SAN JOSE - Instead of using time and money looking into alternatives, the body charged with protecting San Mateo County's coastside from fire should continue outsourcing to state firefighters, according to a grand jury report released Wednesday.
Though the Coastside Fire Protection District has seen steadily improving service and dropping costs since hiring Cal Fire in 2008, its directors spend part of seemingly every meeting on resurrecting a stand-alone department. It's a move in the wrong direction, the report says.
Prior to outsourcing, the department was beset with lawsuits, low morale and high worker turnover. Those problems have all but disappeared in recent years, the report says.
District Board of Directors President Douglas Mackintosh defended the board's actions, saying there's concern about the lack of local accountability for the state-run Cal Fire.
"Cal Fire doesn't work for the coastside," he said, adding the board would move ahead with discussions at its Wednesday meeting on rebuilding a stand-alone department. The contract with Cal Fire is set to expire June 30.
The report from the grand jury, an official watchdog that investigates public figures and bodies, notes the district's turbulent roots. Half Moon Bay's fire department was marred by legal and workforce problems and in October 2007 merged with the Point Montara fire district to create the Coastside fire district.
In the wake of these troubles, negotiations pushed toward a Cal Fire takeover of fire fighting in Half Moon Bay, Montara and a couple other coastal communities. In June 2008 the district signed on with state firefighters.
Yet the tumult in the district has continued. In 2010 it spent $44,500 on an audit of its fire and emergency services, the report says. Then at the end of 2011, despite the audit's generally positive review of Cal Fire, a divided board voted 3-2 to look into rebuilding a stand alone department. The full investigation could cost $50,000, the board learned at a February meeting.
As that vote suggests, not everyone on the board supports the move to get rid of Cal Fire. In fact Director Ginny McShane thanked the grand jury for its report, saying the outsourced service has been a win for taxpayers.
"I have served my district before Cal Fire was here and after they came to us," she wrote. "The Cal Fire model provides top quality public safety."
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