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Many hurdles before hills fire station built

StaffBy Josh Parr Daily Planet Staff
Saturday September 16, 2000

By Josh Parr 

Daily Planet Staff 


The proposed hills fire station has a number of hurdles to jump before it gets even close to being built. 

Tuesday, the City Council voted to inch the process along by setting aside $35,000 from its general fund to hire architect Marcy Wong to design the station. 

But before Wong takes pen in hand, there will be meetings with the neighbors of the proposed site at Shasta and Park Hills roads to get their input, said Phil Kamlarz, deputy city manager.  

Neighbors have expressed a number of concerns about the proposed fire station. They fear their quiet rural neighborhood will take on the feel of an industrial zone. 

In addition to consulting with the neighbors, fire officials will hold discussions with other agencies involved with the project – the East Bay Municipal Untility District and the East Bay Regional Parks District – to determine what features these agencies want in the structure, proposed to serve all three entities. 

The size will depend on neighborhood input and on how many pieces of apparatus are to be stored there, Kamlarz said. 

Once these issues are resolved and the designs are drawn, the city will undertake an Environmental Impact Report, which will cost $60,000 to $80,000. 

The final step before the shovels hit the dirt, will be for the city to go before a judge to ask if it can use Measure G funds for the project, bond funds which were originally to go to retrofitting the fire stations. 

Going before a judge is called a “validation action.” Passed in 1992, Measure G approved a multi-jurisdictional fire station which was to be shared by Oakland, Berkeley, EBMUD and the East Bay Regional Parks District. Oakland however, built its own fire station, leaving Berkeley without a partner. Such a ruling would change the language of the 1992 measure to allow such funds for a single jurisdictional fire station. 

City officials do not want to retrofit the old Fire Station No. 7, a small station located on a narrow street in a populated zone, Kamlarz said. The station, built in 1920, is so riddled with termites “that if an earthquake hit, the fire truck would be buried underneath the building,” Councilmember Better Olds asserted. 

If the judge turns the city down, Kamlarz said the next step would be to go back to the voters to ask them for the funds to build the new station. 

“It’s a complicated process,” Fire Chief Reggie Garcia said.. 

Meanwhile, Assistant City Attorney Zach Cowan is negotiating with the East Bay Municipal Utility District to purchase the proposed site, according to Olds, who represents the district. 

Close to one acre in size, the proposed site is on the border with Contra Costa County and next to Tilden Park.  

“It’s a skinny piece of land,” Olds said, “but it’s some of the last remaining unused land in the hills. Developers are lining up to get it if the plans for the fire station fall through. They could build between four and six new homes.” 

Despite the outcry of neighbors close to the proposed station, Olds said the majority of the North Berkeley community is backing the new station. 

“The proposed station would give peace of mind to residents who are worried about the danger of fires, akin to the Oakland fire of 1992, jumping over the fire break and damaging the neighborhood. Tilden Park is a real danger. So little fire safety work has been done there. The fifty foot fire break isn’t nearly enough. Remember, the fire jumped over highway 24 in Oakland. Fifty feet isn’t much,” Olds continued. 

The proposal includes more than a fire station. A “wildlands fire truck” capable of going off road and handling fires that erupt in otherwise inaccessible locations is to be housed in the hills. The new location would reduce response time to the Park Hills neighborhood by 3 minutes, Olds said. 

“Most people don’t realize that this would be the only fire station east of the Hayward Fault,” said Barbara Allen, a resident of the Berkeley Hills. “In the event of a large earthquake, we’d be totally isolated from the rest of Berkeley.” 

Over three hundred residents have signed a petition asking for the proposed fire station to be built as quickly as possible. 

“The longer it takes, the higher the chance that a fire breaks out. October is when the winds from Contra Costa County start blowing, and that’s when fires can spread in the blink of an eye,” Olds said.