There have been ongoing discussions between the City of Riverbank and the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District (SCFPD) regarding the fees for fire service in the future new development of Crossroads West. The Tolling Agreements have expired without resolution and the SCFPD subsequently filed a lawsuit against the City of Riverbank. The filing occurred in late July.
“The City of Riverbank approved the Crossroads West development project even though the project did not document how it will meet the required fire response times provided for in the City’s own General Plan,” stated SCFPD Fire Chief Michael Whorton. “The Fire District had no other choice than to sue the City to force them to comply with the law and their own General Plan. The Fire district is hopeful that the City will comply with the law and ensure that fire services can be provided in accordance with the City’s own planning documents.”
“Obviously the City of Riverbank is disappointed that litigation has been initiated on this project,” stated City Manager Sean Scully. “The City’s position is that we adequately analyzed the Crossroads West project in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act and therefore do not agree with the claims stated in the lawsuit. However, even though a lawsuit has been filed we still believe that there is an opportunity to settle this matter to the satisfaction of all parties involved and we are continuing to pursue those options with the District.”
“It (lawsuit) does not hurt Crossroads West Project at all,” stated Riverbank Mayor Richard O’Brien. “It is not going to stop the project. It will go forward. What will happen is that if there is a settlement on what the price should be per square foot it will be retroactive in the Crossroads West. It is specifically the Crossroads West that they are concerned with. It will only affect the Crossroads West pricing.”
There are several claims on both sides of the issue but the biggest issue seems to be the fees that are being requested by the SCFPD per square footage of the new development. According to Mayor O’Brien, Stanislaus Consolidated is asking for what he termed an unreasonable amount of fees at around $1.24 per square foot in the Crossroads West project which will increase the building costs and will hinder affordable housing for residents. Since the City took action moving forward with the Crossroads West Project the District believes they are in violation of state law.
The Fire District’s Public Information Officer, Captain Buck Condit, added that “as required by law, the City has failed to demonstrate that the Project is consistent with numerous policies in the City’s own General Plan regarding fire safety. As such, we have not seen sufficient evidence that conditions have been imposed that would ensure that this project provides appropriate funding to mitigate its impact upon the fire district. The burden is on the City to demonstrate compliance.”
“I believe Consolidated needs to take a close look at what their current funding or their charges are,” added O’Brien. “Right now California requires all homes to be built with a fire suppression system. Their funding scheme has them at .22 a square foot where the others are at .33. Since it is now a requirement, drop it and go to a .33 cents a square foot or whatever their current one is and we will negotiate it.”
“In a brief nutshell the fire department wants considerably more for the fees and it would put a lot more burden on the people that are going to live there and we are not in agreement with that nor are the developers,” stated Councilmember Cal Campbell. “We feel that the fees that the developers and the city have put together are reasonable enough and we have done our homework to show this. To be able to do what needs to be done for fire services. I am hoping we can work it out down the road and it is just a situation that is sad that it had to come about but we understand that this is business and we will work it out.”
Another concern for the Mayor is if they were able to build the new fire station today when would SCFPD be able to man it, which he believes would not be for some time. He suggested that there should be a graduated increase in fees but it should not start at 1.24 per square foot. Adding that if they start at .33 per square foot and go up in increments based on the area square foot requirement there could be a reasonable solution for both parties.
“If you saw their structure it is different for Waterford than it is for Riverbank and it is different for the county than it is for both Waterford and Riverbank and it shouldn’t be,” said O’Brien.
At a recent regular SCFPD board meeting there were two new board members sworn in, Jonathan Goulding and Steven Stanfield with Greg Bernardi being reappointed on that same evening. Former board President Susan Zanker and former Vice President Dave Woods are no longer with the board.
“I am hoping that the new board members will bring some common sense to that board because it has been very volatile,” expressed O’Brien. “… I believe that they have a better balance than they had before. I am not saying anything wrong against the other members but it just seemed to be very angry. Now we can just sit down and talk.”
A closed session discussion was scheduled in the council chambers after the City Council meeting of Tuesday, Aug. 27 – after The Times went to press – regarding the litigation between SCFPD and the City of Riverbank, with possible movement due on the issue.
“The bottom line is that regardless of the legal action that has been filed, the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District is still a partner agency of the City of Riverbank and therefore we have every reason to find a fair and reasonable compromise that balances the needs of the District with the needs of the community and overall project,” added Scully. “The City’s goal is to see Crossroads West move forward as a successful project that the City and all partner agencies can be proud of.”