January 3, 2013
Matter of Opinion
A recall election for the three seats held by the Coastside Fire Protection District Board’s majority, Mike Alifano, Doug Mackintosh, and Gary Riddell, will take place on April 9. The issue that prompted the recall election is a major policy change to go back to a more costly and trouble-prone stand-alone fire department.
A stand-alone fire department will cost the community somewhere between 50 percent and 70 percent more to provide the same level of fire protection that we have currently from Cal Fire. It appears to me that the reason for the change is so that the Board majority can have more authority in day-to-day operations. A public Board of Directors is responsible for policy; it is not qualified to run the daily operations of a fire department.
The primary failing of the current Board majority, is that it does not understand its responsibilities. Having once served as a firefighter or a paramedic, or even as a small business operator, does not qualify anyone to run the day-to-day operations of a fire district. This misunderstanding has been underscored recently by the members’ inappropriate behavior since the recall election petition succeeded in requiring this change to go to a vote of the public.
The three board members announced their intent to make this major policy change a year ago last December and after an uncontested election in which this intension was not announced. At every meeting since last December’s, a growing number of constituents have asked the board not to make this costly policy change. These requests have fallen on deaf ears.
The Board majority’s justification for the policy change is that Cal Fire’s services are inadequate. The San Mateo County grand jury investigated this claim and found no evidence to support it. The grand jury recommendation was for the Fire District to continue its current policy and for the Board majority to desist from its plans to form a stand-alone department. The grand jury noted that Cal Fire is providing fully adequate fire protection services and has saved the community millions of dollars over the last five years.
Saying “no” to this major policy change is the rationale behind the recall election. If the recall petitioners win this election, there will be a different Board majority on April 10. A new majority will continue with the current policy of outsourcing fire protection services to save tax dollars. For the past five years this policy has been extremely successful.
In their last meeting of 2012, the majority recklessly put in motion a process that will mean that, starting next July 1, our community will be without fully qualified fire protection services. This irresponsible act underscores how unsuited and unqualified these three individuals are for public leadership. Sensible leaders would have at least awaited the outcome of the recall election before pulling the plug on our current model for fire protection. This decision has elevated the issue to a new and dangerous level. These three directors all deserve to be removed from office.
Jim Larimer is a resident of Miramar.