Despite objections from neighbors, The Zoning Adjustments Board approved the Environmental Impact Report Thursday for the Hills Fire Station proposed for a quiet ridge in the Berkeley hills.
The ZAB approved the report by a vote of 7-2 with board members David Blake and Andy Katz voting in opposition. The report, required by state law, evaluates potential impacts from the construction of the two-story, 6,800-square-foot station.
Opponents of the station contend the quiet, residential neighborhood is not appropriate for a fire station. Others argued the station is necessary to protect the Berkeley hills from wild fires originating in the open lands east of the city.
The proposed location is at 3000 Shasta Rd near Park Hills Road, which is adjacent to Tilden Park on the eastern edge of the city.
Prior to voting, the ZAB heard public comments about the quality of the EIR. Also Fire Chief Reginald Garcia, Assistant Chief David Orth and Project Manager Carmella Rejwan responded to questions about information in the report.
Proponents of the project called for the ZAB to approve the project and move quickly to approve the Use Permit for the project. Voters approved bond funds for the project in 1992, partly in response to the Berkeley/Oakland Hills Fire in 1991.
The bond, Measure G, provided $55 million for a variety of fire safety projects including seismically upgrading the cities seven fire stations, repairing aging water mains and building a new fire station in a strategic location to battle fires in the Berkeley and Oakland hills.
“I’m concerned with the delay to build the Hills Fire Station,” said proponent Colin Murphy. “This station will serve as a first line of defense in case of another fire in the wild lands.”
According to fire department officials, one of the reasons 3000 Shasta Rd. was chosen from among eight other locations is because department response time trials shoed the location is within four minutes of the furthest point of the fire district, which is to the north at Grizzly Peak Road at Spruce Street.
Chief Garcia said four minutes is widely accepted as the maximum amount of time to respond to a structural fire.
Opponents, who have organized into a group called Citizens for Responsible Fire Protection, argued the EIR should not be approved because the response time trials were flawed. Peter Cukor, who lives immediately across the street from the proposed site, said he had himself conducted a variety of time trials.
“There are many areas in Fire District 7 that are not reachable in four minutes,” Cukor said. “The neighbors ask the ZAB to not approve the EIR because the response times do not meet EIR standards.”
Chief Garcia was skeptical of Cukor’s results.
“Anyone can come up with the analysis they want to,” he said. “I timed these routes myself traveling between 25 and 30 miles an hour, which is the speed fire apparatus travels.”
ZAB member David Blake, who said he and fellow board member Andy Katz had also timed response distances prior to the meeting, said he found problems with the response-time trials as well. He said he voted against the EIR because of discrepancies in at least one of the fire department’s reported times.
“Some of the times don’t add up,” he said. “It’s these types of flaws and inaccuracies that make EIR’s more vulnerable to law suits.”
The ZAB will hold another public hearing on Feb. 28.