A West Contra Costa fire district wants to salvage a $1.24 million federal grant awarded to a neighboring agency that turned it down.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, who had supported Pinole in its pursuit of the Federal Emergency Management Agency SAFER grant, said he would look into whether the Rodeo-Hercules Fire District might be able to step in as grant recipient, as envisioned by fire Chief Charles Hanley. "SAFER" stands for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response.
The Pinole City Council formally accepted the grant in January, but officials said the city had not yet tapped into it when the council reversed itself in June. Spread over two years, the $1.24 million was supposed to pay to reopen the Pinole Valley fire station and hire four firefighters.
In March, the council, without debate, passed a resolution spelling out how to manage the grant.
But on June 18, the council, with Councilman Phil Green dissenting, voted 4-1 to renounce the grant, citing concerns over associated costs and uncertainty over a pending unfair labor practices complaint by the firefighters union. Earlier in the meeting, Firefighters Local 1230 President Vince Wells walked out of the council chamber after Mayor Debbie Long chastised Wells over a post on ContraCostaTimes.com in which he criticized the council's leadership and described the Pinole Fire Department as a sinking ship.
The interval between Pinole's acceptance and rejection of the grant was turbulent.
In April, after months of study, Pinole turned down a contract offer from Rodeo-Hercules to provide fire protection and opted instead to continue to run its own department with its own fire chief. Under a contract, Rodeo-Hercules would absorb Pinole's firefighters.
Since 2011, Pinole and Rodeo-Hercules had shared a chief, Hanley, as well as administrative services; Hanley's contract with Pinole ended June 30. An interim chief, Carlos Rodriguez, started with Pinole on June 5.
City officials said a contract with Rodeo-Hercules would cost about $400,000 a year more than keeping fire protection in-house, but Hanley said last week that the savings figure is inflated and that it does not factor in the benefits of a larger department.
Also in June, four Pinole firefighters resigned; three signed on with Rodeo-Hercules, the fourth with the Vallejo Fire Department.
Meanwhile, the union's unfair labor practices complaint, brought in 2011, was partially dismissed by the California Public Employment Relations Board in October; in the spring, the union proceeded with a pending, pension-related issue and another, described by the city as related to overtime pay and by Wells as related to staffing.
The council, and in particular Long, has cited worry over possible financial consequences if PERB rules against the city as crucial to the decision to turn down the SAFER grant.
Wells said that more than a 18 months ago, the union had agreed to drop its PERB complaint if Pinole contracted with Rodeo-Hercules or the Contra Costa Fire District for service.
"After the city voted down the contract with ConFire and Rodeo-Hercules, we moved forward with the PERB hearing," he said in an email Friday.
Wells said Pinole's rejection of the SAFER grant did not sit well with Pinole's partner agencies in Battalion 7, which consists of Pinole, Rodeo-Hercules and the county fire district's El Sobrante and San Pablo stations; all three agencies' firefighters are represented by Local 1230.
Battalion 7 operates as a single fire department, with command rotating among the three agencies; any enhancement to one agency benefits the entire battalion and its residents, Hanley said. Battalion 7 is down to four stations now that the Pinole Valley and downtown Rodeo stations are shuttered.
The Hercules City Council on Tuesday will consider whether to write a letter in support of Rodeo-Hercules' quest.