Lamorinda Citizens Upset About MOFD Board Discussion

(Sally Hogarty, Photographer)
Lamorinda citizens were in an uproar of public concern when word got out that Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD) Board of Directors allotted time to talk about gathering information for consolidating with the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (ConFire) in their May 19 agenda.

    The Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD) Board of Directors found itself in hot water with Lamorinda citizens when it published the agenda for a May 19 meeting with an item labeled “Consolidation with Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (ConfFire).”
    The agenda item that caused a public uproar allotted time to discuss consolidating MOFD with ConFire. This was not labeled an action item on the agenda, but rather something for “informational purposes only.”
    Consolidating would mean dissolving MOFD and merging with ConFire, which served Orinda and Moraga until they split and formed their own locally funded fire district in 1997.
    MOFD was meant “to provide high quality and fire protection services tailored to local needs of the Town of Moraga and City of Orinda,” according to a staff report written by their Town Manager Cynthia Battenberg.
    If dissolved, the changes would cause a decrease in response time, local control over decisions and would dismiss the locally elected MOFD Board and replace them with county officials, according to former Mayor Sue Severson.
    This discussion item caused upset and confusion from citizens of both Moraga and Orinda.
    “As a retired veteran firefighter from ConFire, I can assure you that giving up our invaluable local control of our great MOFD would be a huge mistake!” wrote Don Moresi, an Orinda resident, in a letter to the editor in a local newspaper. “It makes no sense to drop our local control. Who is behind this attempt to rob our citizens of local control?”
    The Moraga Town Council was quick to respond after receiving dozens of community complaints, adding an agenda item to their May 12 meeting which addressed acting on MOFD’s choice.
    After passionate public comments, the town council voted to send a letter to MOFD, which in part read, “We strongly oppose the consolidation of MOFD with ConFire and spending resources studying a process for such consolidation. Resources should continue to be spent on the delivery of high-quality fire protection, fire safety and emergency response services.”
    The conversation about consolidation started during a March 17 MOFD board meeting when Local 1230 Union President Vincent Wells said there were concerns about the ability to sustain financially the fire district and explained firefighters were interested in learning about the merger.
    “This has always been a conversation; this is not new. Moraga-Orinda Fire District reported that there were some concerns with their finances, and it was suggested early on without really going as far as it went now to maybe look into consolidation or annexation,” said Wells.
    This is not the first time Moraga and Orinda citizens have expressed a dislike for the idea of consolidating. The suggestion being made now was also mentioned in 2009 and was rejected by citizens as well as some council members.
    “I heard this same kind of thing from [Wells] back in 2009 when Mr. Trotter and I represented the town . . . and it became clear in quite a short time that there was virtually no support within either Moraga or Orinda,” said former Moraga Mayor Michael Metcalf. “We became a self-help community through the creation of MOFD for a very good reason; we weren’t getting good enough service.”
    This conversation led to MOFD Director Gregory Baitx proposing the discussion item be on the May 19 agenda.
    As of publication, Baitx has not responded for comment about why he wanted the item on the agenda.
    “It caused quite the uproar. This item has elicited more calls, emails and calls for response from the community than anything we’ve ever done,” said MOFD Director Steve Dazinger. “The community really loves what we do here. We provide excellent service, better than what people of Contra Costa County get.”
    The agenda item for May 19 meeting was for informational purposes only, according to Dazinger.
    “People went off and said we want to vote to dissolve it [MOFD], but we couldn’t even do that. It’s a long and complex process and no one wants to go there,” he said.
    Board members Michael Donner, Dazinger and Baitx later requested the item be taken off the agenda for the May 19 meeting, but President Craig Jorgens left it on.
    Jorgens said he wanted to leave the item on the agenda to allow upset citizens to voice their thoughts and to avoid “shutting down one of the largest public outcries in Orinda in the last 30 years.”
    Before the item opened for public comment, Director Baitx spoke about his intentions for requesting the item be put on the agenda.
    “What I was looking for was information only,” he said. “What I verbalized about consolidation with ConFire was not my intent. This was supposed to be an informational inquiry only. I understand that I did not verbalize my intent clearly, for that I apologize.”
    During the meeting, residents of Moraga and Orinda spoke during public comment to voice their concerns for the informational item.
    Public comment lasted over 50 minutes and once discussion of board members was initiated, there was a unanimous decision from MOFD to advise staff to reject the idea of bringing up this topic in the future.
    “I would agree that we not spend any more resources on looking into this issue, I think it’s been overwhelmingly stated by board members, the public, town council, and city council that they don’t want to see any change in our services… I’m in agreement with that,” said Director Michael Donner.

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