San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Mark Church approved petitions to recall three Coastside Fire Protection District members on Friday. The board majority has angered some for efforts to trade CalFire for a new stand-alone department.
The approval leaves 120 days to get approximately 2,714 signatures necessary to place recalls on an upcoming ballot. That would be 20 percent of registered voters in the district, according to elections officials.
Theoretically, the recall could get on the November general election ballot if proponents collect the necessary signatures in time. State law requires the district to set an election date within 14 days of receiving notice that the signatures have been certified. The election itself must occur between 88 and 125 days of the signature certification. A recall election requires a simple majority to pass.
If ultimately successful, the recall would remove directors Mike Alifano and Gary Riddell and board president Doug Mackintosh from their elected positions before the end of their terms. Riddell’s term is set to expire November 2013; the terms of Mackintosh and Alifano run out November 2015.
Currently, the district contracts with the state fire agency for management of day-to-day operations on the coast. With CalFire's contract set to expire in less than a year, CalFire advocates are working in a tight time frame to keep the agency on the Coastside. A boisterous core of about three dozen citizens who support reauthorizing the CalFire contract has been attending recent fire board meetings, but leaders of the recall effort say they are not being heard by the board majority.
"To have three people basically take control of the entire political process surrounding our fire service is lunacy," said Mike Gaynes, a proponent of the petition effort. He acknowledges that seeking a recall is troublesome. "I don't think anybody is happy about this."
Board members targeted for recall are certainly not happy about a recall effort that is the first in memory for longtime elections office employees.
"Every time you talk to someone who's doing the recall, they don't have the facts right … What they're doing is wrong," said Alifano, who has repeatedly stated that he wants greater control of fire district management and that CalFire has failed to provide a level of service outlined in the contract.
Approval of the recall petitions followed a lengthy meeting June 27 that ended in deadlock over the future of the Coastside's fire protection service. Another meeting Tuesday night occurred after Review deadlines. See www.hmbreview.com for updates.
Determining the cost and benefits of various options for the future of Coastside fire services has proven contentious.
Alifano, Mackintosh and Riddell would rather see the CalFire contract expire and establish a local department, while directors Gary Burke and Ginny McShane adamantly support CalFire.
Several hours into the June 27 meeting, Burke proposed a number of motions, all of which lost three votes to two.
He proposed that the board discontinue the process of investigating a stand-alone department, that negotiations toward extending CalFire’s contract be completed with the knowledge that this could be re-visited at a later date, and that the board refrain from establishing a stand-alone department unless “substantive” evidence materialized demonstrating how CalFire had failed to meet the demands of its contract.
Prior to CalFire’s Coastside arrival four years ago, a number of lawsuits and complaints were lodged against the existing local department. A series of former fire chiefs and consultants recommended a CalFire contract and the county’s civil grand jury has repeatedly praised CalFire’s work on the coast.
But the board majority points to deficiencies in the CalFire work. Alifano pointed out that the state agency has performed fewer business inspections than in previous years, and Riddell has suggested the state employees aren’t properly trained to work on the coast.
"That's our job. We have to look at the options," said Alifano.