The Ted Adcock Community / Senior Center was nearly filled Thursday night for the first of two gatherings called to inform the electorate about the April 9 recall election involving three Coastside Fire Protection District directors and their four challengers.
Candidates and the 80 or so people in attendance were mostly civil and reiterated their long held positions on the Cal Fire vs. stand-alone department debate.
“It’s better to have an informed public voting on issues than the other way around,” said Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau CEO Charise McHugh. The chamber sponsored the forum, and members of the League of Women Voters moderated.
Incumbents Mike Alifano, Doug Mackintosh and Gary Riddell are up for recall. Karen K. Anderson, J.B. Cockrell, Harvey Rarback and Lee McKusick hope to replace one or all of them. Rarback, who was out of town, was not in attendance Thursday.
Moderator Jacqueline Jacobberger read many questions for the candidates, but the big question boiled down to whether candidates thought that the district should pursue a contract with state agency Cal Fire, which has served the Coastside the last several years, or establish a new independent department.
Jacobberger invited candidates to share opening statements before taking turns to answer questions within a minute or less. Audience members wrote their questions on slips of paper, which Jacobberger read aloud. Each was invited to conclude with a two-minute closing statement.
As Cal Fire’s current contract is set to expire June 30, pressure is building to plan the district’s protective services.
The board majority argued that Cal Fire had failed to live up to all of the terms of its contract.
“Unfortunately, it’s a ‘take it or leave it’ contract,” said Macintosh, adding that the relationship between the district and the state agency left the district with little power to enforce the contract.
They also said that their goal is to have a more local staff. Currently, Cal Fire employees regularly transfer to different locations.
“The turnover is tremendous,” said Alifano. The three men said that this makes it difficult for firefighters to achieve target levels for training.
“It does matter who these people are and how long they’ve been here,” said Riddell.
Their opponents look back to a former independent department that served the Coastside prior to Cal Fire. It was riddled with lawsuits and complaints about lack of professionalism. For the most part, Coastsiders have been satisfied with fire services since Cal Fire’s arrival, they said.
“Cal Fire is not the only option. It is the only sane option,” said Anderson, adding that the money to be spent on starting a new department could be better used for station and equipment upgrades.
McKusick said that the current board was focusing on the wrong issues. Rather than focusing on solutions that respond to incidents after they happen, the board needs to anticipate disasters before they happen and take more preventative measures – and to do so in a fiscally responsible way, he said.
“(What I want) is superior service at a responsible, not cheap, cost,” said Cockrell. According to Cockrell, Cal Fire has that.
A majority vote for each of the board members is required in order to recall him. Voters than indicate whether a listed candidate should replace them. If not, there is a space to write in a candidate.