ORINDA -- Plans for a new Lafayette fire station to be operated by the Moraga-Orinda Fire District and the struggling Contra Costa County Fire Protection District are still moving forward despite the threat of more county fire station closures and the impending retirement of Contra Costa Fire Chief Daryl Louder, who initiated the station consolidation.
A majority of Moraga-Orinda Fire District board members on Wednesday authorized Fire Chief Randy Bradley to pay the second half of a $15,000 deposit for land on which the districts hope to build a new fire station to replace the Lafayette station the county fire district closed in January. A nearby fire station in Orinda slated for reconstruction will close if the new station is built.
The approval signals that MOFD directors Steve Anderson, Alex Evans and John Wyro remain in favor of a partnership with the county to construct the facility on the Lafayette-Orinda border in the hopes of saving their district an estimated $1 million annually to address pension debt. Directors Frank Sperling and Fred Weil continue to oppose the idea.
The district has until May 25 to complete the purchase of the $1.2 million property. The fire district wants to divide the cost equally with the county. The directors also greenlighted "deal points" they would like included in a legal agreement being negotiated between the chiefs.
The agreement will outline station operation, funding and staffing. County supervisors, who oversee ConFire and haven't yet authorized any spending on the project, will consider those points and whether to fund half of the deposit and environmental review costs at a board meeting May 7.
The county supervisors are also scheduled to vote on a budget proposal next month that includes the closure of two more stations -- one on July 1 and another Jan. 1, due to financial problems.
Chief Louder has said there is $3.1 million in available capital outlay funds that can be used for land acquisition and construction, but not for station operations.
Should supervisors decide to proceed, they and the Moraga-Orinda fire board will need to enter into a joint powers agreement to purchase the property by the May 25 deadline. Under the 40-year contract, the districts would purchase the site as tenants in common. Construction, maintenance, use and other costs would be split by the districts.
But director Weil took issue with proposed staffing costs. He also wants to wait until the county votes on May 7.
"How many dollars are we going to commit directly or otherwise to pay for services, to pay for studies, to purchase the property without having a commitment from the county that they are in fact going to share any of this?" he asked.
In addition to the $15,000 deposit, the district has spent $6,800 of an estimated $27,580 cost for environmental reports and studies.
Residents continue to raise concerns about issues including a ConFire suggestion to reduce service to another Lafayette station near St. Mary's College. They also question the fairness of ConFire building a new station in Lafayette and Orinda when other cities have seen their fire stations close -- and more station closures loom.
"It just seems like if I lived in Martinez or somewhere out there that doesn't have as (many) services, I would feel like why are they building this new station when they've already got a station?" said Orinda resident Marie Gee. "It just doesn't feel right."