Fire boards vote to negotiate contract with CDF

Posted by on Thu, August 17, 2006

The Half Moon Bay and Point Montara Fire Protection District boards of directors voted to move forward on contracting out fire services with the California Department of Forestry.

The chiefs from CDF and San Mateo Fire Department were on hand to answer questions about their outsourcing proposals from the boards. The meeting lasted nearly four hours, from 5pm to 9pm. Firefighters and their friends and families filled out a packed meeting in the garage of the HMB fire station. The firefighters and their supporters applauded those who spoke against outsourcing to either CDF or the San Mateo Fire Department.

Observers were unable to read the mood of the boards as they asked questions of the chiefs proposing to take over the districts’ fire services, but when it came time to vote, it became clear that the boards had decided to make a decision. The process was dramatic.

The Half Moon Bay board acted first.

HMB board member Dave Eufusia moved that the boards set up a work committee made up of board members, staff and firefighters to review the proposals from CDF and SMFD and come up with more detailed answers to their questions. It failed for lack of second. Director Gary Burke, saying "To maintain the status quo is not an option," moved that the HMB board direct its staff to prepare a letter of intent to negotiate with the CDF.  It was seconded, and directors Burke, Jerry Donovan, Bert Silva, and Lane Lees voted yes. Eufusia voted no.

Then the Point Montara board acted. Director Gary Riddell, saying that the reason "we’re solvent and they’re not"—looking directly at the Half Moon Bay board—was that Point Montara pays attention to finances. He said that HMB director Eufusia had uncovered $400,000 is discrepancies in the CDF proposal and that he didn’t have enough information about either consolidation or outsourcing to approve either course of action.  Riddell moved that the Point Montara board set up the same style of work committee rejected by the HMB board. His motion was not seconded. Director Ginny McShane moved that the Point Montara board "accept the CDF proposal" and begin to negotiate—essentially the same motion approved by the HMB board.  Directors McShane and Bruce McKimmie voted yes. Director Riddell voted no.

During the public comment meeting, Edwin Hawkins, president of the San Mateo County Firefighters Local 2400 told the directors that if they voted for consolidation, the union would collect signatures to hold a referendum on the decision.

Comment 1
Thu, August 17, 2006 10:31pm
All my comments

Hawkins might want to read Article II Sections 9-11 of the California constitution before he starts collecting signatures. I don’t think there’s any referendum power in a fire district—or any special district or school district, for that matter.

Likewise initiatives. You’ll recall that Measure D had to be a city initiative in Half Moon Bay, not a CUSD initiative.

Comment 2
Fri, August 18, 2006 11:50am
Ed Carter
All my comments

The decisive action by both fire boards last night after a full discussion of the issues provides hope that better days are ahead.  Both CDF led by Chief Ferreira and City of San Mateo Fire"s Chief Kelly were impressive and responsive to all questions put to them. It was obvious either agency could provide the services we need.  In the end the reality of the financial condition of both fire districts won the day and the lower bid from CDF was accepted.

A point that was made by one firefighter who spoke was the loss of so many firefighters (twenty or more I think) during the past few years of problems in the district(s).  How many more would have been lost if no change were made?  So we have lost over half of the staff already. The threat of more firefighters leaving because we chose to contract with CDF is simply business as usual.  Lets hope everyone adjusts to the reality of the decision and works toward the best contract that can be negotiated with CDF.  I hope our committed firefighters chose to stay on as CDF employees.

The consolidation of the two districts into one needs a lot of work.  One issue that was raised at the Midcoast Community Council meeting last week was a very agressive tree cutting ordinance in the Half Moon Bay District which The Point Montara Fire District does not have.  Elimination of trees in the urban areas of the coast is both an esthetic and a stormwater pollution/flood control issue which must be balanced with fire prevention. There are many other things to consider.  the community needs to stay involved.

I just watched the Joint Fire Board Meeting video where the vote was to contract with CDF (California Department of Forestry).

I think the Coastsider is doing a magnificent job in informing the public about public affairs and the video feature is an excellent addition to the education process.

My vision as a former Pt. Montara Board Member 10 years ago was to consolidate the two fire districts and provide consolidated emergency services to the entire coastside. I’m glad we finally made it.

I hope we can get now back to the business of providing emergency services and leave the bickering behind.

