Editorial:  It’s time to solve the Coastside’s firefighting mess


By on Mon, July 17, 2006

It’s clear to the most casual observer that the Half Moon Bay and Point Montara fire districts have been in turmoil for years.  It is far from clear to even the closest observers whose fault it is.  The good news is that we don’t need to find fault in order to solve the problem.

Disinterested Coastsiders who’ve followed the mess, the previous fire chief, and the county’s grand jury, have come to the same conclusion:  the two districts must merge and they must contract out their fire services.

The Half Moon Bay district is coming off years of internal strife that have cost it more than $1.2 million in lawsuits from its own firefighters, according to the grand jury; and appallingly low morale and fitness for service in the firehouse, according to former Fire Chief Peter Bonano. As Chief Bonano noted, there have been no degradations in service yet. But it’s clear that he was not confident that would continue.

Meanwhile, the Point Montara district (which contracts out its services to Half Moon Bay) has become tangled up in Half Moon Bay’s firehouse politics. This resulted in a now-moribund plan to staff its own firehouse that was so poorly executed it nearly left the district with no service at all.

If something is not done, the result could be a tragedy.

Half Moon Bay has grown from a rural to a suburban fire district quickly and the transition has not been easy. With about 40 employees and a budget of more than $7 million, it’s a big job. It’s not one that is beyond the abilities of a local board, but the current situation has become so extreme that our boards seem to have lost control of it. 

As a firm believer in decentralization and local control, I’d prefer to see the Half Moon Bay and Point Montara districts remain independent and control their own services. I no longer believe that is an option. The burden of proof is now on anyone who opposes consolidation and contracting out.

We’re lucky to have a workable solution to this problem, and it’s time for the community to support our fire boards in making it a reality.