The June 5 board meeting of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District was appalling in its lack of concern for the level of essential services the organization exists to provide.
If one attended the meeting, or watches the meeting’s video recording on the ECCFPD website, the impression one gets is that the fire and emergency medical services situation in East Contra Costa is just fine, under control.
But that is hardly the case.
Fire District officers have stated that people are dying because of the ECCFPD’s inability to respond in a timely manner. Response times in the city of Brentwood exceed the city’s General Plan goals by more than 100 percent. And houses are burning down due to the lack of firefighting resources.
How many more people need to die, how many more homes need to burn down, before the ECCFPD Board realizes they are providing service at a dangerously inadequate level?
“We are currently in a situation where we are only sustainable with three stations for at least the next 10 years,” said Interim Fire Chief Brian Helmick. “Our service level is not adequate to serve the citizens, the businesses and the area. This is something that we will have to explore.”
For the past several years the fire district, the elected leaders of the county, the cities of Brentwood and Oakley, area school boards and the governing bodies at special districts, have all known about the ECCFPD funding crisis.
The funding problem is structural in nature, and requires a change in how county property tax funds are distributed.
The lack of fire and emergency medical services in East County constitute a public safety emergency, according to California Assembly Member Jim Frazier.
Assembly Member Frazier proposed legislation in March of this year that would reallocate $10.5 million of property tax funds from the East Bay Regional Parks District to ECCFPD. This bill would have solved the fire district’s funding problem, and enabled the district to provide services at a reasonable and adequate level.
However, the bill has been withdrawn. Opposition to using parks district property tax funds to correct the funding problem was significant.
“The park district has done some great things, but it comes down to whether you want to spend the money on parks or to save lives,” Assemblyman Frazier said of his Assembly Bill 898 in a local news story.
At a Brentwood City Council meeting Erica Rodriguez-Langley, Assemblyman Frazier’s District Director, addressed the Council as they discussed AB 898.
“Assemblyman Frazier has put forward this bill because he believes that East Contra Costa Fire Protection District is facing a fiscal emergency, and that we have a public safety emergency. He is concerned, like all of you, that additional station closures are not far off, and that we need to find additional resources to continue to sustain what we have,” Rodriguez-Langley said.
“This proposal to divert revenue is to fill an urgent need,” she said.
“The legislature routinely makes budgetary decisions that reflect our values, and funding fire protection over other priorities is the reason for this bill,” said Rodriguez-Langley.
A June, 2016, staffing and deployment report prepared for the fire district by CityGate Associates, a well-respected industry consulting firm, clearly described the dire situation.
“The district’s deployment system does not meet the risks present in Brentwood and Oakley if the fire department is expected to prevent more than a catastrophic loss,” the report says.
“The district is the most under-deployed and administratively understaffed fire department we have seen in over a decade for the size of the communities to be protected.”
It is time the funding crisis is resolved, before more people die and more property is lost. It is time that ECCFPD provides the adequate and necessary services the community needs.
Bryan Scott is a Brentwood resident and Co-Chair of East County Voters for Equal Protection, a non-partisan citizens action committee whose aim is to improve funding for the ECCFPD. He can be reached at email@example.com, or 925-418-4428. The group’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/EastCountyVoters/.