Four Vie For Three Seats on San Ramon Valley, California Fire District Board

The lone challenger in the San Ramon Valley fire district election says he has some campaign strategies up his sleeve, while the three incumbents are counting on their records of service to earn re-election.

Retired chemical engineer Ralph Hoffmann is trying again for a seat on the board after being defeated in 2000. Hoffmann, a well-known community watchdog, is taking a different approach this time in competing for one of three open four-year seats on the board.

"I have a good strategy for getting my name out there, but I'll not divulge it," said the 62-year-old candidate. "I know the workings of politics."

The fire district serves 160 square miles, covering Alamo, Blackhawk, San Ramon, Danville, the Tassajara and Dougherty valleys, Morgan Territory and Diablo. It has a $40 million budget and protects $24.8 billion in property, including business parks, homes, wildlands, hospitals and hotels.

Hoffmann does not believe in campaign signs, which he feels litter the landscape. But this time around, he will spend money on his campaign -- something he did not do before.

Hoffmann believes he would bring the board a unique skill set, informed by his lengthy background as a project engineer for large petroleum companies including Gulf Oil and Chevron.

He supports an aggressive campaign to find more housing opportunities in the Valley for firefighters. Also, reducing overtime would result in an increased alertness and happier home life, he said. Hoffmann said the district needs to increase work force diversity and that the district should be able to operate without using state or federal money.

If elected, Hoffmann would make a point of heightening public awareness of the district and its issues. He is the only candidate with a Web site and a posting on the League of Women Voters' "smart voter" Web site.

Incumbent Tom Bongi, an attorney seeking a third term, agrees the public needs to know more about the fire district and that its workings should be more "user-friendly." The 38-year-old Bongi was appointed to office in 1999 after the death of sitting trustee Joe Hirsch and was re-elected in 2000. Under his watch, the district has revamped its Web site, with links to live fire calls, photos of firefighters at work and details about the district's innovations and equipment.

With overtime recurring in the public safety sector, Bongi said the overtime analysis model developed by the district is a landmark accomplishment being studied by other fire departments. To control overtime, the board gets monthly reports for analysis.

Bongi said future challenges include "maintaining service on a much higher scale," with the 11,000 households that will be in Dougherty Valley and another 1,200 in Tassajara Valley as suburban sprawl continues.

The district also will study the placement of and staffing at its 10 fire stations, to minimize response times to the communities it serves.

Incumbent Ken Sandy, a former Danville police chief, seeks a fourth term. The 67-year-old Sandy points to the enhanced firefighter training, longer range planning and budgeting during his term. With property tax revenues rolling in from the new Dougherty Valley residents, he feels the district is on sound financial footing. He agrees the district must be vigilant in working towards diversity of its work force.

Management and supervision skills are his strong suit, he said, noting the board has never voted itself a raise. Trustees get $75 per meeting.

Roxanne Lindsay, 60, seeks re-election after being defeated in 2002 for a second term. Lindsay was reappointed to the board in April 2003 after trustee Stephen Morgan moved out of the area. She learned some lessons from that defeat by newcomer Jennifer Price, a Millbrae firefighter.

Lindsay, an aide to Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, intends to campaign harder this time to persuade voters of her qualifications. She said her many years working with legislators have given her an understanding of local governments and the budgetary and other issues they face. That experience has also sharpened her eye for what legislative bills that affect the fire district.

Lindsay said further looks at a training facility are on the horizon, as is a focus on preparedness for any type of disaster. As costs for wages and benefits rise, long-range planning -- financial and otherwise -- is essential, she said.

All three incumbents share a campaign manager and appear on signs together to save money, she said, though Lindsay points out, "We don't always agree on everything."