LAFAYETTE -- A citizen task force will tackle how to improve fire and emergency services in the city in the wake of the rejection last month of a plan to finance a new joint fire station on the Lafayette-Orinda border.
Also spurring this action -- concerns that local taxpayers are receiving fewer services than they pay for, especially with the recent closure of a local fire station.
The city council voted unanimously this week to form the Emergency Services Task Force, to comprise seven to nine residents and two council members. Officials want the group to deliver by Sept. 30 a preliminary report analyzing fire and emergency services in Lafayette.
The decision comes on the heels of a meeting between a council subcommittee and the executive director of the Local Agency Formation Committee, or LAFCO, on what steps Lafayette would take should the city pursue pulling out of the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District.
The subcommittee also met with Moraga-Orinda Fire District officials to discuss various scenarios should the city decide to shift fire services to MOFD.
Officials are considering leaving the Contra Costa Fire district in response to the closure in January of the Los Arabis station in the city's west end as part of a sweep of station closures within the district. ConFire currently operates two other fire stations in Lafayette and the city receives mutual aid from MOFD.
"We have a third of the city without sufficient -- or some would say any -- fire service," said councilman and subcommittee member Brandt Andersson. "That's not an acceptable situation."
At Monday's meeting, Andersson cited ways he believes fire service in the west end could be restored, including MOFD buying the Lafayette parcel where the new station had been proposed.
To do that, MOFD fire Chief Randy Bradley would have to again ask directors to purchase the now off-the-market $1.2 million property. Bradley had approached the city of Lafayette in May requesting officials buy the property on MOFD's behalf, because the district can't purchase land outside of its own boundaries. MOFD would have closed a station in Orinda slated for reconstruction as part of the deal.
Citing a lack of partnership, a MOFD board majority opposed that idea despite placing a $15,000 deposit -- of which the county chose not to pay half -- on the property. County supervisors also rejected financing any of the station's estimated $2 million operational costs.
However, one of the MOFD directors who opposed the purchase has since resigned, and Bradley says he has been asked to place "Station 46" on the June 20 board meeting agenda. ConFire currently has no plans to approach supervisors, but the district is continuing to monitor the situation, said ConFire Chief Daryl Louder. As for pulling out of the county fire system, Andersson said Lafayette needs to continue looking into leaving ConFire and other ways to bolster service -- including contracting for it -- "if ConFire's not going to do it."
For Lafayette to make such changes, LAFCO would need to receive a petition from the city, residents, MOFD or other agency that would provide the services to the city. Agreements with the county, including the sharing or division of personnel, property, pension and health care obligations and taxes, would need to be negotiated. Then the city would submit an application that could cost between $10,000 and $25,000.
Talk of such a "detachment" is not sitting well with some county officials, including Supervisor and LAFCO Commissioner Mary Piepho, who said last month that LAFCO could find it difficult to support the request if there's a negative impact to the remainder of the fire district.
"I think it's important to know that Lafayette may try to take their destiny in their own hands but they are not in entire control of it," Piepho said in May.