The Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District holds their Directors Meeting on the third Wednesday of each month, at the Cotati Fire Station located at #1 East Cotati Avenue. As per their website, they encourage the public to come and participate. However, like many governing boards subject to the “Brown Act,” public participation is usually light unless there is some controversial item scheduled to be discussed. The meeting held on March 18 was no exception, but it was certainly different too.
The biggest difference was that the meeting was online not the more normal in person meeting at the fire house. This was driven by the recent shelter-in place orders from the county due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attending this virtual online meeting, it was obvious the participants weren’t completely comfortable with this type of meeting. But like many new things, the minor glitches and problems will likely be solved as the learning curve is conquered, especially if this becomes the new normal in the next few months.
A typical board meeting has the seven board members, the administrative manager, the fire chief, District Staff and invited guests as well as an occasional member or two of the public. Tonight’s online meeting started a few minutes after 7 p.m. It had the usual cast of characters, an invited guest from the Sonoma County Water Agency, a resident of Cotati and this reporter. Not all the 14-15 participants stayed for the entire hour-long meeting.
The agenda followed the typical format of public meetings for governing bodies: a call to order, a public comment period, Approval of previous minutes and consent calendar items. Then reports get delivered, unfinished business discussed, and new business addressed. Being so routine, this is probably why not many members of the public attend these meetings. That’s where I come in. When I cover the meeting, it’s my job to bring to you, items of possible interest and give you a summary or sense of what went on. It’s better if you can attend, but at least by reading my summary you’ll have a general idea of what occurred. So, let’s hit some highlights from this meeting.
Fire Chief Leonard Thompson gave his “Chief’s Report.” Of note was his discussion of the impact of COVID-19 on the district’s activities. He reported his personnel were following the infectious disease guidelines of the CDC and County Health Officials when responding to calls. They are also fully trained and equipped with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for their protection as well as the protection of any patient encountered. When not on a call, the firefighter’s shelter in place at their assigned station house and focus on social distancing. Although some valuable training was held before the county order, group trainings and drills have now been placed on hold.
By a vote of six to nothing with one absent, the board gave approval to seek a Land Use Permit for a Groundwater Monitoring Station. This would facilitate the eventual transfer of the station to the Sonoma County Water Agency. They would then take over the necessary management and coordination with the county’s Board of Supervisors. Another topic of discussion was about the upcoming negotiations for the renewal of the Casino Contract. The current 5-year contract ends this year. The board needs to prepare for discussions with the casino and other fire districts such as Rohnert Park’s
Department of Safety and the Sonoma County Fire District. Together they share funds from this contract.
After the meeting adjourned, I had the opportunity to discuss with Chief Thompson and Board Director Mark Hemmendinger the impact on the district when Measure G failed to pass this March. The ballot measure read “to improve local fire prevention and protection by installing emergency warning sirens and alerting systems; improving vegetation management to prevent the spread of wildfire; attracting and retaining qualified, local firefighters and emergency personnel; and modernizing fire department equipment, facilities and stations…” It needed a super majority (66.67%) to pass. It fell short earning only 62.17% of the “Yes” vote.
If Measure G had passed, Chief Thompson said the funds would have likely been prioritized for “attracting and retaining qualified, local firefighters and emergency personnel”. This district is at a disadvantage in competing for paramedics and firefighters because the compensation packages are less than neighboring fire districts. Measure G funds would have put them on a more equitable playing field in attracting personnel to this district.