MORAGA -- An effort by Moraga-Orinda Fire District chief Randy Bradley to buy land on which to build a new fire station has been turned down by a majority of fire district board members.
Directors Steve Anderson -- who had previously supported the consolidation -- Frank Sperling and Fred Weil voted Wednesday to terminate a contract in which the district would have paid $1.2 million before a May 28 deadline to purchase a property in Lafayette to build a fire station there. Directors Alex Evans and John Wyro argued in favor of the purchase.
The decision came one day after county supervisors rejected a request from Contra Costa fire Chief Daryl Louder to work with MOFD to build and pay for a new jointly operated fire station at the Lafayette site.
At the Tuesday meeting, supervisors acting as the ConFire board praised the proposal's creativity but not its timing. Supervisor Candace Andersen -- who oversees Lamorinda -- backed the idea; John Gioia, Mary Piepho, vice Chairwoman Karen Mitchoff and chair Federal Glover said they couldn't support it.
Their decision followed a vote last week to close a county fire station in Pittsburg in July and an unnamed station in January due to budget turmoil.
"Station 46" would have replaced the Los Arabis Station in west Lafayette, which ConFire officially closed in January. It would also have replaced the MOFD station on Via Las Cruces in Orinda whose reconstruction was put on hold despite about $275,000 spent on its redesign.
MOFD was also seeking $7500 from Con Fire for half of a nonrefundable $15,000 deposit it had paid for the property, plus additional funds for site reviews.
Louder and MOFD Chief Randy Bradley had argued the station consolidation would save each district about $1 million annually in operating costs, and was the kind of creative solution taxpayers wanted. MOFD directors Anderson, Evans and Wyro had suggested the savings could be put toward the district's unfunded liabilities, mainly pensions.
At Wednesday's meeting, Bradley told board trustees he had approached the city of Lafayette and requested officials buy the property on MOFD's behalf because the district can't purchase land outside its own district boundaries.
Despite the chief's opinion that the location is the best site to provide services to Orinda and Lafayette -- and Lafayette vice mayor Don Tatzin's message that the city was willing to look at facilitating the purchase and waiving environmental review fees -- MOFD directors said that while open to a future Lamorinda fire district, they weren't willing to risk moving forward without a partner and spend taxpayer dollars to improve service to Lafayette.
"We need to take care of our business within the projections that we have, the dollars that we have, the long-range forecast that we have that says if we take care of our business and handle everything appropriately, we will get through our unfunded liability problem over the next 13-15 years," said director Weil. "I don't see any benefit at all to the district compared to the risks that we are taking."
Director Wyro countered by saying MOFD should buy the property and hold on to it in case a future partnership was possible with ConFire or the city of Lafayette.
Wyro's arguments echoed supporters, including a Lafayette resident and a Con Fire advisory fire commissioner who urged the district should move forward.
Opponents said Orinda and Moraga residents would be subsidizing a new station in Lafayette.
"Taxes that have been collected from taxpayers in Moraga and Orinda will be publicly gifted to the city of Lafayette," said Moraga resident Dick Olsen, a former MOFD board member. "In making those gifts, (the city) would then act as the district's proxy in order to circumvent the law that says this district cannot acquire property outside its boundaries. To me that's absurd."