ECCFPD Board Sabotages Itself by Excluding Sunset

As hard enough sell as a Parcel Tax is in this economy, the ECCFPD made things a lot harder on itself by excluding a Sunset Clause by way of a 6-3 vote last night on its ballot initiative on June 5, 2012. From this point forward, I’d consider this Parcel Tax dead on arrival to voters which is what I believe some on this board want to have happen for ulterior motives at play.

This is such a miscalculation by six members of the Board that I would encourage all elected officials in East Contra Costa County—including the Supervisor—to come out with a statement of no support until a sunset is inserted with this tax proposal.

Not to be forgotten Tuesday night was that a possible rules violation occurred when a sunset was brought to a vote. Nowhere in the agenda did it say that a Sunset Clause would be voted on. Meaning, the public was not aware of this issue, nor did they even have an opportunity to speak out for or against a sunset.

According the Agenda, it simply states “Review Draft Ordinance and Resolution for Proposed Parcel Tax and Scheduling a Special Meeting to Consider Adoption”. I would encourage as many people as possible to attend the Feb. 27 Special Meeting and pull a speaker card demanding a sunset be included and to take back the vote. It was shoved down the resident’s throat under the radar.

Tuesday night made me sick to my stomach as Director Steve Barr and Director Erick Stonebarger, both of Brentwood, fought hard to ensure a sunset was excluded which sealed the fate of many lives in this district and sold out our firefighters who need this parcel tax to improve services. I would wager that many firefighters now see the writing on the wall that thanks to these two guys, it’s now a failing measure and two years of debate is now wasted.

After June 5, the District as we know it will be nothing more than a punch line across the country for how not to run a district.  This is no fault to our firefighters, but rather to Brentwood for fighting like hell to exclude a sunset as I firmly believe this is their way to purposely ensure the measure fails, and they can attempt for a second time to create their own district—which LAFCO likely would deny.

What Barr and Stonebarger fail to realize is this was a hard enough sell even if everyone is playing for the same team, but right now; a Brentwood is making a second play to form its own Fire Department. Meaning they are playing for Team Brentwood, not Team East County which is what this board is supposed to do—meaning the obvious conflict of having council members serve on a fire board.

Last May, Brentwood City Council voted unanimously to begin work on possibly establishing a Brentwood-only fire department, a decision that could cripple the effort to save the financially beleaguered East Contra Costa Fire Protection District that now serves the city.

To reaffirm what Director Stonebarger was quoted as saying in the May 12 piece in the Brentwood Press, “its plan B”

Brentwood’s vote approved the recommendation of its Fire Subcommittee (Vice Mayor Steve Barr, also a fire board member, and Councilman Erick Stonebarger, also the fire board president) which was established several months ago “to work parallel (with the district’s effort) because we knew there was a chance we would go down this path,” Stonebarger said. It amounts to a Plan B, he said, not an abandonment of the effort to find a solution for the entire district. “It’s putting us in a position to have an option” so that residents of Brentwood would still have fire service should efforts to save the ECCFPD continue to be unsuccessful.

Last year, Stonebarger even said in a public meeting, he would not support anything over $100 as Board President. Now he is advocating for $197 and an annual increase.

These two Directors from Brentwood should be ashamed of themselves and I do not know how people in Brentwood could support them going forward. These two are supposed to be Republicans who are apparently now advocating for a tax that never ceases?

Meanwhile, we have Jim Frazier who is a Democrat fighting like hell to ensure a sunset is in place to stop a tax from continuing after 10 years? That’s right, a Democrat trying to reduce taxes after 10 years. Frazier proclaimed multiple times during the meeting that by not including a sunset, it’s not fair to voters and it will not pass.

Yes, Frazier did approve the ballot language, but did include a statement about how he cannot fully support it without the sunset clause. In fact, Frazier posted on his Facebook on Tuesday Night the following.

“It is in good conscious to the people of East County that last night I fought for a sunset clause to be included in the upcoming ECCFPD Parcel Tax. Voters have a say today, they should also have a say in 10 years as well. Although I was in the minority, I will continue to put people before politics in all that I vote for.”

Frazier is correct, this is dead on arrival.

