Group wants out of Carmel Valley, California Fire District

After a three-year marriage, the old Carmel Valley Fire Protection District has filed for divorce.

Currently part of the consolidated Carmel Valley Fire District, a dissident group of volunteer firefighters and Carmel Valley Village residents has submitted a formal petition for separation of their portion of the merged district to the Local Agency Formation Commission of Monterey County.

The consolidated district was formed Jan. 1, 2001, by combining the Carmel Valley and Mid-Valley fire districts and the Santa Lucia Community Service District on Rancho San Carlos.

The district covers 50 square miles and operates three fire stations serving a population of 20,000, with 19 paid professional firefighters and staff members and 71 volunteers.

At the final meeting of the old 11-member consolidated district board a year ago, the board voted 7-4 against a proposal to have staff members study separating the Carmel Valley Village fire service area from the district.

Back to original boundaries 5/8

Members of the Carmel Valley Volunteer Firefighters Association had called for the study, contending that the new consolidation didn't give the volunteers a sufficient voice in district policy.

In May, Valley Volunteers Inc., an organization of volunteer firefighters, sent out letters proposing a return to the original boundaries of the Carmel Valley Fire Protection District -- an area from the west end of Miramonte Road to the east end of San Clemente Road -- and asking voters to sign postcards to the Local Agency Formation Commission supporting separation.

In June, petitions with 844 signatures were submitted to the commission and were forwarded to the Monterey County Registrar of Voters to be validated.

Collecting signatures 5/8

For the dissolution to move ahead, supporters needed to collect signatures of 25 percent of the registered voters in the territory that would be split off from the district.

One of the organizers of the petition drive, David Cummings, said signatures for the separation have been obtained from more than 50 percent of the area's 3,035 registered voters since the first signatures were submitted.

Nancy Buck of LAFCO said the petitioners have met the legal requirements for gathering signatures and that the request for separation is being processed and affected public agencies -- schools, other special districts and county offices -- are being served notice of the request.

The petitioners, Cummings said, are concerned that the village station is no longer staffed as it had been, that community members' questions about fire protection are referred to the Mid-Carmel Valley station rather than answered there and that the orientation of the district's concerns has moved away from the village.

A service plan submitted to LAFCO by the petitioners calls for increasing the paid staffing at the village station from two to four or five paid firefighters, he said.

He contended that residents and businesses in the old Fire Protection District pay out $2 million a year in taxes to the consolidated district and get less service in return.

'Entitled to their opinions' 5/8

Fire Chief Sidney Reade said the Valley Volunteers "have been around for a long time and they're entitled to their opinions."

But, she said, their complaints about the district's management have been refuted in a series of community meetings as not based on fact.

Bringing the different firefighting agencies together under one roof, she said, resulted in cost savings, eliminated redundancy, standardized training in the district and saved money overall.

The district is in the process of preparing a strategic plan to determine the best way to integrate resources, financing and personnel to provide the best level of service, Read said.

Buck and Cummings said they expected that LAFCO hearings on the separation probably won't be scheduled until next year.