On Tuesday night, the City of Brentwood took no action on their proposed Memorandum of Understanding which was aimed to keep a fourth East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Station open. By taking no action, the MOU died.
The move came after the Bob May, representative for the Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County Local 1230, came out against the Brentwood proposal which would have been a 3-year deal where ECCFPD would have paid $4.2 million and the City of Brentwood $3 million.
According to the MOU, the City of Brentwood included several stipulations including moving the fourth station from Knightsen to downtown Brentwood and requested brownout protections.
May asked the Council to turn down their MOU offer and hit reset with all parties.
“We are here to ask you tonight if you will turn down this MOU and hit the reset button for us and bring all parties to the table like we have done in the past like we have with this fourth station we have in Knightsen,” explained May. “Not everyone has been at the table on this one and we have some concerns that not all the information is out to the council and to the board of supervisors and the city of Oakley’s council. So we believe right now, there is information that still needs to be brought forth to everybody. We need a long-term solution and not a short-term. We have had two short-term solutions in the past, a SAFER Grant and the Task Force created this 1-year. So we have already gone through a 3-year process so we are recommending we hit reset and everybody come back to the table and come up with a solution once and for all for East Contra Costa.”
Stephen Smith, Brentwood resident, stated he was in favor of moving forward with the MOU to retain a fourth fire station after June 30th. But also added sharp criticism.
“If this MOU is implemented, we can then proceed to working on longer-term solutions,” said Smith. “Unfortunately, we begin this process in utterly poisonous atmosphere of mistrust, finger pointing and recrimination. There are several reasons for this and previous Brentwood councils have contributed to the problem.”
He noted that in 2012, the process of replacing elected officials on the fire board was never completed after 1-year, noting that by 2015, two Brentwood City Council members joined the already sitting councilmember on the fire board giving them three elected officials while removing the community members.
“I have watched carefully and have seen no discernible improvement in the quality of District governance as a result to offset the great harm to regional cooperation and public perception,” said Smith.
He stated all parties had to come together in an ongoing process that included working completely in the public view while including the public and elected officials in the process. He also challenged the District to present its budget in a way that will help everyone understand it while sharing a realistic set of actions that could be taken from the state level to help with the fire funding issues.
Vice Mayor Steve Barr thanked the council for all the hard work going on
“I think we finally got to an MOU that was as close to neutral as possible. I know there has been some updates today regarding the cost, I think we have been doing the best we can with what we had,” said Barr. “I am sorry to hear that there is so many in the public that think we haven’t been doing this for the right seasons. I can tell you it doesn’t feel very good to get kicked in the teeth for doing the right thing. I don’t care for it very much and I think everything we have done in Brentwood was to try and prevent the fourth station from closing.”
Barr highlighted the resistance was for their method of moving quickly than movement to find a solution.
“That is very disappointing from where I sit. The finger pointing at Brentwood was mostly at the speed in which we have moved forward and I appreciate staff and our council for moving forward,” said Barr. “I think there has been some change since we started the process and that is the county has funded or offered to fund for 2-additional years only if the station is in Knightsen. “
Barr also stated that he agreed with Steve Smith regarding meetings should be in public.
“It will have to be a public meeting because I would never meet with those individuals unless it was a public meeting because that started the finger pointing and the saying things that didn’t happen so you are hearing that right here in a public meeting that those things did happen that they said didn’t,” said Barr.
Barr continued saying that with the county willing to participate, with the City of Oakley not yet stepping up, thought the fire district should be given time to work with the City of Oakley.
“The last I heard, Oakley wanted more information , give them the information and see if they come forward and bring everybody back to the table, but it should be the fire district doing it,” said Barr. “We did it at the beginning because we thought it was the right thing to do. Apparently only Brentwood thinks it was the right thing to do. Maybe someone else needs to carry the ball for a while. I am not in favor of approving this MOU tonight.”
Councilwoman Karen Rarey stated she felt the same way Steve Barr does.
“We went into this trying to do the right thing in preventing Knightsen from closing June 30. It’s closing June 30, period unless Oakley, the Board of Supervisors and Brentwood come to the table to keep it in Knightsen,” explained Rarey. “ We were supposed to be a safety net, that is what we were.”
Rarey continued saying she asked why the fire board only went with “Brentwood” and she was informed because it was not a Band-Aid.
“The voters made it clear that they do not want to pay anymore. So that means that the cities and the county need to work together to fund a station. Fund their own station. Whatever it takes to open up a station it will have to be done with the entities involved,” said Rarey. “At this point, I think I am with Steve, Knigthsen is going to close. That will happen on June 30 because there is no urgency any longer to get this done. It’s also been brought to our attention that the firefighters and the fire chief have not been asked. Maybe that is what we need to do because we have been told the fire chief has not been asked what needs to be done. I think we need to have the next meeting be organized by the fire district in keeping a fourth station.”