Mr. Barr can talk all he wants about Year 11 and the funding projects but he fails to realize he won’t even have funding by the end of July as cuts will begin.  At the very worst, a sunset clause helps pass this parcel tax and buys the District another 10 years to solve the funding problem—which is the right thing to do given the pessimism of voter hesitation.

Yes, I realize this is a “kick the can down the road” situation, but it’s the best that can be done given the circumstances. In 10 years, hopefully the economy has changed, additional funding is coming in, growth helps expand services and Prop 13 funding allocations can be adjusted—that is a lot of ifs, but they have 10 years to hash out details.

In 10 years, maybe a better solution will present itself at some point. Besides, anyone can make a projection; it doesn’t mean it will be correct. Who is to say that the projections are so far off that there is actually a large reserve—at that point, why should we continue to pay a parcel tax that is unneeded? That is why a sunset is needed.

Board President Kevin Romick gets it which is why he put the proposal on the table as he explained it’s been a hot topic at each outreach meeting and said it was time to make a decision—he proposed a sunset of 10 years which he should get kudos for attempting.

Director Morgan used the most common sense of everyone last night, which is odd to me, as she proclaimed “We are asking voters if we have done a good job after 10 years if they would like it to continue as a form of trust.”

Brentwood council members shot back immediately and used projections to make their case about how the District will be in the same situation as they are today with a deficit. Stonebarger even proclaimed how scared he was of a sunset.

Unless some on the Board are not paying attention at its own outreach meetings, they fail to realize voters will not pass a tax that never ends no matter how they spin Clause 3 of the ballot language. This board is clearly mistaken if they think Clause 3 provides them with an excuse to mislead residents into thinking a board will elect to choose a parcel tax of $0 in a particular year.

An elected or appointed board really doesn’t matter, it will select the maximum amount each year—its government and they cannot help themselves. This idea that they could choose $57 or $127 or whatever the number may be offers false hope as parcel owners can simply expect an increase to the maximum allowed.

By including a sunset, it builds trust with voters and it’s something that can be looked at down the road. The public simply wants to know that it’s something that will end at some point in time.

The ironic part of this whole argument which Barr and Stonebarger, among others fail to realize is that in June the public is good enough to have a say, but 10 years from now the public apparently is not good enough then. Why can we have a say today, but not in the future? I would encourage you to email the board and ask that very question.

At the very worst, after 10 years, they could always extend the parcel tax. But what Mr. Barr is selling about year 11 is a bunch of bull—he is purposely sabotaging this tax and his minion Stonebarger is playing along like a confused jock in math class.

In regards to the sunset, Director Barr responded to a portion of my comment on Facebook that said “This is the single issue that continues to come up and seems to be the deciding factor.”

Director Steve Barr proclaimed, “I have attended many of the information meetings and the sunset was not the top concern, it was pension and benefits,” said Barr.

The truth is he is full of it because based on their numbers used at the outreach meetings, it shows ECCFPD firefighters make nearly half of what CONFIRE firefighters make and pay a higher percentage to their medical.  The District is getting a bargain on its firefighters and will have a hard time finding cheap labor in the future.

We have high quality firefighters that deserve not to be thrown under the bus by Brentwood’s hidden “Plan B”. These guys deserve every chance to fight like hell until June with the best opportunity available to pass this parcel tax.

This is a fatal mistake for the district and services provided which I hope can be corrected on February 27.  I would encourage the Board to reconsider this vote and reverse course by including a sunset.

In a way, Tuesday night was a form of a sunset on this whole parcel tax as it fades to failure.

I give kudos to Jim Frazier, Cheryl Morgan, and Kevin Romick for doing the right thing and fighting for a sunset clause as they realize without it, this is doomed. They are living in a reality. The other six, you have sealed the fate of this district and I hope you are proud.

Absolutely, the people deserve a voice in the sunset clause… not have a no-vote rammed down our throats without the public even knowing a vote would occur.


Brentwood Press from May 12, 2011


About burkforoakley

I call it like I see it . I love my city, I love my community and I want what is best for the people around me. Do the right thing, I will support you. Do the wrong thing, I will oppose you!
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