By Bryan Scott
Residents of Eastern Contra Costa County are being poorly served by local politics. It is as clear as the nose on your face, to use a hackneyed cliché, and was illustrated earlier this month at the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) Board meeting.
During the month of September ECCFPD had no resources to respond to emergency calls for a total of 16 hours and 33 minutes, it was revealed at the Board of Directors meeting on September 2.
According to the Operational Update, delivered to the Board by Interim Battalion Chief Ross Macumber, six calls came in during this period, and all were calls for medical assistance.
“Sixteen hours and 33 minutes without coverage, that’s a new record for the district,” said Director Joe Young.
Joel Bryant, ECCFPD Board President and Brentwood Vice Mayor, also commented on the situation.
“It’s a bad situation that we’re in,” he said, referring to September’s lengthy time period when 114,000 residents were without ECCFPD fire and emergency medical services coverage.
Six 9-1-1 calls came in during the period when ECCFPD was unresponsive, and all were for medical assistance. Responses to the calls came from Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (ConFire) and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).
The Operational Update does not indicate the locations where these first responders came from, or how long it took to arrive on scene at these medical emergencies. What impact this delayed response time had on each of the medical outcomes was also not included in the report.
Fire and emergency medical services in East County are funded at just $94 per person, while residents in central parts of the county have the same services funded at rates of $370 and $449 per person, according to a June 2016, LAFCO report. Funds are distributed to government entities based on state law.
The fire district’s low funding rate has caused ECCFPD to cut staff and close fire stations at a time when East County is experiencing significant residential and commercial growth.
A government Task Force and the CCC Grand Jury have both reported extensively on the funding crisis, while Assembly Member Jim Frazier has called the situation a “public safety emergency.”
One solution to the problem is the reallocation of currently collected property taxes. A recent memorandum prepared by ECCFPD legal counsel outlined the history of other such state-directed funding changes, and found no legal barriers.
But would the Directors of ECCFPD the support such a solution?
All nine members of the Board are appointed by other government agencies that would lose funds, should a reallocation effort be implemented. Two Board members, President Joel Bryant and newly-appointed Director Susan Morgan, serve on the legislative bodies of other government agencies which receive property tax funds.
President Bryant is the Vice Mayor of the agency that appointed him to the fire board, the City of Brentwood. And Director Morgan, appointed to the fire board by Oakley, is President of the Ironhouse Sanitary District Board of Directors.
Any funds reallocated to the fire district would come from these, and other, government agencies. Is there a conflict of interest here?
For six hours and 36 minutes on the Labor Day Holiday, Monday, September 4, when four emergency calls came in, the ECCFPD service area of 249 square-miles was without ECCFPD coverage.
And yet at the October ECCFPD Board meeting, over two and one-half hours in duration, no discussion of ways to improve funding took place.
Just how interested in improving district funding is this Board?
Brentwood resident Bryan Scott is Co-Chair of East County Voters for Equal Protection, a non-partisan citizens 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/.