Wildhorse EIR Shows Need To Update City Fire Policies

davis_firedepartmentReading the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the proposed Wild Horse Ranch development gives one a little insight into how the city operates.  Specifically the designation of the “unavoidable cumulative impact” on the fire service.  EIR concludes: “consistent with the analysis of the Davis General Plan and General Plan EIR, the proposed project would have a significant impact to fire protection services.” 

Specifically the project is said to lie outside of the five minute response time area.  Moreover,

“As the project would be located outside of the five minute response time area, consistent with the analysis of the General Plan EIR, the above impact would remain significant and unavoidable.”

However, a basic reading of the Citygate report on fire staffing (that was finally issued and presented to the Davis City Council) casts doubt on this finding.  Specifically they find that the five minute response time is in general unrealistic, that the city should adopt the more accepted industry standard of seven minutes, and that there is no foreseeable need for a fourth fire station.  Granted at this point the Citygate report has not been implemented in any way, this latest point illustrates the need for the council to act swiftly to implement the findings of this report that they find relevant. 

What I found most interesting is that when I reported this discrepancy to staff, they pointed out that at the time the General Plan was implemented, there were a number of areas that were outside of the five minute response time and that the council simply disregarded them.  This puts into question the policy to begin with and causes one to ponder whose interest it served for the policy to be placed there to begin with.

Nevertheless, the council needs to square the record here and make the provisions for fire protection in the general plan consistent with their latest policies that they should implement (should they choose to do so) from the Citygate report.

The Wild Horse EIR

“The Davis General Plan specifically identified the Wildhorse development as having deficient response times. The proposed project is located within the Davis General Plan area, adjacent to the Wildhorse development area, within the area identified as having a deficient response time. The General Plan EIR identified a significant and unavoidable cumulative impact related to the adequacy of the fire protection infrastructure, as buildout of the General Plan would result in development in areas that are outside of the General Plan update performance standards. The City Council found that feasible mitigation measures did not exist to reduce the impact to a less-than-significant level, and, as a result, fire response times would remain deficient until such time as a fourth fire station is constructed to serve the northwestern portion of the City of Davis.”

While the council has recognized the fact that areas of the existing Wildhorse development area are outside of the five minute response time, they have not had the funding to construct a fourth fire station.  It has always been placed as an “unmet” need.

In order to square the inconsistency the Davis City Council adopted “Findings of Fact and a Statement of Overriding Considerations.”  In this document they found that “the specific economic, legal, social, technological, and other considerations supported approval of the General Plan despite the significant and unavoidable impact.”

For the purposes of the current project, the EIR finds that the proposed project would have a “significant” impact to fire protection services.

They conclude:

“Implementation of the following mitigation measures would reduce impacts to fire protection provision by providing funding for fire department facilities and operations. However, as the project would be located outside of the five minute response time area, consistent with the analysis of the General Plan EIR, the above impact would remain significant and unavoidable.”

The EIR recommends that:

“the applicant shall contribute funds to the Davis Fire Department for the provision of facilities needed to provide adequate fire protection service to the proposed project. These facilities may include but are not necessarily limited to a fourth City fire station and a ladder truck. The amount of funding shall be determined by the Community Development Director and the Davis Fire Chief.”

This is clearly the natural result of the Council papering over the tension between their established General Plan policy and the fact that the current Wildhorse is in violation of that policy.  Thus any subsequent development would trigger the need for a fourth firestation to mitigate the impact.  Except that the impact already exists and in fact as we shall see, existing areas of Wildhorse are actually further away from fire response than the current proposal.  Clearly the council appeared to be setting up the need for a fourth firestation that the firefighters have been clamoring for for a number of years.

It is notable however that the EIR makes no mention of the Citygate report.  Granted the Citygate report is unadopted, however, a mention of it would seem appropriate because it casts severe doubt on the conclusions of the EIR.

Citygate Report

The Vanguard found a number of the issues raised by Citygate to be inadequate.  For instance they argue the need for four person fire teams despite the fact that most jurisdictions do not use them.  They failed to examine how often a four person fire team would be needed and whether the impact of fighting a fire from the outside until such a team could be assembled would be a huge detriment to fire fighting efforts. 

