Protecting Oakley Families- Residents Thank the First Responders of the ECCFPD
Time and time again we hear of heartwarming and miraculous stories of firefighters and other first responders rescuing our loved ones. Do you have a story that demonstrates the great work done by those that provide us fire protection and emergency medical services? If you are interested in sharing your story of how first responders have helped you, your loved ones, neighbors and other friends, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
From Game Warden to Fire Chief: The Call of His Life- By Louise Merten
Before he could ride a bike, he knew how to row a boat. Born and raised working the family business, Bob’s Marina on Bethel Island, a painfully shy, very tall for his age, brown-haired boy dreamed of being a Fish and Game Warden so he could spend every day doing what he loved: hunting, fishing, and working outdoors.
Many years later, the warmth of Fire Chief Hugh Henderson’s broad smile fills the room as he recounts those early dreams, the direction his life has gone, and how much it means to him to still live and work in the community that has raised him. “It’s pretty awesome” Henderson says, “Most folks these days don’t have that kind of opportunity.” Woven into the fabric of East Contra Costa, Chief Henderson is a familiar face everywhere in the District. Serving our community through public safety for over 36 years, Henderson has witnessed the evolution of the area from farms and ranches to the bustling hometown communities that both Oakley and Brentwood are today. Read more..
Waiting for the Fire Truck- By Barbara Santos
It was the odd crackling sound and eerie orange glow in the night sky that jolted Phil Davis out of bed. It was almost midnight and when he looked out his window, he could see his next door neighbor’s Italian cypress trees were in flames. From Phil’s vantage point, it was the beginning of a 20 foot wall of destruction.
There is one time of the year we all hope a firefighter will be immediately available. That would be around the Fourth of July. On the evening of July 3rd, 2016, the jolting, but not unexpected, noise of fireworks exploding was simply annoying to Phil. In the court behind his home on Gardenia in Oakley, folks were celebrating by setting off some powerful holiday fireworks. Maybe the partiers didn’t have to work, but Phil had to begin his shift at 5:30 a.m. the next morning. He tried to go to bed around 11 p.m. even as the explosions continued. Sleep didn’t come and the nightmare to come was all too real. Read more..
Oakley Family Shares What Happened the Day They Lost Their House to Fire- by Barbara Santos
Maybe you were running errands on that Sunday afternoon and saw smoke billowing into the sky. Perhaps you pulled over to let a firetruck race past you to the scene of that fire on Sellers Avenue. Some of you were close enough to smell the bitter scent of burning wood and treasured personal possessions. But unless you knew the family, more than likely you thanked your lucky stars it wasn’t your house and went on about your business. You didn’t think to pick up a fire extinguisher at Home Depot that afternoon and no lessons were learned. But Kay Partain has so much to share about that day. Read more…
A Short Circuit of the Heart- by Karla Patterson as told to Barbara Santos
People with SVT (Super Ventricular Tachycardia) never know when an episode is going to hit. Karla Patterson had dealt with it off and on since she was 18, but it took an emergency encounter with a first responder to understand exactly what was causing her heart to beat uncontrollably. Read more…
Two Local Women Recall the Afternoon That Changed Their Lives- By Barbara Santos
They were on their way home from shopping. It was 3:00 p.m. on Friday, September 30th. Heading down the road back home, Jessie LaChance Mellan had a car full of passengers—her daughter Kendra, then 11 years old, and three neighbor friends. They were nearly home when, out of nowhere, a young man in a Mustang crossed the divider and came at them head on. The other driver walked away with minor injuries, as did three others in Jessie’s car. But in an instant that terrific accident over a decade ago changed Jessie and Kendra’s lives forever. Read more…
Tree Nut Allergy- By Ryan Loewen
My wife and I had no idea our oldest son Carsen was allergic to tree nuts.
One day when he was just 3 years old, my wife was baking in the kitchen with his help. He decided to do what most kids would enjoy doing, he licked the inside of a bag that previously had sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts. Read more…
Measures E & G
On Election Day, Oakley voters will decide whether to better protect our families and neighborhoods by improving fire protection and emergency medical services in Oakley through a utility users tax (a common revenue measure in cities across the State, often referred to as a “UUT”).
