Supervisors Advocate Regional Fire Services, Delay Definitive Decision

After San Carlos and Belmont sever shared services agreement, Redwood City and other Peninsula cities looking towards regional approach.

In the interest of cost-savings, cities up and down the Peninsula all agree that regionalization is the right course of action. Exactly how has each city at odds with each other.

The San Carlos City Council issued a notice of dissolution to the Belmont Fire Department in April 2010 after a three year joint powers agreement. With 30 percent increases in firefighter costs over the last five years, the city is fervently trying to cut costs, San Carlos Mayor Omar Ahmad said, and asked the board, instead, for a proposal for a contract with CalFire services, a state agency.

“People say consolidation means we’ll lose local control,” Ahmad said. “Well, we’ve never had local control and not regionalizing could put us in fiscal ruin.”

The committee, comprised of President Carole Groom and Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, agreed that collaboration must occur throughout the County to save costs. However, they said that the County has no interest in providing fire services because they already contract with CalFire. Instead, they want to see cities working together.

The , with full support from the city and the Redwood City Firefighters Association, has proposed providing services to San Carlos for $5.9 million a year with a five percent annual increase. Redwood City Fire Chief Jim Skinner said this was a way to save costs for cities all along the Peninsula.

“Right now the plan is more conceptual,” Skinner told Patch in a prior interview. “We submitted a proposal and it’s up to San Carlos to decide what they believe is the best situation for them.”

But Supervisors seemed set on the idea of San Carlos and Belmont mending severed ties once again.

“We need to save this marriage between San Carlos and Belmont,” Groom said to the two cities’ representatives. “You need to roll your sleeves up and go back to work.”

The committee decided to hire a facilitator at no extra costs to the cities of San Carlos and Belmont. Mayor Ahmad agreed to take the matter back to the city council.

But San Carlos City Councilmember Andy Klein accused Belmont City Council of “not coming to the table.” He said the City Council would not let the San Carlos Police Chief speak at one of their meetings. He was also critical of the cities of San Mateo and Menlo Park for not making a bid for fire services.

“There’s a lot of talk about consolidation, but no action,” Klein said. “People can say San Carlos leaving Belmont is the opposite of collaboration, but joining CalFire would be another form of regionalization, which is what we want."

San Mateo Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the fire district did not bid on the San Carlos model because of the complicated issue.

“We understand San Carlos’ financial difficulty,” he said. “But we’re concerned about messing around with the county’s model service that we currently provide.”

He cited the response to the San Bruno fire and the East Palo Alto plane crash as evidence of the current system’s efficiency.

Supervisor Groom said the San Mateo City Manager did not attend because the issue has been “explosive,” but that city officials are working out a plan for regionalization as well.

Peter Carpenter, Director of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, agreed that county-wide discussion needed to take place.

“There will be resistance from local fire officials who feel that their empire is threatened,” he said. “But our responsibility is to the residents we serve.”

Supervisor Tissier said, “It disturbs me greatly that one Belmont City Councilmember said they do not want to discuss with other cities. No city councilmember should ever say ‘No way, no how.’ We’re all going to have to sacrifice to help some of our neighboring cities.”

But Groom and Tissier were firm in their commitment to making regionalization a reality. The committee decided not to move any decision to the full Board of Supervisors, but to instead initiate more dialogue.

“We’re not providing leadership. What we’re doing is dividing and hoping to conquer, but you don’t conquer this way,” Tissier said. “We need to sit down and work this out.”


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