LAFAYETTE -- Development, senior services and fixing roads are hot topics in Lamorinda, but the issue generating the biggest buzz is the area's fire and emergency services.
That topic took center stage at a Feb. 21 meeting between Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga leaders in which city council members took turns questioning Moraga-Orinda Fire District and the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District officials about plans to consolidate fire stations in their cities.
It was the first formal public discussion between the districts and city leaders of a proposal that could see MOFD shutting Station 43 in Orinda and partnering with ConFire to build a new station on the Lafayette-Orinda border.
MOFD Fire Chief Randy Bradley and ConFire Chief Daryl Louder have been discussing the consolidation since January, following the closure of ConFire Station 16 on Los Arabis Drive in Lafayette. That station had been offline since last summer due to facilities problems and officially closed Jan. 15 following budget cuts.
As proposed, the idea would see MOFD shelving reconstruction plans for its station on Via Las Cruces and selling the facility. The district would then partner with Con Fire to buy land for a new station, and to build, staff and operate it.
The idea is not a new one. The chiefs described a previous study to merge the two stations because of their proximity, explaining that while stations are typically spaced about three miles apart, the Lafayette and Orinda stations -- considered low-call-volume stations in an area low in housing density and with high wildfire threats -- are only about 1 1/2 miles apart.
In addition to maintaining service levels, Bradley said the merger could also reduce costs. Officials are estimating the move could save each district $1 million annually of the average $2 million station operating cost.
If the districts were to agree on a 30-year deal, the potential taxpayer savings could amount to $60 million. Bradley explained.
"I think that even if we weren't in the financial times that we are now, it would just be good public policy ... to create some type of partnership where we address some of the inefficiencies of having two fire stations within a mile and a half," Bradley said.
The new facility, dubbed "Station 46," would have one unit that would respond to about 900-1,000 calls per year. Chief Louder described that as a "moderately running station" that while not extremely busy, would bring the efficiency of the Orinda and Lafayette units "considerably up from where they are now."
City officials also questioned whether the Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees annexations and special district formations, was aware of the consolidation talks. Lafayette Councilman Don Tatzin, the LAFCO chair, said it was, and had been included in the previous merger talks.
In an interview, Tatzin also addressed fears that have been expressed by some residents that a consolidation could open the door for a county takeover of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District, which was formed in 1997 when Orinda detached from ConFire.
"LAFCO has very limited ability to initiate an action," Tatzin said. "I don't think people need to worry about that."
Some residents spoke in favor of the merger and called on city leaders to help make the idea work. Moraga-Orinda Fire District board members also commented, saying Lafayette was still paying for three fire stations while only receiving service from two. Opponents included two former Moraga-Orinda Fire District board members who decried a potential consolidation and its possible service impacts in Orinda.
City leaders also talked about ways to consolidate the cost of infrastructure and road repairs and heard about plans for a Lamorinda Senior Village, a network of services that would help the area's elderly residents stay in their homes as long as possible. They also took a look at commercial and residential projects under development.