Four candidates have qualified to run in the April 9 recall election for the Coastside Fire Protection District Board. Karen Anderson, J.B. Cockrell, Lee McKusick and Harvey Rarback will be running to potentially replace three of the five current board members.
President Doug Mackintosh, Directors Mike Alifano and Gary Riddell face recall. Some constituents became incensed last year after that board majority pursued establishing an independent fire department and ditching a contract agreement with state agency Cal Fire.
That push continues, even as thousands of signatures have been gathered to put the recall on the ballot.
“It’s local control versus control imposed by the state,” said Mackintosh, who has been involved with the Coastside fire department for about 20 years. He hopes that, by establishing an independent department, the board will have greater control over fire service options.
All four candidates were involved with a group that adopted the slogan, “Keep Cal Fire!” They worked to circulate petitions that led to the recall election. Despite their common interest, only Anderson, Cockrell and Rarback are campaigning as a team. McKusick is running independently. All four say they would work to keep Cal Fire if elected.
Cockrell, a professional pilot who served on the fire board from 2007 to 2009, seeks to replace Mackintosh. He has lived in Montara for 36 years and said that he sat on the board as Cal Fire was being integrated on the Coastside.
“We, the citizens, deserve the best possible fire services at a responsible cost,” said Cockrell, referring to the fact that the stand-alone department is expected to cost district taxpayers more than Cal Fire every year.
Like Mackintosh, Alifano advocates a stand-alone department. He has been critical of Cal Fire for failing to live up to some contractual obligations and thinks local control is the only way to assure top-notch fire service.
Anderson, a private investigator who also has experience with consulting, animal rescue and social work, is seeking to succeed him. She attended her first fire board meeting last July. The Cañada Cove resident was disturbed that the board had ignored San Mateo County grand jury and consultant reports that recommended keeping Cal Fire.
“We decided to make this thing a way for people to have a voice, because they don’t have a voice any more,” she said. Anderson also helped establish the Occupy Half Moon Bay movement.
McKusick and Rarback will run to succeed Riddell, who is a retired firefighter.
McKusick, a paraprofessional educator with a degree in American Studies, had been following the fire board saga for some years before taking action in the recall effort.
“It’s not a recall about illegal behavior. It’s a recall about bad policy,” he said.
As an El Granada resident, McKusick said that he thinks it’s important for the El Granada community to be represented on the fire board.
Rarback retired from his position as a physicist from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in May. He ran for Half Moon Bay City Council last year but was narrowly defeated.
“I’ve always been involved in local politics. Now that I’m retired, I’d like to contribute to the community more than I’ve had the chance to do.”
Rarback also wants to re-establish a contract with Cal Fire. He recognizes that that process could take months, but said that a stand-alone department would take even more time to get up and running.
Cal Fire won the district contract in 2008 following a raft of problems within the previous stand-alone department. The department was plagued by low morale and even vandalism. Since the state agency arrived, there have been comparatively fewer complaints and no lawsuits brought by employees.
However, the board majority members argue that Cal Fire has not fulfilled its contract, and that an independent department would give them more control over things like retirement systems, hiring a fire chief and providing incentives for local employees.
Candidates said that they plan to start working on the Cal Fire contract immediately, if elected. Cal Fire authorities say that contract negotiations usually take months, and that it is unlikely that a full contract could be in place by the time the current contract expires June 30.