Election Section

The Truth About Delays and Costs

Friday May 14, 2004

The recent letter from Neighbors for Fire Safety (“Fire Station Foes Ignore History, Wildfire Fighting Reality,” Daily Planet, May 7-10) contains numerous factual omissions and inaccuracies, and moreover obscures the role this group has played in delaying and inflating the costs of the Hills fire station project. The facts of the matters are as follows: 

• The city did not present its proposal until 2000, 8 years after Measure G was passed. There seems to have been no urgency until political pressure was felt as the tenth anniversary of the Hills Fire approached. 

• The city has known all along that the Hills Fire Station project was quite different from the one approved by voters in 1992. As a result, when the project was announced in 2000 the city publicly declared that it would file a lawsuit to validate that the use of Measure G funds was legal. At that time, the city did not expect that this “validation action” would be opposed. 

• In 2002, knowing that opponents would likely contest its lawsuit, the city changed its legal strategy. It decided against filing its own lawsuit in order to place a greater financial burden on anyone who would choose to ask the courts to determine that Measure G finds could not be used. 

• Early in 2003 my wife and I filed a lawsuit seeking a legal finding that the city’s current proposal is not consistent with what the voters approved in 1992. 

• In spring of 2003, our attorney approached the city seeking a compromise that would remove the lawsuit. The city responded with a settlement offer before significant costs were incurred. Under the settlement proposed by the city, the size of the station (and its cost) would have been reduced by about 25 percent without compromising fire safety. However, the Neighbors for Fire Safety objected to any compromise and brought great pressure on Councilwoman Olds to reject this settlement and pressured the city to withdraw its offer shortly after it was made! Thus it was the unwillingness of the Neighbors for Fire Safety to compromise that caused the city to spend the money needed to prosecute the lawsuit. If Neighbors for Fire Safety had their way, they would incur further indebtedness on behalf of all Berkeley taxpayers in a misguided effort to build an even larger fire station that would serve their neighborhood only. 

• The city itself bears responsibility for most of the delays associated with this project. To wit: 

As mentioned above, Measure G was passed in November, 1992. The city did not present its plan for the Hills Fire Station until April, 2000! 

The land for the project is to be purchased from EBMUD at a cost of $300,000. Before EBMUD agrees to the transfer it must be satisfied that Berkeley’s development of the property will not hinder the Water District’s ability to supply water to its customers. This has required the city to make several studies and proposals to stabilize the very steep hill that supports a two-million-gallon reservoir immediately above the proposed station. The latest of these proposals will be presented to ZAB this week for its approval. 

EBMUD has a pumping station on the property Berkeley seeks to develop. A large pipeline extends from this pumping station under the land where Berkeley plans to build its fire station. EBMUD will not transfer the property to Berkeley until that pipeline is relocated, at Berkeley’s expense! This alone will add $200,000 to the cost of the fire station. EBMUD did not begin the pipeline relocation project until May 3, 2004! 

The city spent about a year negotiating with the Park District to secure its agreement to store, at no cost to the park, an engine and crew for 10-30 days per year at the new fire station. How generous of Berkeley taxpayers to pay for sleeping accommodations and garage space for Park District fire crews and equipment! Since these crews and equipment are available to Berkeley right now 24/7 for free, it is truly wonderful that, despite a budget crunch, we can spend an extra $500,000 to build a bay and dorm room for them. Berkeley needed this agreement so it could call the project a “jointly funded, multi-jurisdictional” effort. This so-called “joint financing agreement” is a sham since Berkeley is paying for everything, the Park District, which originally said it wanted nothing to do with this, pays for nothing, and either side can terminate the agreement with 30 days notice. 

The bottom line is that costs are high because the site is very difficult to develop, the building is far too large for the site, and Berkeley is making the building even larger to accommodate Park District equipment without any financial contribution from the park. The delays are primarily the result of (a) an eight year hiatus during which time the city was occupied with other matters; (b) the engineering complexity of site development, and; (c) the need to negotiate agreements with two other political entities.