East Contra Costa fire district board takes no position on Measure L

East Contra Costa Fire board sends MOU back to committee for further review

Judith Prieve, East Bay Times, August 20, 2019

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A developer-backed measure to expand Brentwood’s growth boundary failed to win East Contra Costa Fire Protection District board’s endorsement.

After nearly three hours of discussion at a special fire district meeting Monday, the two-part resolution, which included support for Measure L and an agreement outlining the developer and fire district’s responsibilities, died for lack of a motion. Had it passed, the endorsement could have been included in voter ballot materials that must be completed this week.

Fire district officials saw the proposed agreement with developer GBN Partners LLC, a Blackhawk-Nunn company, as a first step to ensure adequate fire services if Brentwood’s growth boundary is extended with the passage of Measure L in November. That measure would allow for up to 2,400 homes on 815 acres north of Balfour and east of Deer Valley Road.

Fire district officials say the project would require additional fire services, including another fire station.

“Responsible growth is part of our solution to our challenges, but it is very important that we manage it effectively,” fire district Chief Brian Helmick said. “Growth without the appropriate mitigation will make a bad situation even worse.”

The proposed agreement came in the wake of the fire board and city’s directive last week for fire officials to pursue opportunities with developers to fund future fire stations and new two-person firefighter/EMT rescue squads.

“This MOU (memorandum of understanding) is not intended to fix all of our problems but rather is the beginning of the conversation to meet our strategic initiatives and it is also working to address our existing issues to some degree,” he said.

Approval of the resolution would have provided fire services for the proposed Vineyards at Deer Creek, which is now outside of Brentwood’s development boundaries.

In turn, if Measure L is approved, ​the annexation of the county land would provide a 14 percent tax rate allocation for the fire district, resulting in additional revenues of $2 million annually. The developer also would give $750,000 for startup costs of a new two-person fighter/EMT squad to go on medical calls and assist at fires.

Most of the residents and some board members who spoke Monday, however, said it was too early to consider an endorsement or agreement with the developer.

Resident Ben Kellogg urged the board not to give away its negotiating leverage.

“To have (build) a station is $10 to $14 million and we may be getting $2 million,” he said. “We’re giving away all of our leverage… It seems like you all are kowtowing to the developers.”

Vince Wells, president of the United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, pointed out that the fire district does not promote development but has no power to stop it.

“If you don’t have anything in place that’s going to secure any commitment from the developer, then you’re continuing the problem,” he said.

“There really doesn’t seem to be any value-add for the fire protection district with the MOU,” resident David Salmon added.

Developer Stephen Beinke, however, said his company was “very involved” in bringing services to Brentwood.

“If we are successful, there’s millions and millions of dollars of future revenue as well as our cooperation with the district and other developers in trying to get them some money for the district,” he said.

Director Joe Young, however, questioned proposed agreement’s language, which he said was not well-defined.

“There’s no question that the district cannot support this project without some type of mitigation,” he said. “(However), if we do the right thing and recognize this project has an impact and we appropriately mitigate that with additional service capabilities, it will be good for the district.”

“I have a really hard time at looking at this as anything more than a wish list to come back and talk later,” Director Adam Langro said.

Only Director Stephen Smith spoke in favor. “This memorandum of understanding is but the first step of many that establishes a major role in placing the district at the table when the city works on entitlements for future development.”

Other board members and residents also disapproved of the district giving its endorsement for Measure L, saying it’s too early for anyone to have digested the impact of the 193-page initiative.

With no motion on either item, President Brian Oftedal instead directed the ad-hoc committees to re-examine the MOU agreement before returning it to the board.

The fire chief later said he plans to continue to do what it takes to increase service levels.

“I still believe we are taking a step in the right direction,” Helmick said.