Measure B’s apparent defeat leaves BBFPD on the verge of layoffs

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, March 8, 2021

The Bodega Bay Fire Protection District (BBFPD) board went into closed session Friday afternoon, March 5, to find its footing after Measure B’s apparent defeat sent the district into what Assistant Fire Chief Steve Herzberg recently called a crisis point.

Shortly after, the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters updated the election results for the ambitious west county transient occupancy tax meant to bring half of an estimated $2.7 million to the west county paramedic emergency medical and rescue services.

Measure B needed approximately 66% approval to pass and as of Friday afternoon, the proposal has stretched no farther than 62.37%, a loss that seems to spell out layoffs according to Herzberg’s announcement at the beginning of the board meeting. No action was reported as taken when the board returned to open session.

“Obviously it was disappointing,” Herzberg said before the closed session began. “It was not an unanticipated disappointment. We knew that we were dealt a very difficult hand to fight.”

“Our commitment, our mission is to serve this community and to take care of it and we are going to be pressed and stretched right now how to do it,” he said.

The assistant fire chief said one firefighter and paramedic notified him that he was resigning because “Measure B tipped the scale for him,” a week after he helped save someone’s life.

The young firefighter-paramedic “was part of our paramedic crew that found a patient dead in cardiac arrest and brought that patient back to life and that patient survived,” according to Herzberg. “That was a non-resident,” he added.

“He also told me that he does not believe the county has an interest in us going forward,” Herzberg said. “We have other paramedics who have told me they are now applying elsewhere.”

Herzberg said that in the immediate aftermath, BBFPD shut an opening for another paramedic to replace someone who moved onto the Santa Rosa Fire Department “in great part because of what is perceived as the instability of Bodega Bay, and our young people want to have a stable job going forward.”

This employee expected to depart in March had been a firefighter of the year, he said, and “unfortunately, because of our instability,” the district only received one applicant during the hiring process so far when usually BBFPD gets between eight to 10 candidates.

Help may be on the way, however, from opponents of Measure B no less. Herzberg said he immediately received word from some members of a taxpayer group who said they were against Measure B for different reasons, and that they supported BBFPD.

“And this morning, Chief (Mark) Heine and I had what I think was a very productive breakfast meeting with leadership from the tourism group who are going to join us and seek the type of stable general funding from the supervisors that we will need to survive,” he said.

In the meantime, Herzberg said the district has legal procedures to follow during the financial emergency it’s experiencing, in terms of union and contract agreements and maintaining people’s legal rights in “this layoff process.”

The struggling district also has the support of other first responders in Sonoma County.

The Professional Fire Fighters of Sonoma County L1401 issued a statement Thursday, March 4 regarding Measure B, calling for the county “to take immediate and permanent steps to do their part to keep our coast safe for all of us.”

The statement spoke of swift consequences of the dashed chance for emergency services funding and that both the state and the county were overdue to “pitch in their fair share” as Bodega Bay taxpayers had — and then some.

According to the firefighter’s union, government organizations hold over 67% of land in the district’s territory, thus offering no tax revenue to its coastal services.

The statement reiterated a frequent point made throughout the lifespan of Measure B, that “over 80% of paramedic ambulance transports inland from the district are for non-district residents visiting or passing through and also contribute zero tax revenue to the district.”

On March 3, the morning after election night, 5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said she was committed to doing what was in her power to prevent the layoffs and will speak with the county administrator.

Hopkins is also chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, but still, she said she has “limited authority” as just one member. “I will continue to look for other funding sources,” she said.

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com