A year ago Coastside Fire Protection District Directors Mike Alifano and Doug Mackintosh were both granted four-year seats on the district’s Board of Directors without a contested election. And a year ago the idea that the community would return to a stand-alone fire department was not on the community’s political radar.

Five years ago, CalFire won a competitive bid to service the community’s fire protection needs after a costly and disastrous locally run fire district staff was replaced for cause. The non-professional bickering, lawsuits and worse, poor performance, of the local fire department required a drastic remedy. That remedy was outsourcing fire services to an independent contractor. CalFire won the first contract to provide fire protection services.

Every service and every contract can be improved. Rather than improving the contract and re-competing the service, the new majority of directors, Alifano, Mackintosh, and Gary Riddell, has decided to return to a stand-alone service without informing anyone of their prior intent. Had they announced their intent to remove CalFire a year ago, and before the election, this issue could have been decided in a fair and open election where the voters’ choices were obvious. That did not happen.

In December of last year, the month immediately after a no-contest election, the intent to go backward to a costly and previously disastrous fire service became obvious. The majority claimed that CalFire was not meeting its obligation to serve the community. Members claimed that CalFire had defaulted on providing the contract’s obligatory services.

Two studies, one performed before the last election by an independent contractor and another recent effort by the San Mateo County civil grand jury, evaluated CalFire’s performance against the contract requirements and actual performance history. Both concluded that CalFire was meeting its contractual obligations and, additionally, that it was providing outstanding service to the community.

The grand jury found no substantial evidence to support the fire board majority’s claims of inadequate performance. The grand jury report recommended that the majority end efforts to return to a stand-alone fire department and the report recommended extending the CalFire contract for another year. Outsourcing contracts should be re-competed on a regular basis, but the majority has not allowed any discussion of this option to occur — they have decided to go backward to a failed service model.

Going backward to a stand-alone fire department will cost this community an additional $1.5 million to $2 million per year. A stand-alone fire service is not likely to provide better fire protection for the community and it will increase the district’s operating cost by around 50 percent.

CalFire has the lowest wage scale of any fire department in San Mateo County and its work rules require firefighters to work 28 percent more hours per year than any other fire service. All other fire districts require more staff to man the same number of fire engines for a full year of service. CalFire’s employees are well paid relative to the private sector and receive better benefits.

Paying firefighters more, giving them more days off, and providing them with even more generous benefits will not fix a problem; public employee salaries and benefits in California across the board are already very generous. This, however, will be a consequence of Alifano’s, Mackintosh’s and Riddell’s goal to reconstitute a local fire department. It makes no sense to do this and they have not bothered to obtain a voter-approved mandate to support their actions. That is why I signed the recall petition. It is the only option left to put this decision to the vote it deserves.

Jim Larimer lives in Miramar.

(7) comments

August West
August West

Why would HMB want to join forces (again, counting SAM) with folks like the MWSD and GSD Boards? Buying $850,000 plots of land to bury pipes under and taking the US Gov't to Appeals Court over the Airport Wells (3 years ago, still pending and still accruing legal fees) are no different. They can waste money and time and further erode property rights like the best of them. Great company to have.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden

Anybody in the MidCoast who would voluntarily wish to join HMB's Old Guard poltical regime should have their head examined.

Look no further than the deafening silence coming from Patridge & Co. when it comes the financial disaster being perpetrated on us all by the Fireboard cronies Alifano & Co.

Jim Larimer
Jim Larimer

Ms. Emrey has several point of facts wrong in her reasoning.

First the unincorporated areas on the coast side, El Granada, Moss Beach and Montara, have a combined population total that is greater than the population in Half Moon Bay. If a change in political boundaries brought on by consolidation changed the nature of the City Council to one that is more coast side centric, that would be good.

For example, we all suffer from inadequate traffic circulation on the coast side. Narrow solutions for El Granada or Half Moon Bay planned in isolation will not solve this vexing problem, it requires a coast side solution not a limited solution such as a traffic signal in El Granda or a new access from the north, i.e., the tunnel.

Her second misunderstanding is that the current district structure does not adhere to a HBM versus the unincorporated areas. CCWD, GSD, the fire district, the school district, any future parks district, and the harbor district all overlap HMB and Moss Beach, El Granada, and Montara. Many people living here have no idea who provides these services to them today and this is easily attested by the phone calls each district routinely recieve from individuals outside of their district boundaries.

We have too many districts and too many elected representatives. That is why 9 seats truned over last November without elections, many people where unaware that they were even in a district let alone who was responsible for its management. That is a guaranteed formula for bad government and its is time for us to change it.

August West
August West

Ms. Emery has obviously never read a LAFCO report on the Coastside. The change you are against is inevitable.


With all due respect to Dr. Larimer, the City of Half Moon Bay is not the Coastside, but only a part of the Coastside. Most of the other communities want nothing to do with Half Moon Bay politics and do not want to be subjected to the HMB political infrastructure. The other communities would have only a minority vote and would probably lose out to the ingrained power structure in that city. Many of us do not live in the city by choice, and the city likewise has no love lost for the rest of the Coastside residents, as shown by the choice of the elite who would be invited to the tunnel opening party and procession. That got changed, apparently, but the attitude of city politicians toward their neighbors remains. No thanks, no consolidating of districts that represent areas beyond HMB city limits into the morass of HMB political interrests!

Jim Larimer
Jim Larimer

If Mr. Durden believes that members of the City Council should have a role in deciding how fire protection services are provided to this community, then perhaps he will join with me in recommending that this community consider a sweeping consolidation of districts into a single municipal government.

Lafco, the agency of government whose responsibility it is to recommend changes in political boundaries to make government more efficient, has consistently recommended that our coastal community should consolidate government functions eliminating the proliferation of special districts that serve us today.

If we consolidated government eliminating water, sewer, and fire districts putting these responsibilities into a single municipal government entity, then we would not continue to experience election cycles like the one in November 2011 where 9 seats were filled without an election. Two of those seats are on the fire district Board of Directors.

Conflating the actions of the Fire District majority with the City Council is pointless. Imagining that this issue is related to another political divide in this community over property rights and growth is even more pointless.

Naomi Patridge is an accomplished community leader with an outstanding record of achievements. The City Council’s record of providing cost effective public safety services for this community speaks for itself. They have been in the vanguard of good government.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden

For once, former CCWD elected official Larimer is taking a stand against the Old Guard political establishment that has put people like Alifano & Co. in power. Too bad the Old Guard captured HMB Review can't seem to get on the same page.

I really would like to see some leadership (if that's even possible) from HMB elected officials like Naomi Patridge who could easily prevent this fire department financial disaster from happening by telling her multitudes of softball fans to sign the recall petition.

Why, pray tell, is Patridge remaining silent about this slow motion financial train wreck? Does she want to see $ millions wasted on a stand alone fire department?

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