Our City Council placed Measures E and G on the November ballot to address the problem of dangerously inadequate fire and emergency medical services in our community.
The purpose of this document is to provide information about fire and emergency medical service levels in Oakley and it will also provide information about UUTs in California and how such a tax would work in Oakley.
Fire Protection and Emergency Medical Services are critical to our quality of life in Oakley. Oakley supports its police force with adequate, stable funding and the Oakley Police Department has done an excellent job in keeping us safe.
However, funding for fire and emergency medical services provided by the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District is not enough to provide timely, effective emergency response in Oakley.
The District was hit severely by the Great Recession because its budget relies almost exclusively on property taxes. When foreclosures soared and home values plummeted, the funding for fire protection services began to disappear.
As a result, five of eight stations in East County have been closed since 2010, leaving our families, schools, businesses and homes at great risk.
One fire station is not enough to protect a city of 40,000+ residents.
Today, only one fire station operates in Oakley. It is one of the busiest in the Fire District, responding to more than 6,000 calls for service in 2015. On average, it takes crews from this station more than 9.5 minutes to respond to a fire or emergency medical emergency. This response time is more than two minutes longer than the 7.5 minutes recommended for a city of Oakley’s size.
This station cannot provide an adequate level of protection for Oakley because calls for fires often require more than one unit to respond – one unit is not enough. Additionally, there is no specialized equipment at this station to deal with a serious structure fire in Oakley.
More than half the time there is more than one emergency incident occurring within the Fire District, which may pull crews from the Oakley station out of the City. These challenges result in slow emergency response times, which literally is an issue of life and death.
The City Council has placed Measures E and G on the November ballot to help open one (1) more fire station. According to a study conducted by one of the State’s top fire experts, Oakley needs a total of three (3) fire stations to meet basic levels of emergency response services.
Since there already is one station in the City of Oakley that is fully-funded by current Fire District revenues, the need is to identify funding to operate two additional stations in order to meet the basic-level response times identified in the master plan study.
The City Council believes the situation has become so desperate that it cannot accept this level of risk for Oakley residents and businesses and must ask voters to raise new revenue to increase the level of 9-1-1 services for fire and emergency medical response. Acknowledging that voters may not support the funding of two new fire stations, the City Council determined that asking for support to open at least one more station would be the prudent and realistic approach to trying to better protect our families, schools, businesses and homes.
The proposed Measure E is a utility users tax (UUT). If approved by the voters, a tax on electricity, gas, water, sewer, and cable charges of a person or business in Oakley would be initiated next year at a rate of 3.5%. The tax rate would not increase over time and would sunset, if other funding mechanisms are eventually approved. It is estimated the UUT in Oakley would generate two million dollars in annual revenues. Low-income households would be exempt from this tax, as would schools.
Also, the proposed measure also would call for the Fire District to reimburse residents of the Summer Lakes development, who are already paying a fire assessment (This would avoid these 625 homes from essentially paying twice for Fire District services).
The proposed Measure G is an advisory measure on UUT spending. The funds could be used to finance the costs to open, staff and equip a new fire station.
The UUT measure calls for an Independent Taxpayer Review Board to monitor how the new revenues are spent.
UUTs are common in California. About half of all California residents and businesses pay a UUT for municipal services, including fire and emergency medical response services. More than 150 cities levy this tax. The utility services to which these taxes are applied vary from town to town. Some cities also tax garbage, cell phones, and other telecommunications, but the City Council opted not to include these in the Oakley UUT. UUT rates in other cities go as high as 11 percent. The average rate statewide is about 5.5 percent. Measure E would only be 3.5 percent.
The City Council can reduce or repeal the UUT, but cannot increase the tax rate beyond the 3.5 percent or ever apply it to cell phones or any other utility without voter approval.
City Provides Additional Information About Measures E & G
You are likely aware, East Contra Costa Fire Protection District is responsible for providing fire suppression, fire protection, fire prevention, emergency response, and emergency services among other services related to the protection of life and property. The district covers 249 square miles, including the cities of Brentwood and Oakley, and the unincorporated areas of far East County.
The District’s ability to fulfill its mission is challenged due to insufficient funding. While the financial troubles are not new, they’ve continued to worsen. In 2010, the district had to close five fire stations. Presently there are only three stations, with nine firefighters at a time to serve the entire service area. A recent master plan study indicated a minimum of nine stations are needed just for a basic level of service.
