Bonny Doon’s plan to form an independent fire protection district will get its long-awaited public airing next month before the countywide Local Agency Formation Commission.
Commissioners have scheduled a public hearing at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at the First Congregational Church, 900 High Street, in Santa Cruz. It will have been nearly two years since the community first applied for LAFCo approval in October 2006.
If LAFCo votes in favor, a triple-barreled election will be held to form the district. It would be the first fire protection district to be established in Santa Cruz County in more than 50 years, other than those formed through the merger of smaller districts.
The issue is far from simple, though. Among various considerations, the commission will wrestle with these:
- Should the boundaries of the proposed 22-square-mile district be expanded to include the county’s north coast from the San Mateo County line to Santa Cruz? If not, some coastal residents fear being left on an island with substandard fire protection. On the other hand, many don’t want to be connected to Bonny Doon in any way.
- What will happen to the county fire department? Removing Bonny Doon from its jurisdiction will take away about $450,000 — nearly one-fifth — of the already strapped department’s revenues, some of which finance fire protection elsewhere in the county.
- In another LAFCo case, the county has urged the commission to devise “a countywide solution” to fire protection. This could mean a single countywide fire agency, a few large agencies or attaching rural areas to existing fire protection districts and cities, scuttling Bonny Doon’s idea.
- Is Bonny Doon’s proposed budget realistic? Fire team leaders propose doubling each parcel’s fire protection assessment and hiring a chief along with one or two paid firefighters in addition to the current volunteers.
- Can Bonny Doon afford to acquire the two stations and rolling stock now owned by the county? Negotiations about their value have not yet yielded anything close to an agreement.
LAFCo executive officer Pat McCormick said he will submit a staff report to the commission in early September so members of the public can read it before the hearing.
McCormick expects to lay out several possible scenarios for the commission and recommend one, although he won’t disclose what course of action he plans to endorse.
He said that the commission could make a decision at the hearing, continue the discussion for another day or indicate the direction it wishes to take and direct staff to take certain actions before the matter is complete.
Numerous Bonny Doon residents are expected to attend the hearing. Proponents say if a district is created, there would be faster emergency response, local control and that all revenues would be used locally.
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