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Meetings on fire service get started

By Jonathan Morales
Tuesday, April 20th, 2010 at 12:23 pm in Moraga, Orinda.

Here’s some belated follow-up from last week’s meeting of the — wait for it — Tri-Agency Ad Hoc Committee on MOFD Fire and Emergency Medical Services. That’s the group that has been told to study some of the issues raised by the group FAIR for Orinda, including their proposal to dissolve MOFD and have Moraga and Orinda contract with ConFire and AMR for fire and paramedic services, respectively.

And no, they apparently couldn’t come up with a more consise name than Tri-Agency Ad Hoc Committee on MOFD Fire and Emergency Medical Services. I’m highly doubtful TAAHCMFEMS (“Tach-em-fems”?) will catch on.

On the committee: For Moraga, Mayor Ken Chew and Councilman Mike Metcalf; For Orinda, Mayor Tom McCormick and Councilwoman Amy Worth; and for MOFD, board President Frank Sperling and Vice President John Wyro.

Friday’s meeting was held so the group could lay out its procedures, agenda and goals. McCormick was appointed chair. And as they talked about their goals and, specifically, scope, a not-too surprising schism developed.

Orinda’s representatives seemed to want to interpret the committee’s charge loosely, seeing it as a way to identify any and all potential areas for MOFD to be more efficient in how it delivers fire service. MOFD’s representatives, on the other hand, felt the scope of the committee should be limited to FAIR’s proposal.

A testy exchange came when McCormick said that he felt the three agencies were not on equal footing when it comes to how LAFCO — the Local Agency Formation Commission — views them and, while he did not endorse the idea, Moraga and Orinda have the authority to call a vote to dissolve the district.

That drew a firm response from Sperling, who said 1) all three agencies have the same standing with LAFCO, 2) voters could dissolve the two cities if they wanted to and 3) the committee was not formed to be a “Spanish Inquisition” into MOFD. “Clearly the catalyst was the FAIR proposal,” he said.

The exchange highlight’s the unique nature of the committee. At one level, they’ll be discussing how MOFD delivers fire service to the community, something that ordinarily falls entirely into the jurisdiction of the MOFD board. But at another level, they’re discussing the broader question of what entity should be providing that service, something Orinda and Moraga voters have a right to determine independently of MOFD (which is, after all, how the MOFD was formed — voters wanted it over the separate Moraga and Orinda fire departments).

Since it’s unlikely the MOFD board would vote to dissolve themselves, and since Metcalf and Chew stated emphatically that Moraga residents have insisted MOFD remain in place, the onus will almost definitely fall on Orinda to make a decision about whether they’ll stick with MOFD. That’s been FAIR’s argument all along, and it’s one Wyro and Sperling seemed to buy into on Friday by saying, essentially, we’ll provide you all the information about our district that you feel you need to know to be able to make a call on this.

During and after the meeting, a number of people opposed to FAIR’s proposal, including some from the group OrindaCARES which is countering FAIR’s report, told me that a statement by McCormick, that the three agencies have a mandate from LAFCO to work together to resolve infrastructure issues, is false.

As is often the case, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. As part of it’s municipal service review and sphere of influence update process last year, LAFCO has made a recommendation to “encourage agencies to communicate regarding road/water infrastructure challenges and report back to LAFCO” within 12 months. That recommendation was adopted Oct. 14, 2009, which means the agencies have until this October to get back to LAFCO. In essence, the meeting Friday was the beginning of that process.

Is it a mandate? No. But it can be leverage, said LAFCO Executive Officer Lou Ann Texeira. LAFCO can’t force the three sides to communicate about their issues. But if, for example, Moraga comes to LAFCO wanting to annex some unincorporated land just outside town, LAFCO commissioners may think twice about approving that application if the three agencies haven’t worked on/resolved the infrastructure issues. “If any of those agencies, Moraga, Orinda or the district came to LAFCO to do some kind of boundary change and they’ve made absolutely no progress … the commission might have some concerns,” Texeira said.

The next step in this process is for the TAAHCMFEMS (nope, still not doing it for me) to get a better understanding of MOFD operations. They’ll get a presentation at their next meeting from fire Chief Randy Bradley about how the district works (Bradley will take input from FAIR, CARES and anyone else who wants to give their two cents ahead of the meeting). The date for that meeting wasn’t set on Friday, but committee members wanted to give Bradley at least three weeks to prepare his report.

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One Response to “Meetings on fire service get started”

  1. Frank Comprelli Says:

    Well-written. Thank you.

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