Joe Loomis
Moss Beach

It sure is hard to understand how so many misinformed people think they are qualified to say how much better things are going to be with CDF. When a town turns its back on the very people who would give their lives for them, it is a sad day indeed. I don’t care who you are or what you think you may know, this is the biggest disservice to the entire Coastside that has ever occured. The REAL story, and what should inferiate all of you is #1 One of the board members who has decided that you deserve the lowest quality of service and higher insurance rates does not live in this state and therefore cast his vote illegally, #2 There is a faction of extremely vindictive, vengeful ex-firefighters on both boards who enjoyed no friendship among the ranks while they were employed because of these personality flaws, #3 The Boards have in no way proved the neccessity of dismantling our emergency services #4 The Montara Board and the ignorence and stonewalling therein has delayed consolidation #5 These problems shared by both districts are the result of all of the above. Montara Board members need to stop acting like they are the victims here and accept responsibility for the problems faced TODAY, and stop blaming prior boards. The same goes for the HMB board. I honestly respect everyone on this site for your interest and concern in local governmental affairs, however, with this respect comes the responsibility to inform you all of the seriousness of these actions by your elected officials and the negative consequences we will inevitably face.

Kathryn and Vince,
    These are all very good points, and I don’t want to discredit the time and energy they have put into being board members. However, when was the last time a State agency has taken ANYTHING over, for less cost, better results, and with real consideration from the citizens effected by the States actions? From the quality and level of service, to the unknown extra costs, WE WILL HAVE NO CHOICE. It is difficult and unprofessional for me to go into the details about what I mean by “quality of service” when it comes to emergency services. Suffice it to say I have worked with all three agencies for 13 years and can say what I do with confidence. I personally do not feel comfortable knowing that soon, my community, my family, and my friends may possibly rely on CDF for emergency services. Yes, possibly one or two people may choose to stay on and work under CDF, but most will leave. That says a lot right there. One of the comments made by a CDF reprasentative: ” A firefighter can work for CDF and move to a town like Weed, CA and live quite comfortably “. So in other words, ” If you don’t like your situation here, leave.” So they have already, in essence, told your native local firefighters who, by the way, respond off duty along with volunteers, to a number of emergencies, to go ahead and move out. In sum, this is not about money, and for me and many many others it never has been. This is about an unecessary diservice to my town, our town, the community we love and make great sacrifices to reside in. A decision, made in haste, with far reaching implications. I urge everyone, no matter what your stance, to support the reestablishment of a locally owned and operated Fire District for the good of your community, family, and friends. This is a situation that should not be taken lightly and should by no means be considered as a monetary cost item. Over 100 years of top rate service and dedication is at stake, at the very least.

Dave Heckman,

You sure made a excellent arguments for why we don’t want Firefighters and exFirefighters making decisions about our fire service.  Let’s try some facts rather than rhetoric.

CDF is qualified to provide service on the Coastside. The town is not turning its back on the Firefighters.  The Boards arranged that all of Linestaff will get jobs at CDF and their salaries will be red circled. If an individual Firefighter doesn’t want to work for CDF, it is that individuals personal matter.

#1 What we have today for service is less than CDF will be providing, when they take over. Go to the meetings, hear how incidents are handled and hear about the service cuts.  The ISO Fire Ratings were performed last fall.  It will be years before they are done again.  Look at the ISO criteria.  CDF shouldn’t cause any rating drop, next time. A Firefighter posted the allegation against one of the HMBFPD Directors on the MidCoast-L on July 30.  I’m sure someone brought it to the attention of the District Attorney.  It’s a matter for the Director involved and the District Attorney.  If that HMBFPD Director was subsequently disqualified, it would not change the outcome of the vote(3-1 vs 4-1).

#2 Why do all Board members have to be liked by the Linestaff?  The Boards represent the citizens.  The Firefighters have selected IAFF Local 2400 to negotiate with the Board for them.  The end product of that negotiation is a contract.  There is a Management buffer between the Board and the Firefighters for day to day operations.

#3 The Boards are not dismantling the Fire and Emergency Services.  They looked long and hard at hiring a new Chief and rebuilding the Department.  Chief Bonano, Chief Hamilton and the Civil Grand Jury all said don’t rebuild. The Board had an obligation to sustain the mission of the two Districts.  The recommendations were to outsource.  No one, before the contract with CDF vote or after, has put forward a credible plan to rebuild HMBFPD.  CDF and San Mateo were both imminently qualified to manage, take on the HMBFPD employees and provide fire service on the Coastside.

#4 Since the PMFPD Board voted it’s intent to consolidate, they have not stonewalled.  There are many issues that are not easy to resolve.  Sure more competent Boards could have moved more expidisously on consolidation. Consolidation work was put on hold in April for doing triage on operations.

#5 The Boards did assume responsibility by recognizing how serious the situation was, evaluating the options in a timely manner and asking for outside help. Boards need to work on present issues and rely on professional advice, not someone trying to rebuild some clubhouse from 10 years ago, that doesn’t have any hope of meeting the present requirements. We saw that stillborn exercise in PMFPD last year.