However, they also provided useful direction in the thinking of a fourth fire station and the need to alter the five minute response time.  It is clear despite their homage to the battalion chief model favored by the firefighters, that on balance, the firefighters were unhappy with the report and recommendations.

While the city of Davis has set as their standard for fire response a five minute response time–which means arrival on the scene within five minutes, the Citygate report argues that this is not a realistic goal.  As we already mentioned there are areas of the city that simply lie outside of that time.  And indeed Citygate finds that the Davis Fire Department only arrives on the scene within five minutes around 52% of the time.

They reach the scene within 7 minutes and 15 seconds around 90% of the time.  Looking at National Best Practices from the National Fire Protection Association they find that being on the scene within seven minutes is a far more realistic policy.  This would allow a one minute dispatch, two minute crew turnout and a four minute travel time.

Thus their recommendation reads:

“To treat medical patients and control small fires, the first-due unit should arrive within 7 minutes, 90 percent of the time from the receipt of the 911 call.”

It should be noted that even those standards are not presently met, but they believe that are more realistic ones.

citygate_5.jpg

The seven minute response time includes four minutes of travel time.  The map above analysis the city and finds that the proposed development at Wildhorse Ranch falls well within that four minute response time.  You can also see that several existing streets in Wildhorse itself do not fall within that response time.

This standard is needed for smaller incidents.  Larger incidents include the need for multiple station coverage.

The Citygate report argues that multiple units are needed to deliver enough firefighters in a “reasonable time to serious emergencies to simultaneously and effectively perform the tasks needed for the outcome.”  They argue: “reasonable time to serious emergencies to simultaneously and effectively perform the tasks needed for the outcome.”

Once again they argue that current staffing and stations are sufficient for this.  Almost the entire city is covered by at least three stations within an 8 minute travel time and the few areas only covered by two stations in that time (if you include UC Davis) are covered by a third within an additional minute.

citygate_6.jpg

A house fire requires 14-15 firefighters plus a command chief within 11-minutes of the 911 call to prevent total destruction.  From looking at this map Wildhorse Ranch Falls into that zone while portions of Wildhorse again do not.  But almost all of the city is covered within that 11 minute time (8 minute travel) for three stations.

In conjunction with the revised response time, the Citygate report argues that if Davis and UC Davis fire departments combine their efforts, there is no need for a fourth station.  A mutual agreement between the two departments would reduce costs for both the city and the university to provide fire protection.

As Citygate argues:

“In the combined developed area of Davis and UCD, four fire stations staffed with a total of 15 firefighters on duty are wholly adequate to cover the entire area, if deployed as one system.”

They continue:

“Then for the foreseeable future there is no need to build an additional station in Northern Davis until there is significant growth in that area.”

Given that argument and the coverage map, it is clear that the 191 unit development at Wildhorse Ranch would not necessitate a fourth fire station.  Some within City Hall have acknowledged that the fourth fire station has effectively been taken off the board for the foreseeable future and could be deleted from the unmet needs for the city.

Conclusion

What would appear to trigger the need for a fourth fire station would be considerable development at Covell Village and even then, perhaps not looking at both of the coverage maps.  Given the relatively low number of calls for service, it might be possible that Covell Village may not trigger the need for a fourth fire station assuming an expanded mutual service aid agreement between UC Davis and the City of Davis.  One thing that might be considered in fact would be the relocation of an existing fire station to the north given the close proximity between station 31 and the UC Davis fire department.

What is clear is that the city of Davis has gotten away with the tension between the General Plan policy and the fact that many areas are simply not in compliance.  The city council clearly needs to act as soon as possible on the recommendations from Citygate.  That does not mean that they need to implement all of the recommendations.  However, the city should have a uniform policy and if that requires a General Plan amendment to avoid this type of issue being raised in the future, it needs to do so.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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16 Comments

  1. Matt Williams

    Building a 4th fire station is a bad plan regardless. Rose Conroy has extensive data on where calls for fire service originate from. That data tells a very clear story. If Davis should add fire services, 1) doubling the available resources at the existing 5th Street location is much better tailored to the call source dispersion than adding the same amount of added resources at a 4th physical location, 2) the operating costs of four companies at three locations is expected to be less than four companies at four locations, and 3) the capital costs of adjusting the space at 5th Street would be considerably less than the acquisition and building costs at a 4th location.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Matt makes some good points.