Barr added that he believed Brentwood would participate in a joint effort and it was the fire board who chose the second option because there was not a lot of movement for the first.
“Since then, the County has come forward. We are still missing Oakley, but I think I would still be at the table pushing to keep the fourth station open but it’s going to take the partnership of all four of them,” said Barr.
Barr admitted they did move quickly to assist firefighters who were out looking for jobs as the station was going to close.
Councilman Joel Bryant, who is also Board President of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District, admitted during his comments that he was trying to stay professional because It was personal to him.
“It’s very disappointing to me that it seems to be in many people’s minds okay to let more people die that don’t have to to get a political point across. The political gamesmanship that has been going on is sickening from a human standpoint,” said Bryant. “There is an old saying that you will eat the fruit from the tree you plant. I can only hope that I am around to see some of that, some of the political pressures and people that have been playing chess or checkers with the lives of myself, my family and families of this district.”
He highlighted the lack of support from Local 1230, the firefighters union.
“Clearly there is no support from Local 1230 for this. They have just had a representative request that they turn this down. They requested that we not keep 25% additional resources available to save lives in this District,” said Bryant. “I am going to honor this request and let it be on their heads.”
Councilwoman Claudette Staton stated she understood the feelings of her councilmembers, but asked if the council was ready to go down to 3-stations. She asked if the District had ever gone down to 3-stations and when while asking what were the consequences.
“I am hearing we are going to honor what this gentleman said here today. But If this MOU does not go through today, are we all comfortable with what will happen and we are not able to provide the services. Will we be able to live with that” said Staton.
Barr interjected saying he was not honoring Local 1230’s request.
“These are my own thoughts. I know I have met with the parties; I’ve had bloggers call me a liar for saying the truth here at our council meeting,” stated Barr. “So I think its not an issue with me wanting not to have a fourth station, I think we have done as much as we possibly can. We can approve this MOU knowing full well that we are going to go back to the table talking about the cost of a station.”
Barr explained his position was to allow all the parties to now come together because there is more of a desire to have it at Knightsen.
“The County Board of Supervisors had not good to say about how we handled it, well we handled it as expeditiously as we could,” stated Barr. “They had 54 speakers there telling them that they had to do something and they did. I think we were doing without having to be prompted to do it. I don’t feel like we were gaming anyone or playing politics. I think we truly brought everybody to the table. After that we were told we misrepresented what came out of it.
Editors note – to correct Mr. Barr, 54-speakers did not speak at the Board of Supervisors Meeting. It was only Vince Wells, President of Local 1230, who spoke on behalf of the issue of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.
“So if the County came forward and said we misrepresented them. Well we were never told in the meeting that they were going to even support taking this back. Oakley said we misrepresented them, well they have not come to the table yet with the money,” said Barr. “So the challenge is Oakley, come on to the table and we will be there as a team player.”
Councilwoman Rarey asked East Contra Costa Fire Chief Brian Helmick if there was money in the budget to run the station for another two-years.
Helmick explained that he had only been Chief for 3-weeks and part of one of the meetings, but not part of the architecture of the deal that came forward under the MOU designed by Brentwood.
“I will say we do have excess money above the three-stations and some reserve funds,” said Helmick. “But we do not have enough money to fund a fourth station. How long those monies will last, that is something we will have to investigate if we were not to have the MOU. We do have excess funds, but I do not know how long those funds will last.”
Rarey asked if the MOU does not carry tonight, would the Knightsen Station close on June 30.
“If the MOU does not pass tonight, the Knightsen Station will close on the 30th, but its still to be determined with the personnel we do have. Again we just stated there is excess funds so we should be able to maintain employees. The number of employees we are still looking at,” stated Helmick.
Helmick stated that Brentwood’s time and effort to try and make this happen could not go unnoticed.
“I don’t want you to feel like it’s not appreciated, because it is. It is going to take a community fix the situation we have and has to take a like-minded approach as the City of Brentwood has done. I am hoping that whatever the decision is tonight, whether for or not, is that we continue to work together. We are going to have to come together on how to move forward.”
Mayor Bob Taylor asked Chief Helmick if he thought anything would happen before an elected board is done (November 2018).
Helmick replied he couldn’t answer that.
“That would be an assumption sir, I can’t tell you that,” said Helmick.
Taylor stated that gives the District 18-months until an elected board takes over and admitted the Chief was at a disadvantage.
Due to a lack of a motion to move forward with the MOU, the MOU died.