Opinion: Thursday’s fire board meeting is critical


Posted by on Wed, August 16, 2006

Barry Parr
Thursday's fire board meeting will be at the Half Moon Bay fire house, at the southern end of Main Street.

Thursday at 5pm, there will be a critical meeting of the Half Moon Bay and Point Montara Fire Protection Districts.

Everyone who cares about fire protection and how their taxes are spent should be at this meeting. Very few citizens have been attending the fire board meetings—except for firefighters, who have their own interest in the outcome. Thursday, the boards could make a decision that will affect every household on the Coastside.  Unfortunately, the board meetings have not been broadcast on MCTV, and it has been difficult to get information on what’s happening without attending the meetings. You can download the proposals from Coastsider:

The numbers are pretty clear. The request for proposal was jointly created by both the HMBFD and PMFPD district boards. All numbers below are for service to both districts.  They include full staffing at all 3 stations (Half Moon Bay, El Granada, and Moss Beach).

  • Total projected revenue for HMBFD for the 2006/2007 year budget: $7,116,307.
  • Total projected expenditures for HMBFD for the 2006/2007 year budget: $7,302,484 ($185,177 more than the projected income)
  • California Dept of Forestry (CDF) proposal: $6,906,766 ($395,718 under budget)
  • City of San Mateo (CSM) option 1: $7,253,707 ($48,777 under budget)
  • City of San Mateo (CSM) option 2: $7,753,512 ($451,028 over budget)

Capital Improvements: None of the options includes capital improvements.  The 2006/2007 HMB budget has no contribution to financial reserves for major equipment purchases or facility improvement in Half Moon Bay.  If the CDF proposal is accepted, the difference between the current HMB budget and the CDF proposal can be used for capital improvements, equipment purchases, or tax rebates.

Term: CDF will contract for as little as 1 year.  CSM calls for an 8 to 10 year contract.

Firefighters: Both CDF and CSM will hire the entire firefighting and paramedic staff currently employed by HMBFD. PMFPD has no employees, it contracts with HMB.  Under both offers our firefighters are assured the same or higher salary.  CDF will accept the current salaries of firefighters who transfer to CDF.  The cost savings are largely due to shifts in the work week (including more hours for firefighters) and economies in administration and training.

Volunteers: CDF has an adult volunteer firefighter program. CSM has volunteer programs for students.

Merging the districts: Both contract offers assume the two districts will merge.  A service contract and consolidation have been recommended by the independent reviews of the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury and the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCo).  The stations and equipment will stay in local ownership of the fire districts.

Standards: Emergency service standards are set by the state and federal governments.  Both agencies making proposals are well qualified. 

The decision taxpayers need to make is how much you want to pay for emergency services and how much more you want to pay in the future.

Please attend the meeting on Aug. 17 - it begins at 5:00 p.m at the Half Moon Bay fire station, 1191 Main St.

Please fax or send your opinion, before Thursday, Aug 17, 2006 to HMBFD, 1191 Main St., HMB 94019. The fax number is 726-0132.

Comment 1
Wed, August 16, 2006 9:26am
All my comments

What’s the substantive difference (aside from cost) between the contracts? What would we get for the extra cost of San Mateo Option 2, for example, and how does that compare to CDF?

Something does not make sense here.

“California Dept of Forestry (CDF) proposal: $6,906,766 ($395,718 under budget)”

“Capital Improvements:...If the CDF proposal is accepted, the difference between the current HMB budget and the CDF proposal can be used for capital improvements, equipment purchases, or tax rebates.”

If the revenues from CDF are less than the expenses, how is there anything left for Capital Improvements?  Did you mean CSM (option 2)?  That begs another potentially scary question - how big is the existing reserve?

anyone have pdfs of the proposals that Barry could link to?

Perhaps Vince Williams (one of the most consistent, well-versed posters on any topic) can fill in some holes here.

Comment 3
Wed, August 16, 2006 11:15am
Barry Parr
All my comments

I’ve added links to the proposals, so you can download them from Coastsider.

It looks to me like the CDF proposal is $200,000 less than the districts’ projected revenues.

Links to PDFs of the proposals were in a previous article on Coastsider, and Kathryn repeated them in this article.

Brian, you have misread this article.  The CDF proposal cost is lower than the District’s revenue, so the difference can go into reserves.  My understanding is that both this budget year and the FY just ended drew down reserves substantially because expenditures were higher than revenue.  Revenue doesn’t change depending on the service provider—only expenses change.

“Links to PDFs of the proposals were in a previous article on Coastsider, and Kathryn repeated them in this article.”

