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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Opinion: Half Moon Bay CALFIRE Controversial Contract

We must take back fire services from misguided board majority

In his opinion piece last week, Coastside Fire Protection District Board Director Douglas Mackintosh said we should retake control of our fire service. Coastsiders agree that we need to take back control, which is why Mackintosh is going to be recalled. Voters have decided to take back control after Mackintosh, Mike Alifano and Gary Riddell effectively terminated our contract with CalFire pursuing their own private agenda and defying overwhelming community opposition.

In his full-page ads in the Review, Alifano called the recalls divisive. We expected the recalls to be divisive, but instead Alifano, Riddell, and Mackintosh have united the community in opposition to their expensive and dangerous actions. We are frankly overwhelmed at the support we are getting from the Coastside, and we are very grateful for their support.

Alifano says the consultants that the fire board hired “have proven that we can afford to do this on our own within our existing budget.” The consultants they hired said no such thing; they said a stand-alone fire department would cost considerably more than CalFire. Retired San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Dan Turner is an acknowledged expert on fire services.

He is currently an instructor and researcher in Fire Sciences at Cal Poly. Turner presented a detailed analysis at the June 27 fire board meeting showing that a stand-alone fire department would cost $1.5 million more per year than our current CalFire contract, and it would still provide less service. Alifano, Riddell and Mackintosh also ignore the costs of transitioning to a stand-alone department, which would likely be well more than $1 million.

Mackintosh was quoted in the July 11 Review as saying, “I’m not doing this for any other reason than my belief that this change is best for my family.” It is selfish and absurd to tell voters that you’re making decisions based only on what you think is “best for my family.”

Mackintosh says that a stand-alone fire department would result in “improving work rules to increase the effectiveness of our firefighters and staff.” Mackintosh, the consultants you hired told you that firefighters under “local control” would have to be paid more than CalFire firefighters and would work fewer hours than CalFire firefighters. Exactly how would this increase the effectiveness of our firefighters and staff? How is this an improvement in work rules? Who would these “improvements” benefit? Certainly not Coastside taxpayers.

Mackintosh also said he wants to hire “captains who have years of familiarity with the Coastside.” So Alifano, Riddell and Mackintosh have already ruled out any candidate for fire captain who isn’t a “local”? Clearly, that isn’t a legal or ethical hiring practice. Also, it is not the fire board’s job to hire captains; that is the fire chief’s job. This is one of many examples showing how Alifano, Riddell and Mackintosh intend to inappropriately micromanage their expensive new fire department if we let them.

Alifano asks in his full-page ads, “Does the risk outweigh the benefit?” Alifano, Riddell and Mackintosh have effectively ended our CalFire contract, have no plan or budget in place to form a new fire department, have less than 11 short months to create a department from scratch and hire about 43 firefighters. The risks of creating another poorly run, more expensive, short-staffed fire department filled with allegations of cronyism and lawsuits surely outweigh any benefits.

Keep CalFire. Recall Alifano, Riddell and Mackintosh. Please visit

Author: Marshall Ketchum is a Coastside resident and one of the organizers of the recall effort.
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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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