    What about resources in the form of EMT services added at the three existing stations as opposed to adding a fourth fire station, since only 10% of calls are actually fire related? Has such a thing been done in other cities? If so, what has been the outcome?

  3. Hello

    When the state budget is passed, whenever that may be, there will be hell to pay at the local level. A fourth fire station is out of the question, and so may be four man fire teams. I think the economy will really tank by the end of the year, when the aftermath of the awful state budget fiasco filters down to the local level. Hello, City Council majority – get your collective heads out of the sand and look at reality! Citizens are probably not going to pass an extension of the parcel or sales tax in Davis, let alone let you continue to cater to the Davis Fire Dept irresponsibly. You need to get tough in the labor negotiations. If you don’t, there will be the devel to pay…

  4. Greg Kuperberg

    It seems that almost everyone can agree that combining city and university fire operations is a good idea.

    Fire departments are inherently inefficient because they are sized for the worst case. Joint operations therefore give you a free statistical margin: you can expect that the campus and the city won’t have separate 5-alarm fires on the same day. Just as with insurance, pooling operations is pooling risk.

    I also wonder whether the fire department has undercut its readiness for the worst case by spending a lot of time on non-fire calls. If the firefighters aren’t doing anything else anyway, it may make sense to spend time on outreach or to help senior citizens down the stairs. But it can also make the department busy, so that it then hires more firefighters.

    I have strong reservations about the general theme that the city is getting bled dry by compensation. There could be a case that the firefighter contract is more generous than necessary. But that has been used as a bridge to the ideology that high compensation in general is just a favor. You can’t wish away market rates just by labeling them “unsustainable”. If anything, it’s better to hire at the high end of the talent scale than the low end. Many people at the low end would be overpaid at zero. Granted, you don’t make people more talented just by paying them more, but the fact remains that talent isn’t free.

    But today’s issue is different. Efficiency gains are a completely rational way to cut costs. The city should find its fourth fire station by sharing with the university.

  5. earoberts

    “Granted, you don’t make people more talented just by paying them more, but the fact remains that talent isn’t free.”
    “If anything, it’s better to hire at the high end of the talent scale than the low end.”

    Keeping up with what other cities were paying public safety employees is how Vallejo ended up bankrupt. I don’t want the same thing to happen to Davis. Paul Navazio stated clearly in DPD’s budget town hall meeting venue that bankruptcy for Davis is not being ruled out.

    DJUSD paid more to Supt. Murphy than Supt. Hammond is making, and Supt. Murphy was an unmitigated disaster. Chancellor Vanderhoeff was paid less than the incoming Katehi will make at a 20% increase in salary. Katehi’s ethics are very questionable, so did we really get someone better? One could question that. Is Yudof really worth his 100% salary increase? I very much doubt it.

    “I have strong reservations about the general theme that the city is getting bled dry by compensation.”

    Then you haven’t been reading this blog. Public safety employees, and particularly fire, take up a huge percentage of our city budget. DPD can fill in the exact figure (I can’t remember the exact number). You can cut all sorts of services, and it will hardly make a dent in the budget. Cut fire teams to three man, and you can realize a huge cost savings.

  6. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]Keeping up with what other cities were paying public safety employees is how Vallejo ended up bankrupt.[/i]

    That just doesn’t work as a summary of what happened to Vallejo, because if all they did was keep up with other cities, how come Vallejo went bankrupt and those other cities didn’t?

    [i]Paul Navazio stated clearly in DPD’s budget town hall meeting venue that bankruptcy for Davis is not being ruled out.[/i]

    If Davis is at any real risk of bankruptcy, then we should be willing to accept cuts in services. Your stance has a one-two punch that together comes across as reckless greed. If you tell the city manager, “you must cut costs or we’ll go bankrupt!”, and then turn around with, “but don’t you dare cut services!”, together it rings false. If we overpay some employees — for instance if the firefighters are overpayed — then that is a mistake that has nothing to do with whether we are risk of bankruptcy.

    Frankly city services in Davis are really nice. Many city employees can’t afford to live here and wish that they could. The idea that service cuts are just as unacceptable as bankruptcy must strike them as a complete crock.

