Residents Seek To Save LAH County Fire District From Consolidation New
When it comes to fire protection services, residents served by the Los Altos Hills County Fire District prioritize efficiency over efficiency, they repeatedly told Training Commission officials. from local Santa Clara County agencies, or LAFCO, last week.
“Effectiveness generally ignores prevention; the focus is on the effectiveness of the fire response, which is not what we want, at least in Los Altos Hills, ”said Rajiv Patel, member of the Hills Planning Commission. “Basically we don’t like fires. Effectiveness comes from local control, and the emphasis tends to be on prevention.
LAFCO is a state-mandated but independent agency that oversees city limits and special neighborhoods to prevent urban sprawl. The August 25 community meeting was the third LAFCO has held in recent weeks to gather feedback on the structure of the Santa Clara County Fire Department and its four fire districts. Public comments will be factored into a report that the Center for Public Safety Management, a private consulting firm, is preparing for the agency as part of a service review. Other considerations include population projections, assessments of disadvantaged communities, and the capacity of agencies to provide services.
The future autonomy of the Los Altos Hills County Fire District is threatened by both the LAFCO review and an ongoing operational study of fire districts managed by the County Executive Office. The Santa Clara County Supervisory Board requested both in response to a management audit of the Southern Santa Clara Fire Protection District.
To further increase the “efficiency, effectiveness and economy” of the South County District, the Supervisory Board could consider “consolidating the fire fighting districts in the county given the difference in allocations. tax to each of the four firefighting districts of Santa Clara County, ”the auditors wrote. in a report of December 19, 2019.
In fiscal year 2017-18, the per capita property tax allowance for the South County District was $ 89, compared to $ 226 for the Saratoga Fire Protection District, $ 437 for the Central District of Santa Clara County Fire Protection and $ 1,000 for the Los Altos Hills County Fire District, according to data compiled by auditors.
The South County District’s financial future is uncertain due to low property taxes, which account for 85% of its revenue, and the expected increase in the costs of the CAL FIRE protection service, which accounts for 87% of its spending. , indicates the audit story.
But merging the four fire districts is not practical because they are very different from each other, speakers said last week. They say the Los Altos Hills County Fire District should retain its independence, as its commissioners understand the unique challenges posed by the region’s rugged topography, narrow streets, limited escape routes and heavy fuel loads. fire.
“We all know that if you start to centralize things, local response times will decrease,” said Anne DeGheest, a resident of Hills.
DeGheest referred to the Mountain Fire, a 5-acre wildfire that a faulty lawn mower started on the Byrne Preserve in 2017.
“If the firefighters had not reacted in a few minutes because they were so close, the whole district of Altamont would have been set on fire,” she said.
Pressed by speakers, consultant Mike Iacona said there was no predisposition to consolidation.
His company’s draft report is expected by November. The final report is expected to be released in April.
If LAFCO approves the final report, it does not automatically mean a change in boundaries or governance, assured Neelima Palacherla, general manager of LAFCO. Supporters of a change are expected to submit a request, which initiates another process of publicly notified meetings and possibly protest procedures and an election by local voters in affected areas.
“You will have ample opportunity to express yourself and influence the work of LAFCO,” Palacherla told the meeting audience.