By a 4-1 vote – Councilman Brandon Richey dissenting – the Brentwood council approved the creation of a locally based governing board for the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD).
“This is the necessary next step for us to get the kind of resources needed to protect our population and protect our first-responders,” resident Steven Smith told the council prior to its vote.
The new board will consist of nine members chosen proportionally according to the population of the areas within the district. Four will come from Brentwood, three from Oakley and two from the unincorporated areas of Knightsen, Bethel Island, Byron and Discovery Bay. The ECCFPD is currently run by the BOS in Martinez.
The district was created in 2002, consolidating the Bethel Island, East Diablo and Oakley-Knightsen fire protection districts into one district to serve all of far East County. Because it is comprised of what used to be volunteer districts, the district receives only 7 percent of the property tax paid by its residents, while fire districts elsewhere in the county get about 12 percent. As a result of the under-funding, ECCFPD engines have only two firefighters aboard instead of the industry standard three, and neither is a paramedic. Wages are also higher in other areas.
In casting his “no” vote, Richey said the BOS was simply handing the problem off.
“The Board of Supervisors has been able to pass the buck on inadequate funding to the (new) fire board,” he said. “I applaud the amount of work that has gone into this, but I can’t support it. I can’t look a firefighter in the eye and say, ‘I’ve got your back.’”
Other councilmen said they agreed that the supervisors were “ducking the problem,” but felt the issues of funding, staffing, paramedic training and wages would never be solved in Martinez.
“I don’t think the county was ever going to come up with the money” to solve the problem, said Councilman Chris Becnel. “If we’re going to solve the problem, I think we have to try and solve it out here, with our people.”
As Brentwood’s council was casting its vote, the matter was also being addressed down the road in Oakley. There the council voted unanimously in favor of the new board.
The issue will return to the BOS for a final vote now that the cities have signed on. That vote should come on Nov. 10, followed by a transition period during which the new board will be seated. The two city councils will name the representatives from their communities, while the BOS will choose the representatives from the unincorporated areas. The new group is expected to take over on Feb. 10, 2010.
Click here to find out what the City of Oakley had to say on the subject.