PINOLE -- The city may want another crack at a $1.24 million federal firefighting grant, after having second thoughts about rejecting it in June.
In January, the Pinole City Council accepted the grant, which was supposed to be spread over two years and enable the Pinole Fire Department to reopen the Pinole Valley fire station and hire four firefighters; in March, the council passed a resolution detailing how the grant would be managed.
But on June 18, the council voted 4-1, with Phil Green dissenting, to renounce the grant. Officials cited concern over associated costs that they said could be as high as $400,000 a year to reopen the shuttered station, and uncertainty over a pending unfair labor practices complaint by the firefighters union before the California Public Employment Relations Board.
The city drafted a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency rescinding the grant but did not immediately send it. Now, Pinole apparently hopes it might use the SAFER money after all.
"We weren't comfortable to have to return the SAFER grant, so the council and the staff continued to explore the issue," Mayor Debbie Long said last week, adding that new information surfaced during a conference call last month between interim fire Chief Carlos Rodriguez, City Manager Belinda Espinosa, the office of Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, and SAFER grant program officials in Washington.
SAFER grants -- the initials stand for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response -- are administered by FEMA, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Long said she could not go into some of the details of the call and of a July 24 closed-session council discussion. She did say, however, that "maybe (accepting the grant) won't impact the budget the way we thought it would."
The report out of the July 24 closed session, according to the July 26 weekly city manager's administrative report, said:
"The council also discussed contract negotiations and addressed safety issues based on new information received by city staff about the SAFER grant with their negotiators regarding (firefighters union) Local 1230."
In an email, Local 1230 President Vince Wells said all he knows is that it appears the council is willing to reconsider the acceptance of the SAFER grant.
Pinole's rejection of the grant in June angered the union, which said it was a slap to neighboring fire agencies that partner with Pinole. The Pinole Fire Department is part of a three-agency Battalion 7, with the Rodeo-Hercules Fire District and the Contra Costa County Fire District's El Sobrante and San Pablo stations. Battalion 7 once had six fire stations but is now down to four after the shuttering of the Pinole Valley and Rodeo stations.
"I was disappointed that one of our Battalion 7 partners was unable to take advantage of an opportunity that would have provided additional resources to the response system," Contra Costa fire Chief Daryl Louder said in an email, prefacing his comment with the acknowledgment, "I respect the authority of the elected officials to make decisions for the city of Pinole."
Rodeo-Hercules fire Chief Charles Hanley, who was also serving as Pinole's chief when the city originally applied for the grant, said in an email he was "encouraged by the prospect of the City Council revisiting the grant. It would benefit not only the city but the entire region."
Rodriguez, in an email this week, said he has held several meetings with Long and Espinosa in recent weeks to discuss emergency response, firefighter safety and fostering the Battalion 7 partnership concept. He said he will present a revived SAFER grant proposal to the City Council on Aug. 20.