A bitterly divided Coastside Fire Protection District board of directors voted 3-2 after midnight Tuesday to accept new policies and salaries that are the first step toward dismantling current fire services in favor of building a brand new department. The move likely means the end of a four-year contract with CalFire.

The nearly six-hour meeting followed several similar gatherings that pitted a board majority of Doug Mackintosh, Mike Alifano and Gary Riddell against directors Gary Burke and Ginny McShane and CalFire Unit Chief John Ferreira. The majority poked holes in CalFire performance and claimed it could provide a higher level of service by managing district firefighters without help from the state.

Tuesday's move is only the first of what would be many board actions necessary to establish a stand-alone department. But it was the first concrete step toward doing so.

It was an emotional meeting. Mackintosh said he had heard from fire chiefs and district directors all over the state who advised him to ditch CalFire. He mentioned several problems he perceived with service, but intimated that in some ways it boiled down to his feeling that CalFire employees represented the state first and the Coastside second.

“I’m not doing this for any other reason than my belief that this change is best for my family,” he said.

Tuesday night’s divorce proceedings followed a marriage of convenience. CalFire bid for services and was awarded the contract in 2008 following a series of embarrassing and expensive lawsuits and increasingly poor morale in Coastside firehouses. Consultants, the civil grand jury and a handful of current and former fire chiefs have supported a CalFire contract.

But in December, the board majority hired consultants and charged them with analyzing whether it could run a fire department for less than $6.5 million a year. Those consultants said it could be done, though they acknowledged that such a service would be more expensive than CalFire’s service.

Directors had been criticized in the past for failing to specify problems with the CalFire contract. Alifano addressed the problems he saw with the current service in a lengthy full-page advertisement in the Review on July 27. Riddell and Mackintosh took their opportunities during the meeting.

“We were paying for services that we did not receive. I’m surprised that someone in the audience doesn’t have a problem with that,” said Riddell, who was referring to about 30 people in the audience, most of whom appeared to favor continuing the contract with the state agency.

Riddell complained that CalFire was slow to ramp up business inspections after taking over in 2008, that it hasn’t done enough fire prevention work and that it sometimes allows employees to work in the district who aren’t trained to emergency medical technician level.

Ferreira acknowledged problems with building inspections early in the contract but he bristled at many specifics of directors’ complaints. He seemed to take particular umbrage to perceived sleights in his employees.

“I think that is a disservice to every firefighter in CalFire. Every firefighter is a valuable employee,” he said. “Every time the board says we have not been responsive to the board it is doing a disservice to the public.”

Hanging over it all was the threat of a recall election. Proponents of a recall have a certified petition and have begun collecting the 2,714 signatures that would be necessary to get the recall of Mackintosh, Alifano and Riddell on an upcoming ballot.

“If you want to recall me, and that’s your choice, I accept it,” Mackintosh said. “I have a lot of other things I can do. But over 1,000 people elected me to this position. They voted out everyone who supported CalFire.”

(12) comments

pae
pae

It is a sad day, but we saw it coming. Last night was another 5 1/2 hour meeting during which the consultants argued that the numbers presented by CAL FIRE's Chief Turner, who had negotiated over a hundred contracts over 20 years were wrong! If anybody knows what costs and budgets are for his own agency, he does. But they, who have done this maybe twice before, were right (!!!) They are the ones who set up the new San Carlos Fire Department, the same one who can't keep it's stations open over the holiday, because they can't find enough personnel willing to work for their salary and benefit scale to staff their engines. Redwood City finally said they couldn't lend them staff any more, so they had to ask CAL FIRE for help. Now everybody, listen to this: This is the same salary and benefit model that our board majority has just voted to use for their new standalone department here on the Coastside! Alifano thinks he won't have to negotiate with the unions like nearly every other fire service in the state does. Why? Because all they'll have to do is tell the union how much money they have to spend, and the union will agree! This is a quote! Maybe they have a sweetheart deal with their returning personnel whom they have been actively recruiting, but is this going to last five years, as someone just asked? And, new people who weren't here before will get lower a lower salary and benefit package. So here in our little 3 station district, the old folks get the higher tier and the new folks will get significantly less. This will be great for morale as time goes on.

