East Cypress Road Fire

Sparks from some minor construction work ignited a small vegetation fire, which then spread to two abandoned outbuildings, on the 2400 block of East Cypress Road, Oakley, Calif., shortly after 1:00 PM on September 7, 2021. Responding fire units were able to contain the blaze to half an acre. (Melissa van Ruiten/The Press)

Last week, the Brentwood City Council approved a mandate that developers  help fund fire service for any new developments before the city will issue building permits.

The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) established a community facilities district (CFD) in April of this year, which set a fee schedule for residential and business development that offsets the district’s expenses resulting from new development. The fire district is not a land-use agency, and it doesn’t have the ability to directly tax residents. The fee assessment must be administered by land-use agencies within the district’s borders – namely the cities of Brentwood and Oakley, and Contra Costa County. Up to this point, participation in the district’s CFD has been voluntary.

“Brentwood has taken the first step in having our CFD mandated on future developments to ensure that the ramifications of new development on our service are mitigated,” said Shayna van Hoften, ECCFPD legal counsel. “…While we’ve been generally pleased with the voluntary annexation into our CFD, knowing that new development is required to be annexed into our CFD will provide sufficient comfort for the district as it moves forward.”

CFD participation remains voluntary in the City of Oakley and in the county. It remains to be seen if these jurisdictions will follow suit.

The ordinance required approval by four of the five council members, and was approved unanimously during a special council meeting held Sept. 21. Taking effect immediately, it will remain in place for 45 days and can be extended for up to one year. City staff is expected to present a permanent, non-urgency ordinance that will ultimately replace the urgency ordinance. The permanent ordinance must follow a procedure that includes review and approval by the planning commission and city council, and is expected to be in place before the end of the year.

“The urgency has always existed with the fire service response deficiencies, and we’re been working expeditiously behind the scenes to bring our ordinances forward,” said Brentwood City Manager Tim Ogden.

A developer’s participation in the district’s CFD is triggered when new residential units are added within the district or when more than 2,000-square feet of nonresidential floor space is added. According to Ogden, the city was careful to avoid triggering the CFD for small projects like the construction of a shed or a garage.

“I really do appreciate the city working with the district to try to get these historically needed funds in place to be sure that future development does not put the fire district in a deeper hole,” said ECCFPD Fire Chief Brian Helmick. “The fact that their legal counsel, their city staff at all levels continues to work with us on a daily basis to bring this in front of council is something I do appreciate.”

Income generated by a CFD can only be used only to pay for ongoing operational costs such as firefighter salaries. Capital expenditures, including the construction of fire stations, the purchase of fire engines and other equipment is funded through impact fees. The city of Brentwood approved an updated impact fee schedule in August 2020

The fee schedule established in the CFD calls for a $318.60 charge for a single-family property, a $258.12 charge for a multi-family property and a $44.96 assessment for a mobile home. Commercial properties are assessed $352.08 per 1,000 square feet, while office and industrial properties assessed at $441.72 and $244.08 per 1,000-square feet, respectively. The fees are assessed annually and will increase at a rate of 5% per year. Analysis provided by the city estimated that in Year 3, residential development in Brentwood will generate about $240,000 for the fire district.

“The City Council’s adamant support for the district’s CFD shows their unfailing determination to address development’s impacts on this emergency service,” Ogden said. “These CFD’s will be critical in enhancing their fiscal sustainability and more timely response.”

Prior to the city’s vote, the ECCFPD Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve a resolution authorizing Helmick to execute a community facilities agreement with the City of Brentwood. The resolution indemnified the city from any liability related to a legal challenge to the CFD and the urgency ordinance. It also established that the district would reimburse the city for any expenses incurred in the administration of the CFD.

“I’ve said over and over again that we cannot continue to reduce response times and open up fire stations if we’re not putting these funding measures in place,” said Brian Oftedal, president of the ECCFPD Board of Directors. “I think that with the 5-0 vote, it was pretty straightforward that there is a sense of urgency.”