Move To Dissolve California Fire Protection District Is Heating Up

A move to dismantle the 3-year-old consolidated Carmel Valley Fire Protection District is gaining momentum.

Petitions with 844 signatures were submitted Friday to the Local Agency Formation Commission, according to Kristina Berry, a senior analyst for the commission. They will be forwarded to the Monterey County Registrar of Voters to be validated.

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

One of the organizers of the petition drive, David Cummings, said the area contains 3,035 registered voters. A precise figure was unavailable from the county Registrar of Voters office Monday.

The Carmel Valley Fire Protection District was formed in 2001 by combining the Carmel Valley and Mid-Valley fire districts as well as the Santa Lucia Community Service District at Rancho San Carlos.

Last month Valley Volunteers Inc., an organization of volunteer firefighters, send 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.

Cummings and others claim widespread community backing for repartitioning the district.

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

The original agreement to merge the districts, Cummings said, left room to detach from the merger if it didn't work out. Last fall, when the district board voted down a request by the volunteers to examine the possibility of redividing the district, "it didn't leave us a lot of choice" but to petition for separation, he said.

The petitioners, Cummings said, are concerned that the village station is no longer staffed like 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.

"We're at this end. All the management personnel and money seem to be going west toward Carmel," including a new station, equipment and staff for Santa Lucia Preserve, Cummings said.

Volunteers and others, he said, also contend that the district isn't being managed properly and that questions about expenditures aren't being answered.

Petitioners also take issue, he said, with the $30,000 the district is spending on a consultant to develop a five-year plan.

Many of the petitioners' concerns are contained in a recent report prepared by the strategic plan consultant, Cynthia Tablak, and a considerable number of complaints indicate personality clashes among district management, professional firefighters and volunteers.

That document, said Fire Chief Sidney Reade, is only part of the strategic plan, not a "stand-alone" report.

She said the plan is meant to find the best way to integrate training, resources, financing and personnel to provide the best level of service.

"We are not mismanaged," Reade added. "We are strong fiscally, holding our own during these hard state and county fiscal times. We are not in the red."

Reserve funds have been spent to upgrade equipment in accordance with district plans and with board approval, Reade said.