MARTINEZ -- County supervisors this week authorized talks between the Contra Costa and Moraga-Orinda fire districts to build and operate a joint station on the Lafayette-Orinda border but not without hearing some stinging criticism of the proposal.
County leaders took turns addressing ConFire Chief Daryl Louder on Tuesday following his request for formal discussions with MOFD Chief Randy Bradley to enter a partnership in which both districts would operate a joint fire station. If approved, the station would replace ConFire's Station 16 in Lafayette and nearby MOFD Station 43 in Orinda.
Supervisors ultimately decided to let Louder discuss exploring a potential partnership with Bradley, but Supervisors Karen Mitchoff and John Gioia indicated anything formal should be part of future comprehensive talks between the county and other cities. MOFD directors approved the consolidation talks at a meeting Feb. 6.
Under the plan proposed by the chiefs, ConFire would tap its capital funds and reallocate money used to operate Station 16 to the new station, whose construction and operating costs would be shared evenly with MOFD. Both districts say the move could help them save $1 million each in annual operating costs.
However, the savings would materialize for ConFire only if Station 16 were operating; because it isn't, the new station would actually increase costs for the district.
ConFire took that aging facility offline last year because of a rat infestation and mold-contamination issues. The station officially closed Jan. 15, along with stations in Martinez and Walnut Creek, following the defeat of a parcel tax measure last fall. Service in Clayton was also reduced.
District II Supervisor Candace Andersen, who oversees Lamorinda, and Supervisor Mary Piepho, of Discovery Bay, supported Louder's request. But Supervisors Mitchoff and Gioia were less enthusiastic.
Mitchoff took Louder to task over an apparent lack of communication about the consolidation, saying neither she nor County Administrator David Twa were aware of the proposal. She also said the idea could raise expectations in other communities with closed fire stations.
"The money's not there," Mitchoff said.
Gioia called for more "thoughtful" talks. "The way this should be dealt with ... is for us to have a districtwide discussion about what opportunities exist rather than individual components brought to us," he said. "We're not getting a total solution."
MOFD Chief Bradley also addressed supervisors, taking some responsibility for the urgent consolidation talks hastened by Station 43's reconstruction, which is on hold. And he told the supervisors his board has requested that the new station be owned and operated by MOFD.
That news did not sit well with Mitchoff, who said if talks went forward and the idea were approved, the county could be putting money into a building it didn't own. She also reiterated calls for a broader discussion.
The board asked the chief for a status report within 30 days.
Supervisors also heard a report of a pilot program that would provide non-firefighter, emergency medical-only coverage at Station 11 in Clayton and in the area of Station 16 in Lafayette. They asked for a status report with a cost comparison between ConFire and the county's contracted medical transport services for such a program.