Dave Heckman, (second post)

You said, “I personally do not feel comfortable knowing that soon, my community, my family, and my friends may possibly rely on CDF for emergency services.”  Doesn’t your low opinion of CDF reflect on all Firefighters and agencies?  CDF is a big part of that community.  Despite your attempt to finesse it, you have crossed a line.  It is hard to believe that with all the government regulations, certifications, training, professional organizations and people dedicating their lives to fire service, anyone would have to rely on your word on where to get a good quality of fire service.  If what you said is true, we should all live in fear of traveling out of the Coastside and blundering into what could be a CDF serviced district and having a mishap.

Unfortunately, one of the costs of living in an expensive area is that people who provide services in that area can’t afford to live there.  That has been the sad reality in the Bay Area for a long time.  There is no legal way to force a Firefighter to reside in the district they work at.  We have one that resides in Utah, now.  I see the advantage of “native local Firefighters”.  But, what guarantee do the taxpayers have that throwing more money at the problem will buy a solution?

I have been going to the Board meetings.  I hear about the service cuts.  I hear about the ALS/JPA exception reports.  I’m a civilian.  I’m troubled by what I hear.  You should go and listen and ask questions, before you assume CDF is worse or that HMBFPD can be rebuilt.  The decision to outsource was not made in haste, if you attended the meetings, or read the agenda’s on line, you would know that.

I want to see the 100 year MISSION sustained.  Who our Firefighters work for is a secondary issue.  Our Firefighters are perfectly capable of adapting to the changes and making career choices.  Our “native local Firefighters” don’t need any special endangered species designation or habitat protection.

Comment 8
Mon, August 21, 2006 3:58pm
Carl May
All my comments

Loss of local control from the Point Montara District to a minority position in a consolidation with a larger neighboring district with different conditions (geographic and demographic makeup) is OK but loss of operations from that consolidated district to CDF is not? Let’s get our principles on self-determination and serving community needs straight!

Ex-firefighters are not OK on fire district boards; but when you agree with the votes of ex-firefighters in majority positions on boards, those votes should prevail?

Clarity, objectivity, and consistency are not strong suits in midcoast politics—and the citizens of the several communities (disenfranchised citizens in the case of Montara and Moss Beach, who are seeing a unit of local government dissolved without having a chance to vote on it) are the losers in the games played.

Carl May

    Thank you for your response to my posts. I appreciate your enthusiasm on these issues. You are to be commended. It is this type of passion for the issues that has kept this community as the great place it is, with problems solved almost always for the betterment of the coastside, by informed, concerned citizen input.

    As I have stated repeatedly and expressed to CDF personell both publicly, at the Board meetings and in person, I have great respect for the dedicated men and women of that agency.

    Regarding your comment on ALS/JPA excemption reports, I believe HMB engines and the ambulance are near the top of the list when it comes to required on scene times. Don’t forget about how difficult it is to get around the coastside’s ageing and inadequate infrastructure during times of heavy traffic and inclement weather. Safe response is and always will take priority over response time requirements.

    Raising our taxes was never a threat. In fact, it is well understood by both boards that this is unnecessary. So throwing more money at the problem has never been discussed as a solution. Besides, what is gained by having locally residing employees cannot be measured in dollars. And don’t forget the members who grew up here, who’s family and friends live here, and who’s connection and dedication to the community is steadfast. To say “Our native local firefighters don’t need any” is an insulting and unfair to them as well as something they haven’t and never would ask for.

    Vince, I am no longer going to be posting on this site. It is not the proper forum in my opinion, however, I do appreciate our dialogue. As a citizen, I share your concerns and if you worked in this industry for 13 years, as I have, locally, then you would share mine. If you would like to contact me via e-mail, I will gladly talk more.

Comment 10
Tue, August 22, 2006 11:39am
Ed Carter
All my comments

There is a myth that needs correcting.  The myth is that firefighters cannot afford to live on the coastside.  The 1999 median household income in Half Moon Bay was $82,735.  Last year the Fire district paid out $4,764,200 in salaries.  If we subtract $600,000 for the 4 chiefs and divide the balance by the 39 authorized firefighter positions, the average firefighter in the district received at least $106,774 in salary last year.  This number is low because the department was short staffed last year and many firefighters worked overtime shifts.  According to one source there were only 32 firefighters employed in the district at the end of the year. If we use that number the average firefighter salary goes up to $130,131.

Using either of the above average salary numbers, firefighters can afford to live here more easily than over half of the current population of the coastside.  Retired firefighters can afford to live here.  Many, many people afford to live here on far less money than firefighters receive.  Many do it by having two incomes in the household.

How is a local board deciding to contract out operations a “takeover”?  To me, a “takeover” is when the state comes in, for example to a local school district as has happened recently in the East Bay, and says to the elected officials “you no longer have any authority to make decisions, we’re making all the decisions from now on.”  HMBFPD and PMFPD contracting with CDF is not a CDF “takeover”.  We will still have one or two (?) local boards making service level decisions.