    [i]DJUSD paid more to Supt. Murphy than Supt. Hammond is making, and Supt. Murphy was an unmitigated disaster.[/i]

    As I keep saying, giving raises to untalented people doesn’t make them more talented. You should look at the way that Hammond and Murphy were hired. Murphy was hired as a local favorite, a guy who lived in Davis for many years and had taken root in the community. Hammond was hired from the job market as an outsider. They have both been paid the market rate, if not more. If we were to pay below the market rate for superintendents, they would all be hired the way that Murphy was hired.

    [i]Chancellor Vanderhoef was paid less than the incoming Katehi will make at a 20% increase in salary. Katehi’s ethics are very questionable, so did we really get someone better?[/i]

    All that Leland Yee has on Katehi is that she asked about the status of one daughter of some big-wig, and said that it was excellent that she got in. For all that Katehi knew then, or for all that I know now, that girl would have gotten in anyway. That is vastly less of a problem than what Vanderhoef did with Celeste Rose. He botched her termination and had to pay her salary for two more years with no performance requirement. His actions suggest that she was overpaid at zero from the beginning. Even if you just take Vanderhoef’s salary plus that of Celeste Rose, that’s already more than Katehi will get paid.

    Now, Vanderhoef did have some successes as chancellor. But the man was set to retire; it was not negotiable. That’s why he didn’t get outside offers even though his pay was far below the market median. Even if Katehi were only average, she would be a huge breath of fresh air for an operation that’s a thousand times larger than her salary.

    [i]Then you haven’t been reading this blog.[/i]

    On the contrary, I’ve been reading it very carefully. I’ve lived in Davis since 1996.I had never known that there was a compensation backlash, or thought to disagree with it, until I read the Davis Vanguard.

    [i]Cut fire teams to three man, and you can realize a huge cost savings.[/i]

    Well sure, that could be a sound idea. That’s cutting a service because we might not need it, not cutting compensation and expecting no consequences.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    I think Paul would probably say that you have misrepresented what he said back in May. I would have to go back to the tape for his precise statement but as I recall it was something along the lines that he would not have believed prior to last year that Vallejo would go bankrupt and as a result he would not rule anything out. However, you make it sound like he views it as a reasonable possibility and I think he intended that as a minimalistic statement, I can’t rule it out, but based on the current numbers, I don’t see it.

    I view the possibility of bankruptcy as extremely remote and in part it’s remote because we have the Vallejo example and because we are cognizant of the unsustainability of current compensation and pension models.

    I agree somewhat with Greg that if indeed we faced bankruptcy we would be less discriminant about what we cut–cutting employee compensation which is something like 59% of the general fund budget and programs alike.

    I disagree in part as well. I’m not nearly as concerned about competitiveness in part because of the desirability of this community, in part because when a fire job opens we get dozens of applicants and I suspect we would get plenty of qualified ones even at 10 to 20% less in cost, particularly in the current climate.

    I’m sympathetic to the housing issue and would like to see us address that in ways other than compensation that I have alluded to in the past.

    But overall I think we need to stop pretending like we can attract and compete for top “talent.” I think we need to accept the fact that we are a midsized (at best) town and that hiring an up-and-comer at a mid-level rate for five years is a better arrangement than trying to take and hold someone at the top rate for a longer period of time.

  8. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]I’m not nearly as concerned about competitiveness in part because of the desirability of this community, in part because when a fire job opens we get dozens of applicants and I suspect we would get plenty of qualified ones even at 10 to 20% less in cost, particularly in the current climate.[/i]

    In the case of firefighters, you have gathered together a lot of important data over a long time. You’ve put together a compelling case. I don’t know if it’s an open-and-shut correct case, because I’m not an expert in the matter, but it’s at least a compelling case.

    The big leap is to go from that, just the firefighters, to all other well-paid city employees, in particular top management. There I don’t see who has tried to make a serious case that they are overpaid.

    [i]But overall I think we need to stop pretending like we can attract and compete for top “talent.” I think we need to accept the fact that we are a midsized (at best) town and that hiring an up-and-comer at a mid-level rate for five years is a better arrangement than trying to take and hold someone at the top rate for a longer period of time.[/i]

    Actually, I don’t even disagree with that. Maybe ability is a better word than talent. We should hire able people — it will cost us dearly if we don’t. But we don’t need to hire the Roger Federers of city services. The middle level could be good enough; one notch above should be good enough.

