Fire board, developer talks continue

Photo by Tony Kukulich

Matt Beinke, of GBN Partners, LLC, listens to discussions Monday evening regarding a resolution proposed by GBN to provide the fire district with $750,000 to start up a two-person rescue squad and future support.

The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District board this week held off on publicly stating its opinion on a proposed urban limit line (ULL) expansion initiative and associated elements, and will continue discussions with the measure’s leaders on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) involving fire protection for a possible large housing project that could materialize if Brentwood voters approve the initiative in November.

The proposed measure — spearheaded by a group of local developers, including longtime Brentwood farmer and developer Ron Nunn — would move the mark at which urban development must stop, clearing the way for a proposed 815-acre project of up to 2,400 residential units (at least 80% age-restricted, active adult-specific), with other elements, situated north of Balfour Road, east of Deer Valley Road and west of the Shadow Lakes and Brentwood Hills neighborhoods.

The first version of the proposed MOU between the resource-stretched, three-station district and the development group (GBN Partners, LLC) stipulated that the group would fund equipment and startup costs for a two-person rescue squad (about $750,000); collaborate with the district, the city and other developers to identify the squad’s operating funding; establish or participate in a community facilities district to provide ongoing funding for fire protection and emergency response services, at levels consistent with those provided by other new developments in Brentwood; participate with other new development — on a fair-share basis — to fund the development, design and construction of a new fire station; and broadly work with the district and city on long-term funding mechanisms for the district’s needs.

The development group had requested the district endorse the measure and project in light of its commitments.

Before the board decided to continue discussions, Fire Chief Brian Helmick said the district needs to do whatever it can to improve community service levels — currently, three stations cover approximately 249 square miles and over 115,000 residents — and the MOU was designed to put the district in a position to accomplish that goal, with the large project possibly on the horizon.

But several board members felt the development group’s promises didn’t go far enough, prompting the governing body to take no action on the MOU or possible endorsement, and referred both matters to a board subcommittee to continue talks with the developer, city and district staff.

“What is established so far in this memorandum of understanding, with the exception of the $750,000 funding, isn’t anything that the developer is going to do for the district or help mitigate this area,” board member Adam Langro said.

District officials confirmed after the meeting that both the MOU and the endorsement question remain on the table, although any potential endorsement language needed to be finalized this week to appear in official ballot language.

Bob Nunn, a member of the development group, said the board meeting was an important step in the right direction.

“We look forward to continuing our ongoing discussions with the fire district,” Nunn said. “We are committed to being a part of the solution. We all know that the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District is critically underfunded and that their budget deficit is one of the most pressing issues in East County.”

Helmick said after the meeting that the board’s decision to continue discussions is part of the process to address the district’s long-term system issues.

“I don’t see this as a setback or a step forward,” he said. “I think it’s a necessary step for everyone to be educated about the district’s current service level challenges and also the challenges that come from growth. It is very important that we manage growth effectively, because growth without the appropriate mitigation measures will make our bad situation even worse.”

Board members Joe Young and Langro both indicated the possible 2,400-home development — slated to be built out over 20 years, if approved — will need upwards of one fully-staffed station to be mitigated, an assessment echoed in district documents.

District officials’ estimate building, equipping and staffing a station would cost between $10 million and $11 million, with ongoing operations costing about $4 million yearly.

As proposed, the development could generate $2 million to $2.5 million per year in district property taxes, according to district documents. The developer would also likely be required to pay the City of Brentwood fire facility impact fees to account for development impacts, which could be used to help pay for capital needs, such as new fire stations and engines, according to district documents.

“It’s a large impact and it needs to be mitigated, and I believe we can get there,” Young said. “GBN has a long history here. Many of us live in developments they have created, including myself. I think it’s possible to get there, but I don’t believe this MOU addresses that adequately.”

Once the district subcommittee formalizes a recommendation on the MOU and endorsement question, it’s expected the full board will mull over both issues again.