. It’s a benefit to the entire district… if we do not move forward and this fails, lives will be lost.”
Director Bob Kenny stated his support of the measure saying it’s a good idea noting he expected moving to an elected board was something he thought would happen many years ago.
Director Cheryl Morgan stated this Board forgets she is a doctor and this brings out the educator in her.
“This board is missing one key factor, this nation is not a democracy, this is a republic and the difference is between a democracy and a republic is a republic safeguards the rights of a minatory against the excesses of a majority. An election members, I am deeply concerned they will abuse the rights of a minority, specifically my community will be voted out,” stated Morgan. “We have been informed we will never be allowed to leave the District. That being said, I am in conflict with what is best for my community and what is best for my District. At this time, I am going to vote yes for this with the understanding that I am deeply concerned where this is going to go. I am deeply suspicious of the motivations behind it. But we will vote yes and move forward.”
Director Stephen Smith noted that he has attended every board meeting since the Districts inception and a couple of times when proceedings for elections came up that it was two have two separate elections of one to conform and one to elect.
“It’s fairly clear that the cost of the first election will be paid for using the savings from the delayed opening of the station. We will then know what the future elections will cost and those would be factored into our projections,” said Smith. “We are so thin right now that the concept of first due is meaningless. Any rig can be anywhere at any point. In listening to the dispatch. I sometimes see Engine 59 working in something in Brentwood or Oakley and Engine 93 has to go to Discovery Bay. Right now, first due is meaningless; we are just scrambling to cover everything we can with whatever is available. “
Smith stated that in the future, the board needs to take into consideration of an elected board how diverse and widespread the district is and suggested an ad-hoc committee be created to address it.
“We have to move this forward tonight and I am going to vote yes,” said Smith.
The Board voted 9-0 in favor of the recommendation.