Mackintosh, Alifano and Riddell have been repeating the same complaints over and over, despite the fact that they have been addressed and answered over and over, and that they're simply not really true, or are long outdated.. Everything the public and Chief Ferreira say falls on deaf ears. They simply will not hear anything that does not go along with their personal agenda, no matter how factual that information is. Alifano says over and over that he wants control, control over hiring and firing, and over everything else the department does. Riddell wants the good old days, never mind that the world has moved on since his day on an engine. Mackintosh wants his friends back under his wing so he can be the nice guy who bestows his riches on them, regardless of whether it will drive this district into the ground, as he has done before.

All of us support our guys with the boots on the ground, but what the Board majority are doing will be disastrous for them, for the district and for the Coastsiders who depend on them. It may look like it could be affordable the first year, BUT, they have not included the probable millions of dollars that the transition will cost us. Repeated requests to determine those numbers has been studiously ignored. Nor is there a Plan B for when they can't attract enough staff to keep our 3 stations open and running. San Carlos can't with the same salary and benefit structure, so what's to think we can? The solution for departments all over the state that can't meet budget or get personnel is to close stations, as Contra Costa County just did. All Alifano and Mackintosh can say to that is that "we'll have a thousand people lining up for our jobs." Somehow, I don't think that will happen, or that those folks will stay, just lie has happened nere before CAL FIRE. Also, with our CAL FIRE contract, if we become short of people for whatever reason, they will bring people in to help us. That can't happen with a standalone department, as San Carlos has found.

The Coastside Fire Protection District has an approximate $20 million debt to CAL PERS for past retirement "unfounded liability." Most people might ask why we are not trying to pay that down. The answer here is that this Board majority has chosen not to, and one member has admitted to a member of the public that the three majority Board members decided last December to save that money to use for their new department. There's no word on how much this will grow once they have another standalone department. We do not have this debt accruing with our CAL FIRE contract.

Finally, we have two stations, El Granada and Moss Beach, which are in dire need of updates and improvements, plus earthquake retrofits, which are not and will not be even be begun with this move, because of the much higher cost a new department will have. These things have a direct effect on our safety, yet one more irresponsible act on these directors' part.

Every avenue to stop this folly has been explored, to no avail. The only way to stop this is a recall of Mackintosh, Alifano and Riddell. We don't like recalls either; they are divisive. However, we have no choice. They have left us no choice. If we don't want our fire district to go bankrupt or into serious debt, like many others around us are doing. We have no choice.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden

l w said:
"...But if we were to stop 100 people on the street and ask them what's most most important for a fire department to do, how many of them would say "business inspections"? My guess is 1 or 2. Most would answer "fire suppression" and/or "emergency medical service". This is a molehill being painted as a mountain, grasping at straws to support the board majority's personal agenda...."

Bingo Ladies and Gentlemen. These Coastside Fire Directors are really good at creating fog and misdirection. They focus on some tiny problems with the CalFire contract as an excuse for going back to the overpaid, underworked, lawsuit-prone locally-controlled fire department.

Gee, does anybody remember that a major local landmark burned to the ground in 2002 under the locally-controlled fire department? How come Alifano & Co. aren't talking about that? I guarantee you that if something similar had occurred whilst CalFire has been under contract, then you would never hear the end of it.

My question is why isn't the HMB Review Editorial Board stepping up plate to speak out against the major ripoff of the local taxpayer that is being perpetrated as we speak? This is one of the few times when the local so-called "newspaper" can actually do some good for the community by calling attention to an impending injustice and financial disaster that is being carried out in broad daylight by politicians who are supposed to serve the public.

watchdog
watchdog

Read the board's response to the Grand Jury report, URL posted by John Ullom. Except for a few findings where they decided to split hairs and inject their unsupported and unsupportable opinions, they basically agreed with almost every finding in the grand jury report. Yet, amazingly, they still had the gall to disagree with the recommendations.

Here's an example of how they grossly distort the truth: they complain that in the first year or so of the CAL FIRE contract, business inspections were way down. Yet they completely ignore the fact that in the last year of their deteriorating department, business inspections were way down. So of course it's reasonable to expect that it would take a while to get that going again. But if we were to stop 100 people on the street and ask them what's most most important for a fire department to do, how many of them would say "business inspections"? My guess is 1 or 2. Most would answer "fire suppression" and/or "emergency medical service". This is a molehill being painted as a mountain, grasping at straws to support the board majority's personal agenda.

