The Geyserville Fire Protection District provides fire and emergency services to a large portion of the northern Sonoma County region once designated as “Zone 6,” and now known as “Region 6,” by fire service agencies.
The District has primary responsibility for serving over 200 square miles of territory, including the Alexander Valley, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, and Geyserville. A map of the District territory is shown in Figure 1.
The District maintains a central station in the unincorporated community of Geyserville, and has mutual aid agreements with other agencies in Region 6, including the City of Healdsburg, Cloverdale Fire Protection District, the Dry Creek Rancheria fire department, CAL FIRE (seasonal) and the Knights Valley Volunteer Fire Company. The newly-formed Sonoma County Fire District and the City of Calistoga are also mutual aid partners.
The District has submitted an application by resolution for a reorganization consisting of annexation of the portion of County Service Area No. 40 - Fire Services (“CSA 40”) which is nominally served by the Knights Valley Volunteer Fire Company, and several “Incident Response Plan” (“IRP”) areas of CSA 40 that the District serves on a contracted basis.
The Commission adopted a Municipal Service Review and Sphere of Influence Study (“MSR”) for the District in 2018 that included addition of the affected territory to the District’s Sphere of Influence, making the territory eligible for annexation to the District.
The affected territory is comprised of 327 generally very large parcels, with a total land area of 35,633 acres. There are approximately 350 residents in the affected territory.
(Geyserville Fire Protection District has recently completed action to change its name to the Northern Sonoma County Fire Protection District. This reorganization proposal is being processed by staff using the former name given that the name is used on all application documents, including maps.)
Reason for Request; History
The devastating fire emergency in October of 2017 severely impacted the affected territory, destroying property and homes. Even prior to the disaster, the Knights Valley Volunteer Fire Company was having difficulty maintaining its fire service program and was increasingly relying on support from Geyserville FPD.
In the early part of this year, the County essentially closed its Fire and Emergency Services Department, which had previously provided a variety of support to volunteer fire companies that provide service within CSA 40. That support included payment of insurance costs, training, and capital expense reimbursement.
The County has entered into a two-year agreement with the North Bay Fire organization, which represents the remaining volunteer fire companies. North Bay is expected in turn to enter into a contract with the Gold Ridge Fire Protection District for support services. During that two-year period, the companies are being encouraged to find neighboring agency partners for appropriate reorganizations.
Geyserville FPD is the best-suited partner for providing service to the affected territory, given its prime position as the mutual aid provider for Knights Valley. Geyserville FPD does intend to enter into a contract with the City of Calistoga for mutual aid support in the easternmost portion of the affected territory, on a fee-for-call basis.
It should also be noted that Geyserville FPD is preparing to seek further reorganizations within Region 6 in partnership with other agencies, first by seeking an updated Municipal Service Review and Sphere of Influence Study through LAFCO.
District-County Property Tax Allocation Agreement
The District entered into negotiations with the County of Sonoma, seeking a tax allocation agreement that would will provide dedicated property tax revenue to the District for provision of service in the affected territory.
All property taxes associated with fire services in the affected territory now allocated to CSA 40 would be transferred to the District, upon annexation. The Agreement is attached (Attachment 1).
The District board of directors initiated proceedings with LAFCO, by resolution, for annexation of the affected territory on March 13, 2019 (Attachment 4).
Prior Commission Action
For territory to be eligible for annexation to a district or city, it must be within the agency’s sphere of influence.
The MSR, completed in 2018, reviewed the operations of the District, governance, ability to provide services, and opportunities for shared services with other fire and emergency service agencies in the region. The study concluded that an amendment to the District’s sphere of influence was warranted.
After conducting a noticed public hearing on June 6, 2018, the Commission adopted the MSR for the District and approved amendment of the District’s sphere.
The MSR did not evaluate broader reorganization or consolidation opportunities in Region 6 (two fire districts, one city and one volunteer fire company) but acknowledged that such an option could be studied in the future.
As the lead agency for the proposal, the District found that the proposed reorganization is categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) pursuant to Section 15320 of the State CEQA Guidelines because the proposed action does not change the geographical area in which previously existing powers are exercised. The District will serve the affected territory instead of the Knights Valley Volunteer Fire Company under CSA 40.
The District also found that the proposal was exempt from CEQA under State CEQA Guidelines Section 15061 (b)(3), the “general rule” exemption that CEQA applies only to projects which have the potential for causing a significant effect on the environment. The change in fire and emergency services provider will not cause a significant effect on the environment.
Staff agrees with the District’s findings regarding the exemptions.
Individual Factors for Consideration
California Government Code section 56668 describes 16 factors to be considered in the Commission’s review of an annexation proposal. The review must include, but is not limited to, consideration of these factors. The factors are outlined and addressed in Attachment 2.
Need for Public Hearings: Merits and Protest
As indicated earlier in this report, the District initiated the proceedings with the Commission by resolution. In a situation in which it is clear that not all owners of property within the affected territory or all registered voters residing within the annexation boundary have given their written consent to the proposal, state law requires the Commission to conduct a public hearing on the merits of the proposal.
Staff mailed notice of the public hearing to all owners of property within the boundary and within 300 feet of the outside boundary and to all registered voters residing within the boundary and within 300 feet of the outside boundary, according to state law.
Should the Commission approve the reorganization proposal, Staff recommends that a protest proceeding be scheduled commencing in the early part of June and concluding at the Commission’s August 7, 2019, meeting.