In an effort to provide better response to fires, accidents and emergencies, the City Council Tuesday night voted to have Oakley leave the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) and instead join the larger, better-funded Contra Costa Fire Protection District, also known as Con Fire.
The vote does not mean that it's a done deal, however. It merely begins the lengthy process of applying to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for permission to de-annex from ECCFPD and annex into Con Fire. In doing so, Oakley joins Brentwood in seeking to switch fire districts.
The reason for the switch is that far East County officials have long felt that ECCFPD is under-funded, resulting in under-staffed fire trucks and under-equipped fire stations.
An attempt to fix the ECCFPD by changing its governance from control by the county supervisors to a new board comprising a majority of Oakley and Brentwood officials was on track earlier this year as Oakley, Brentwood and the county had signed onto the plan.
But in May, Oakley's council pulled out of the deal at the last minute, citing bad relations with county officials over property negotiations unrelated to fire protection, and asserting that improving fire response is the county's mess to fix, since the county created the problem by under-funding the district.
This is a necessary step that we take to show a united front with Brentwood and the supervisors that we see that fire protection is an incredibly important issue that we need to address at this time, said Councilman Kevin Romick. We (must) move forward to provide better fire service in East County. Joining Brentwood in this will only empower us even more.
Councilman Brad Nix, however, asked the council to hold off on the district switch request for a month. He wanted more time to discuss a possible agreement with Supervisor Federal Glover that would keep Oakley in ECCFPD.
This particular resolution, I suggest at this point, is inappropriate, said Nix. It would be fine in a while if nothing comes of the discussion (with Glover). Staff can work in the meantime (on the LAFCO application documents). This (application) is going to be a rather time-consuming process. Right now I think cooperation is the way to go, rather than a direct challenge.
Three of the other council members preferred to get the process started now, however, so that Oakley could save money by working with Brentwood in sharing in the cost of the consultants needed to help get the cities through the LAFCO application process. It's expected to cost Oakley as much as $30,000.
Brentwood received their direction two weeks ago and will be commencing their financial analysis, City Manager Bryan Montgomery told the council. We need to join with them in that analysis (to take advantage of) economies of scale and (provide) a consistent voice to LAFCO and the Board of Supervisors.
The intent is to cooperate. It's to be at the table rather than not be at the table in these discussions. I think we owe it to the residents to be at the table as soon as possible.
Councilwoman Pat Anderson agreed that it's time to get on board with Brentwood.
I am tired of waiting, she said. This community deserves better fire protection. It's now time to look at how we can resolve this sooner rather than later. Someone needs to step up.
Councilwoman Carol Rios is also eager to move forward on the fire district switch by studying whether it's feasible to do so.
I'm ready to move on this, she said. It's time to be a part of Brentwood's process. It makes sense to move as a group. I don't want to be sitting on the sidelines as this process moves with Brentwood. I want good information, and this is one way we can get it with an economy of scale.
But Nix pointed out that Glover, who sits on the LAFCO board, is hostile to the idea of Oakley switching fire districts. Montgomery confirmed that the application could meet with opposition from LAFCO.
A comment was made by Supervisor Glover that he didn't think the application will be successful, said Montgomery, adding, Nor do I believe our application will be successful.
What we need to make clear is that we need to bring this matter to a head (and) determine one way or another whether this makes sense or not. I don't think they are excited that the applications are going forward in the way that they are. But it's probably the only way to bring it to a head, in my opinion.
Despite his opposition, Nix voted with Anderson, Rios and Romick to begin the LAFCO application process so that the council would provide a united front.
The only one to vote against it was Mayor Bruce Connelley, who argued that Oakley would save the $30,000 spent on the application process if another solution is found through further discussions with Glover.
After the vote, Nix said, I hope we haven't lost a really great opportunity with this.