    The question is, where exactly is that middle level? In particular in the case of Linda Katehi, I happen to know the numbers from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her salary is below the median. It’s been a crock to have Leland Yee pretend that she will get top pay, and to skip over dozens of others who are already paid more.

    [url]http://www.suny.edu/communications/releases/CompensationComparison.pdf[/url]

    In the case of Bill Emlin et al, it would be good to know the market rate.

  9. David M. Greenwald

    Greg:

    I think that’s a fair point on management and I’m working through this thought. A good example I think is that you have the school district which was in very bad shape as recently as 2006 into 2007. They basically hired relatively young and strong candidates to take the top positions in James Hammond and Bruce Colby. Granted we’re probably paying a nose higher than is optimal, but (and people are going to hate me for saying this) realistically this is not going to be either of their destination. However, I would argue if we have them for five years, they will have done a lot of good for this district, they will likely move on at some point and we will then have to make another good hire.

    If you want the baseball analogy it would be the Oakland A’s from the early 2000s, they did not have the money to sign the top free agents or even keep their guys, but they were able to draft young players, develop them, trade for more players when they were about to become expensive and replenish the system. And so for a relatively modest payroll they would make the playoffs. They didn’t win a pennant or a championship but they competed. Now what happened since then is they didn’t draft as well and their trades did not pan out as they would have liked.

    But I think a midsize market like Davis can find a niche in finding good young managers and keeping them until they move on and then bringing in new management. I don’t know that organizations are very well served with longevity anyway. And even long lasting people only hang on for a decade at most top positions, so if you can keep these guys for five years, I think it is workable.

  10. Balance the Budget

    All about Fire:

    1. Cut back to 3 person crews, like most cities.
    2. Stop going to every vehicle accident unless there is some clue that someone is, or might be, injuried. (Did you know that a 911 call for “bike touches sign post” will result in two fire trucks showing up?)
    3. Cut back on the upper pay levels.
    4. Cut back on the gravy pensions.

    If you reduce the flood of cash towards Fire staffing, most of the rest of the budget red ink will take care of itself.

  11. but...

    Citygate didn’t really recommend anything new. UCD and the City of Davis already have an existing Automatic Aid agreement on top of the mutual aid agreements that exist between UCD and the City and West Sac, Woodland, Dixon, West Plainfield FPD, and the rest of Yolo County. The only real change that could quickly take place would be a ‘closest resource responds’ agreement to medical aids and the like in the City and UCD.

    I don’t like how citygate showed the four minute response data. It showed maximum range of the response for City 31, 32, & 33 while only showing UCD’s 4 min coverage where the City’s range ended. If citgate had made a accurate map showing which station was closer from quarters it would show UCD is really closer to all points in the City between the east edge of 113 to Anderson bordered roughly by Villanova on the North and Russell on the South.

    The only areas in UCD’s current ‘first due’ area that the City is closer to are Old Davis road to just before Mrak hall Circle (Solano Park, Wyatt Theater), and the UCD Primate center at Hutchison and CR 98.

    If you don’t believe me Google Earth the distances yourself.

  12. rick entrikin

    You can’t be serious. At just the same time that regular citizens are facing more taxes & fees just to maintain their status quo, you are arguing for more fees & taxes? Maybe I misread your comments.

    Please clarify.

    Rick E.

  13. Huh!

    I assume Rick E was talking about the comment that we should pay more for top talent. That is just so outrageous a statement in the current economic climate, and in light of what has happened in regards to Murphy vs Hammond, the Katehi scandal, Yudof’s obscene salary.

    Furthermore, if the CC majority doesn’t get its head out of the sand, and get tough w labor negotiations, bankruptcy for Davis may be closer than you think. Navazio specifically stated “he couldn’t rule it out”.

  14. we dont need a new fire station

    nothing is going on in Davis. We won’t be negatively impacted, these guys are just sucking the tax payers dry. If you want to be stupid enough to pay all this money for something you don’t need, then go ahead, but I’m out of here. Davis sucks. It’s way too expensive. A house just sold on A street for 750 thousand dollars. There are plenty of houses for sale in Davis. They have not been impacted like the rest of the country. The fire unions are scamming the public tax payers. FUCK Davis California. I’m out of this expensive over rated shit hole

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