San Benito County may yet get a new fire station on Fairview Road, but what is uncertain is whether the county will be able to afford to actually put firefighters inside it, or even an appropriate number of fire engines. Adam Goldstone, capital projects manager with the county’s Resource Management Agency (RMA), told the Board of Supervisors on May 9 that the design for Fire Station #3 is near completion. Along the way, however, he added that budget issues have been discovered that may affect how many fire rigs and personnel will eventually end up at the station.

Goldstone said the project is comprised of three components: work on the site, renovation of the existing residence, and the structure, or apparatus bay, to house the fire trucks. He said the current design and estimated cost calls for thee equipment bays. The design, he explained, is based on the fire department’s estimate of its needs in order to handle the types of calls common in the northern parts of the county.

“All of that brings the project to a little over $1 million,” Goldstone said. “What we also looked at, to see where costs could be saved, was reducing the apparatus bays down to two or even one bay because there’s just not a whole lot of money to take out of the other two components and still have a successful project out there.”

He said by downsizing to two bays the cost would be brought down to about $150,000, which he said the board’s ad hoc committee was interested in possibly pursuing. He said doing so still leaves a cost difference of the balance in the fire impact fee fund of approximately $670,000, leaving a shortfall of nearly $300,000.

“That difference could be made up near-term with a General Fund loan that is paid back as the fire impact fees accrue at roughly $10,000 a month, which would be a payback of two-and-a-half to three years to replenish the General Fund,” he said. “One of the concerns with that, though, is you will not have any fire impact fee balance for at least three years, so there would be some time where if any equipment is needed there won’t be any funds for that.”

Supervisor Jerry Muenzer said the ad hoc committee was recommending a two-bay station and using the General Fund loan option. Supervisor Anthony Botelho said the cost of the project was higher than originally anticipated. He said difficult choices have to be made because the costs are more than revenues, and should something happen with an engine, there is no other option to replace it. Supervisor Mark Medina asked Hollister Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo what were the advantages of a three-bay structure versus a two-bay.

“For the particular area you’re looking at, there is a water system that is not robust like you would have in a municipality where you have fire hydrants every 400 feet,” Martin Del Campo said. “The configuration of a three-apparatus bay was to deploy a structural fire engine, a wildland fire engine, and a water tender to the affected area. Areas like Comstock Estates and Four Corners have established water systems where you don’t have to deploy a water tender. But that’s just two areas in a vast North County area where once there is a fire discovered, you’re going to deploy a water tender and whatever type fire engine is appropriate to put that fire out.”

Medina said if it would cost an additional $150,000 to build a third bay, he estimated if amortized over 15 years, it would represent a $10,000-a-year investment. He said a two-bay structure would represent two-thirds of what was needed to properly serve the area.

“Let’s do it right and find this extra $150,000, and let’s not settle for anything but the best,” he said.

Muenzer looked down the long desk to Medina and quipped, “I’ll remind Supervisor Medina when it comes time to build a South County fire station that he wants nothing but the best.”

Supervisor Robert Rivas commented that cost was a concern and that he relies on the county staff when it comes to estimating those costs. From a public safety standpoint, however, he said he had no problem moving forward with a three-bay concept in the best interest of the residents. He said that when he was a firefighter, it was challenging to fight fires in North County.

“In any location in North County, we need to do the best we can to provide the necessary equipment to address these emergencies,” he said.

Hollister resident Marty Richman asked that if the county went with a two-bay structure what the cost would be if a third bay were added later on, which would most likely cost more than $150,000. He also wondered what the operational plan is for fighting wildland fires if one of the engines is not there. Goldstone answered that the building is designed as a prefabricated steel structure and that if a third bay was to be added later, the design would have to be changed now rather than later, so it could be added to one end and would be open to the other two bays.

Rivas asked Martin Del Campo about insurance rates and the lack of fire protection. He wanted to know how the number of bays affected the ISO (Insurance Service Office) rate. The chief responded that pump capacity is taken into consideration when determining the rate. He said a structure fire engine would bring the rate down from a rating of 10, where it is now. A rating of 1 is the best. He said the station would be within a five-mile radius of the high-value properties in the area, which would also help reduce the rate.

“Just because we don’t have a Type-3 wildland, off-road rig out there, it wouldn’t affect the ISO rating much at all,” Martin Del Campo said. “But as for deploying that piece of equipment, I’m hesitant to leave it outside in the elements because it can corrode and depreciate a lot. And to answer, Mr. Richman’s question, I’d deploy that from fire station #1, as it is now.”

Botelho said that even if there were three engines at the station, it would only have two firefighters, who would respond to a fire with the first engine.

“When they get out there, they’re going to watch that house burn down,” he said. “I see a lot of fire departments throughout the state with two bays, which is sufficient. We’re not going to have the staffing. We can’t afford two bays today, so we have to talk about how we’re going to finance this going forward.”

Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz said he favored a two-bay structure because of a lack of sales tax revenue.

“It would be nice if we had a sales tax election right now and if the public supported it we could say ‘let’s go with four bays if we have to,’ but, unfortunately, we don’t have an answer to that question,” he said. “A two-bay is a good compromise.”

The board voted unanimously to move forward with a two-bay design.

In Other News

Supervisors approved, without comment, resolutions to:

  • Appoint Luis Patino as District #5 representative on the Parks and Recreation Commission.
  • Authorize the County Behavioral Health director to apply for and receive “No Place Like Home” technical assistant grand funds.
  • Ratifying letting of contracts to remediate local emergency, confirming county administrator’s authority to enter into emergency contracts, finding that there is a need to continue emergency action, and find repair work exempt from CEQA as an emergency project.
  • Recognize the continuing proclamation of a local emergency in the county.
  • Approve list of prequalified contractors for the jail expansion project.
  • Approve amendment to contract with Rincon Consultants, Inc. for “The Bluffs at Ridgemark” project for an additional $14,986, as well as executing a future amendment for a cost not to exceed $30,667.

John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...