By Bryan Scott
The residents of Brentwood and Oakley, as well as of the communities of Bethel Island, Byron, Discovery Bay, Knightsen, and Morgan Territory, are being underserved by the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD).
This is a fact that’s been well documented in Grand Jury reports, by a government task force, by the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), by industry consultants, by the media, and by ECCFPD itself.
The cause is equally well known. Fire districts in California are funded with property taxes, at an allocation rate set following the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978. This rate has not changed, even though the East County area has experienced a 1,500% increase in population.
According to a LAFCO report, funding for fire and emergency medical services provided by ECCFPD is $94 per-person, while these same services are funded at a rate of $370 and $449 per-person in central parts of the county.
How does our district compare with other areas of Northern California that have experienced rapid growth? Remember, property taxes are levied at the same rate everywhere in California.
Lathrop is a valley town along Interstate-5, west of Manteca and to the east of Brentwood. It is between Stockton and Tracy, in San Joaquin County.
Because of its location it has experienced significant growth, and continues to grow. From 2000 through 2016, according to the US Census Bureau, it grew by 97%. Lathrop’s 2016 population was 22,073, and the city expects to be at 35,000 by 2020.
Lathrop is part of a 100 square-mile, mostly rural, area served by the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District (LMFD). Recently LMFD said the district served over 30,000 total area residents. The district has four fire stations, 33 career fire fighters, and 25 reserve/volunteers.
The size, population make-up, growth patterns, and staffing, all combined, make LMFD look like a smaller version of the ECCFPD, perhaps similar to what ECCFPD’s predecessor, the East Diablo Fire District, might have looked like, maybe 15 years ago, when it served just Brentwood and rural parts of Contra Costa County.
The fire and emergency medical services that LMFD provides are funded at a rate of $316 per resident (2016), compared to the $94 per-resident for ECCFPD. Let that sink in a moment.
The LMFD average response time for the city of Lathrop during 2016 was 4:23 minutes or 5:29 minutes, depending on which of two fire stations responded to the call. For ECCFPD, during the same 2016 calendar year, average response time to the Brentwood West area was 7:26 minutes, and to the Brentwood East area 7:24 minutes.
One could say that Lathrop’s total average response time (4:56 minutes) was about two and one-half minutes less than Brentwood’s total average response time (7:25 minutes). This is according to figures published on the websites of both fire districts.
A lot can happen in two and one-half minutes, 150 seconds. Try holding your breath for that long. Wait. Don’t do that, you’ll die.
East County has one State Senator and one Assembly Member. As far back as 2016, September 14, 2016, to be exact, ECCFPD sent letters to both of these elected leaders, pleading for help with this funding crisis.
The East County public safety emergency, caused by this funding crisis, is on-going, Senator Glazer and Assembly Member Frazier. It is past time to address this situation.
Bryan Scott is Co-Chair of East County Voters for Equal Protection, a non-partisan citizen’s action committee striving to improve funding for the ECCFPD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 925-418-4428. The group’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/EastCountyVoters/.