Irony of ironies, a San Mateo County civil grand jury issued a damning report on the shenanigans at the Coastside Fire Protection District on the very day that the fire board met to discuss whether to wander further into the jungle of overpriced consultants, union agitators and innuendo all aimed at bringing back the Coastside’s most notorious management boondoggle.

The brief history is this: For decades, fire and rescue services were run by parallel old boy networks that sometimes feuded like the Hatfields and McCoys. The Half Moon Bay Fire Protection District finally saw the light after 28 firefighters quit the 22-man department over the course of six years, a time that included five lawsuits that cost district taxpayers $1,223,845 in legal fees and settlements. The district contracted with the state fire agency in 2006, which is about the time the district merged with the Point Montara Fire Protection District to form the Coastside Fire Protection District. Citizens were treated to several years of tranquility and less expensive service.

Well, relative tranquility. Behind the scenes, some board members worked tirelessly to unravel the deal that ended the acrimony and saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by virtue of CalFire’s more reasonable pay scales, work schedules and economies of scale. And why would they do that? It’s all about union politics and personal connections.

There have now been three grand jury reports in the last five years that point to the success of the CalFire contract on the coast. More than one chief has begged for the current arrangement. The board majority’s last consultant, hired little more than a year ago, reported that the state agency was effective and relatively inexpensive. CalFire’s employees are better trained, more stable and provide better service than their predecessors in every way. There is absolutely no evidence, save snide anecdotal complaints about firefighters getting lost on their way to calls, to suggest there is a better way.

The April 25 grand jury report ends with these words: “The board should refrain from formally considering whether to re-establish a stand-alone fire department unless substantial and material deficiencies in performance surface.” It took only a couple of hours for the board majority to completely ignore that sage advice and move to waste even more of your money. In fact, board members Doug Mackintosh, Mike Alifano and Gary Riddell voted to pay $225 an hour for a retired firefighter from San Ramon as a consultant in this ridiculous farce.

It’s easy to ignore the fire board. Most of us just want to know that competent, well-trained men and women will respond when we dial 911. Well, this is a different kind of emergency. If you care about the way your tax money is spent and if you care about safety on the coast, we urge you to read the grand jury report. Then form your own opinion.

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