Anonemoose
Anonemoose

I don't know which side is correct -- each side seems to believe their facts are correctt and those who propose to keep CalFire seem more emotional than logica.

Having said that, my concern is what will the cost be down the road? Apparently the consultants have determined that the cost can be contained TODAY, but what about 5 years from now? As I review the past, the City's ability to bargain salaries / pay with their empolyees has been less than stellar and I don't imagine it will improve in the future.

Fire protection is important stuff.....but so is bankruptcy. The entire issue should be appraised from a cost-benefit point of view and the egos and emotions should be left at the front door.

mskka
mskka

I am a resident of Canada Cove - we depend heavily on the great people of Cal Fire, and are loathe to see them go. Anyone who lives in Canada Cove may call me at 712-9916, and I will bring the petitions to them for signing. I have also posted my name and phone number at all of the mailbox bulletin boards, and at the clubhouse.

John Charles Ullom
John Charles Ullom

Director Alifano continues to say things that upon reflection, cause one to shake ones noggin is disbelief. Director Alifano actually scolded Directors McShane and Burke for forcing the DDF to spend 100 grand to prove they could afford to achieve their goal.

First off, would it not be stupid Director Alifano, to make a move to a stand alone department without investigating what such a move would cost us? Seriously, would anybody think it was Duly Diligent if the CPFD were to just wing it ?

The notion that all of the 100 grand that Directors McShane and Burke wasted simply to prove fiscal viability is at best ignorant but to me reeks of a lie. Much of that money is being spent to formulate work rules and such for a new department. I assume that Director Alifano realizes that work rules have to be formulated by somebody.

Here is a link to the response of the DDF to the Grand Jury Report :

http://skygizmo.com/ReplyToGrandJury.pdf

If one needs more info in order to decide if a recall is appropriate:

http://keepcalfire.com

George
George

This is a sad day indeed. I am very sorry to see this, although we all saw it coming.

At last Wednesday's FD meeting, a large number of coastsiders showed up to watch and speak. Like many others, I spoke to the matter. After I spoke, I left. I watched the meeting, however, when Darin posted it on Montara Fog. I listened to all the speakers, and some (most) were quite good.

I also watched as the Board voted Not to renew or extend the CalFire contract. That told us what would happen when that meeting continued to last night. Either they were going to vote for the stand alone that they've been doing "due diligence" on, or we'd have no Fire Department come July 1, 2013.

In speaking with a friend this morning on this, I asked how she felt about the action taken. She was quiet for a moment, then said she was sad, really. Me too.

It is now going to get very ugly; and the shame of it is, IMHO, it never had to come to this.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden

".... Mackintosh said: But over 1,000 people elected me to this position. They voted out everyone who supported CalFire....”

Coastside voters have a long track record of electing politicians who make bad decisions. A simple reminder from HMB:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/04/04/EDRUSSELL.DTL#ixzz1oUFYmqDC

Cid Young
Cid Young

Sign the RECALL PETITION today. Volunteers will be at the many local events including the Parade and the American Legion BBQ-Picnic. They voted on July 3rd to go back to a Stand Alone Department. The Coastside Taxpayers re not interested in funding their empire. CAL FIRE is more cost-effective per the Grand Jury Report, which they have chosen to ignore.
In the meantime the RECALL won't be on the Ballot until the November Election, so call them and express your dissatisfaction of this RECKLESS action.
WHY SHOULD 3 GUYS DECIDE? Let's vote them out!

Mike Gaynes
Mike Gaynes

Directors Mackintosh, Riddell and Alifano have made it official. They are defying the community in favor of their own private agenda. And people from every corner of the Coastside political spectrum are coming together to stop them.

The petition folks will be out in force at the parade today in Half Moon Bay. Please sign the recall petition and, if you can, volunteer to help gather signatures. Time is critical... the longer these directors remain in their seats, the more damage they will do to our fire service.

For more information, visit www.keepcalfire.com.

rarback
rarback

I also believe it is time to recall the three Directors. In fact, I have been helping to circulate the petition to get the recall on the ballot. We will be around the Coastside including in front of Safeway and Thursday and the El Granada and Montara post offices most days. Please join the movement to keep CalFire.

goat
goat

It is time to recall three members of the board and I will sign the petition we will vote them out of office.

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