Ten years after Berkeley voters supported a $55 million bond to improve fire protection, City Council approved a long-awaited plan for a fire station in the Berkeley hills. The unanimous decision came Tuesday night.
“We’ve had four fires already in the month of June that could have been major problems in the hills, and we haven’t seen the worst of it yet,” said Berkeley Mayor Shirely Dean. “We need to keep the fire station project moving forward.”
The station’s approval came after city leaders shot down arguments from residents who claimed the proposed firehouse does not live up to terms specified in the voter-approved 1992 Measure G bond.
Critics have charged that the new station does not embrace the promised partnership with neighboring jurisdictions that includes, among other things, sharing costs.
Additionally, some have argued that the new firehouse does not adequately address its goal of combating wildland fire threats, and instead merely replaces a nearby neighborhood station that has been left in disrepair.
“We voted for what was promised in Measure G and that is not what is planned,” said Berkeley resident Cindy Fulton at Tuesday’s council meeting. She claimed the city’s actions were a case of “bait and switch.”
But safety concerns lingering from the devastating hills fire of 1991 won out, and Tuesday night, City Council dismissed two legal appeals to the proposed fire station and certified the long-debated environmental impact report.
City officials are still deciding whether they need approval from a county judge before moving forward with the project, given that changes have been made to the plan since voters approved it in 1992.
“I believe that nothing significant was changed,” Dean said.
The new fire station is blueprinted to be a two-story building cut into the hillside at 3000 Shasta Road and encompass 6,800 square feet of space for four fire vehicles. The city is expected to house a year-round city fire crew at the facility and host summer firefighters from the East Bay Regional Park District.
City fire officials did not return repeated phone calls to discuss the station’s firefighting capacity. Chief Reginald Garcia, at Tuesday night’s council meeting, though, said the proposed station “represents a significant increase and improvement in fire protection in the hills area.”
The chief’s plea to approve the station was backed by city planners who said in a staff report that “there is no basis to the appeal [of the project].”
Specifically, at Tuesday’s meeting, protest to the project was packaged as an appeal of two city use permits, a building variance and the project’s environmental impact report.
Noise, loss of scenery and an incomplete study of alternative projects were cited as problems, in an appeal filed by Berkeley resident Peter Cukor.
The second appeal of the project challenged the project’s landscaping and requested that only native plants be used to dress up the site. The city agreed to the request.
City leaders have also scheduled a public hearing July 23 regarding the amendment of a tree ordinance, which would allow relocation of a live oak tree from the building site.
The city’s fire department would not say when it hopes to start construction of the new fire station.