The links were added by Barry after the fact.

“Brian, you have misread this article.”

No, the inconsistent bullet points were my source of confusion (which is now gone).

Comment 6
Wed, August 16, 2006 2:15pm
Carl May
All my comments

Why the constantly pushed idea that the two districts should merge (consolidate) before farming out of operations to either CDF or San Mateo? Why can’t the two districts be kept separate, maintaining community control over the provision of emergency services, and simply sign on to the same arrangement?

Given whatever financial realities, why isn’t the employee group not in favor of farming out operations allowed to present a proposal for locally-controlled operations? Wouldn’t these people have some ideas for alternatives to the things they criticize in the proposed deals with outside agencies?

Ever since the first badly constructed agreement for joint operations with the HMB district—an agreement by a partially appointed (not elected) board that aimed at eventual consolidation without any consultation with the citizens of the district—I feel the citizens of Point Montara with a distinct community conscience have been railroaded by narrowly-directed interests. It does no good to go to meetings to give support or ask questions if real alternatives are not on the table.

This meeting is not “critical” for many Point Montara citizens because it because it does not include their democratically-determined desires for the handling of emergency services in their communities.

Carl May

The agenda for tomorrow night has been revised to add looking at other alternatives after a motion for a service contract has been made.  Who is fooling around with agenda this time? Any guesses on what’s up?
Revised AGENDA



Half Moon Bay:
  President Donovan, Vice-President Burke, Secretary Silva, Director
Eufusia, Director Lees
Pt. Montara:
  President MacKimmie, Vice-President Riddell, Secretary-Treasurer McShane


A. Request for Proposals for the Provision of Fire and Life Safety
Services to the Residents and Visitors of the Half Moon Bay Fire
Protection District
1) Review proposals
2) Motion to Select a contract service provider and initiate negotiations with the selected proposing agency.
3) Other options and considerations
  a. Establish a Work Committee




I think you are asking important questions.  Here is what info I have gathered from the meetings I have attended.

The contract for service is being acted on before the consolidation happens.  CDF did make proposals to PMFPD that can be updated to contract only with PMFPD.  CDF will discuss a contract for a 1 year term.  So yes, an independent service contract with CDF can be signed by either one or both boards.  CSM wants an 8 to 10 year term.  CSM wants a consolidation as part of its contract.

(CDF & CSM were the only 2 agencies willing to make proposals of the several local districts that were approached)

I hope someone in the employee group will answer your next set of questions.

The PMFPD board has been struggling with alternatives for a long time.  Robert Olsen laid out the harsh financial constraints small districts are under - the state keeps upping the training requirements, the record keeping requirements, & management/H.R. requirements among others.  They are forcing single station districts like ours to consolidate with larger operations.  He said that districts with fewer than 6 or 8 stations cannot afford the overhead to keep up with the state requirements and community expectations.

This is now an elected board.  Often times folks don’t pay attention unless something is ‘broken’.  In this case lives are at risk if our emergancy service provider system fails.

Brian, I can see your confusion.  Perhaps I should have put in the contract proposals in terms of HMBFDs income instead of its proposed expenditures. 


I do not believe that anyone would disagree that the upcoming decision is a very hard one and that emotions are running high on all sides.

But unfortunately public officials are not chartered to make the decisions based on emotions but on all available facts and data that best serve their represented community. And they are not allowed to make a decision that benefits or impacts a selected portion of their community.

And while costs and impacts of the 2 outsourcing options are very well documented, the option with the most emotions attached, not outsourcing, is not well documented. Firm costs required to rebuild to the service level that the outsourcing would deliver on day 1 are not identified, nor are the impacts of the delay, in getting to the level of service that a day 1 option would provide, known.

I absolutely feel very confident that the basic fire and safety services are now being provided, and will continue to be provided in the future regardless of options. It’s how to address the documented issues as best as possible for the community now and long term that is and should be the focus of the board’s decisions.

I do not advocate one option over another, I advocate making the best decision for the community. And if not outsourcing or delaying the decision are going to be one of the options, the costs and risk of that option must be discussed now. Not after the decision has been made.

So while the decision to be made will be difficult, it is not impossible. I encourage the boards to keep all, not selected, facts in mind when making that decision.



At this evening’s meeting, Aug 17th, both the HMB and Pt. Montara fire boards voted to accept the San Mateo County (CDF) proposal to provide emergency services to the coastside. The combined vote was six to two.

I commend both boards for making the right decision.

I know it wasn’t easy and I thank them for the time and effort spent in reaching that decision.