ECCFPD’s funding challenges don’t stem from mismanagement. Years ago, any and all waste was cut from the budget. Take a look at our budget and you’ll see. There’s nothing left to cut.
There are only three fire stations for 249 square miles and a population of over 113,000 residents. The administrative overhead is at a minimum consisting of the Fire Chief and one administrative assistant. The District’s firefighters’ pay is the lowest in the area and pensions for the new staff are capped by State law. The firefighters are stretched beyond any reasonable limit, yet continue to serve diligently and with great distinction.
Almost all (97%) revenues for the district’s operations come from property taxes. Forty plus years ago, when agencies determined the share each would receive of the 1% residents pay in property taxes, there wasn’t as a great a need for fire services in East County. Then, the community was mostly undeveloped. On average, the East Contra Costa Fire District only receives about 8 % of the 1% — in some areas of the District, it is 4%. By some comparison, ConFire receives 14%, San Ramon Valley Fire 15%, and Orinda-Moraga Fire 21%.
So, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District has a very small share of the 1% property tax and the Great Recession devastated those revenues and only made matters worse. The District was forced to close five fire stations. After months of meetings and research by a Task Force, both the Brentwood and Oakley city councils decided to put measures on the ballot to assist the Fire District that can provide the much-needed and lacking fire protection and medical emergency services.
The City of Oakley has a very small portion of the 1% property tax and our overall tax revenues are very low. We have had to be very prudent with our spending and we often seek outside grant funds to improve the community. When you see nice parks and landscaped areas maintained, road improvements, signage, etc., know that these projects come from funds or grants that are legally restricted to be used for those purposes and are usually one-time funds. These funds cannot be used to operate a fire station. Furthermore, much of the City’s budget and existing revenues goes to pay for the Police Department, which is the most essential service provided by cities.
Below are some additional questions and answers, and you may also obtain more information and the initial list of Frequently Asked Questions at: http://www.ci.oakley.ca.us/measures-e-g/.
Q: Have the developers paid their fair share?
A: Developers are already on the hook to build a new fire station and to provide a new engine. As stated, this additional station is very critical in the provision of fire and emergency medical services to protect our families. The District does not have money to staff this station and Measure E would help provide the necessary funding.
Q: Why not make new homes pay for the staffing costs, or stop building altogether?
A: Legally, the city cannot stop property owners from building. Much of the land in Oakley is already entitled with proper permits and land use designations approved. Furthermore, this doesn’t solve the current problem.
The Fire District doesn’t even have the funds to serve the residents of the District that are already here and all residents are at risk. Dribbling in funds from new houses would not have any measurable impact (for example, at that same rate as the Summer Lakes existing fire assessment, another 15,000 or more homes would need to be built to address the funding that the Fire District needs now).
Q: Why we don’t bring back a volunteer fire department?
A: The number of calls per day and the training requirements for firefighters make a volunteer operation no longer possible. A station can get 15-20 calls per day and calling volunteers away from their jobs, that provide income to their families at the needed frequency, is no longer practical.
Further, safety standards for volunteers are not different than those of professional firefighters, which means volunteering demands a much greater time commitment than ever before and with the same rigorous and frequent training of a professional firefighter. The District uses and welcomes volunteer assistance that can supplement, but this wouldn’t be a realistic staffing solution.
Q: Why doesn’t Oakley break away and form its own fire department?
A: This is not financially feasible. Two stations in Oakley as a separate department would cost $7-8 million per year to operate. The proposed UUT will only generate $2 million. The most cost effective and practical option (due to standards for personnel and engine requirements) is a regional approach.
Today, Oakley has one station with nine firefighters assigned to that station, and only three firefighters on-duty throughout the day to serve over 40,000 residents. The Oakley station alone responds to more than 16 calls a day.
The demand of answering to multiple emergencies, the physical distance (249 miles) of the service area, varying complexity of emergencies etc. has resulted in longer response times. The limited staffing alone is a challenge in and of itself. In the instance of a structure fire, it can take up four or more engines to take on the fire. This automatically requires that the District call for aid and wait for its arrival before tackling the fire.