On Tuesday, October 29, the City Council held a special meeting to discuss Fire Station 74, also known as the Valley Fire Station. The Valley Station was built in 2002 to provide public safety to the Pinole Valley area, but it has been closed since July 2011 as a cost cutting measure.
The Pinole Fire Fighters submitted and received a federal SAFER Grant in the amount of $1.24 million which they hoped would help re-open the closed fire station. In June the Council voted to turn down the Grant citing costs over and above the SAFER grant funds.
In August the Council reversed course again and accepted the $1.24 million federal grant.
However, the re-opening of Fire Station 74 is still a long way from becoming a reality, in fact, the chances of that happening grow slimmer by the day.
What was presented at Tuesday’s workshop by Interim Fire Chief Carlos Rodriguez was a plan to consider two service models. Both service models would coordinate from Fire Station 73 in downtown Pinole. The Chief explained that using his service models there would be six firefighters to staff two engines. When only five firefighters were present the department would deploy one engine plus a two person medical response vehicle. These service models would make use of the SAFER grant.
But the re-opening of the station in any capacity has encountered another obstacle.
In the fight over the construction of a Verizon cell tower in Pinole Valley Park, residents opposing the tower came upon a grant deed that precludes the City from using the Park for anything other than outdoor recreational use. The National Park Services has deemed that Fire Station 74 was built on deed restricted park land and therefore it is out of compliance. This turn of events has sent the city scrambling for ways to stall the conversion process, seek help from elected officials or find alternative(s) other than a full-blown conversion. A full-blown conversion would take five years or longer. In the interim the City’s current and future grants are in jeopardy.
The City of Pinole with a population of a little over 20,000 is one of the few cities to maintain its own Fire Department. Past and present council members have stated that Pinole is a full-service city. Unfortunately the City of Pinole does not have the revenue to effectively accomplish this without asking its residents and taxpayers to pay more.
More and more communities are looking for alternative service models and ways to provide public safety. The City of Pinole may have to consider going to the ballot box to ask taxpayers for more money. Measure S, a special tax for public safety, is not sufficient to run two fire stations. The City may also have to reconsider contracting out its fire services or joining another district. Many communities are working together and regionalizing their public safety operations to control expenses and provide better service.
But, for now, Fire Station 74 is a very nice building, in a beautiful location, sitting empty and unused and caught in the middle of a flubbed process.