At the request of the Sonoma County Fire District, staff has prepared a Sphere of Influence study that examines potential sphere of influence amendments involving nine fire and emergency services agencies in West County (Attachment 1).
The study relies on a Municipal Service Review of fifteen West County fire and emergency service agencies that the Commission adopted earlier this year, as well as a Municipal Service Review conducted and adopted in 2018 that enabled the formation of the Sonoma County Fire District through the consolidation of four agencies.
The Sonoma County Fire District (“SCFD”) has asked that its sphere of influence be amended to allow for a reorganization involving three agencies:
- The Russian River Fire Protection District (“Russian River FPD”)
- The Forestville Fire Protection District (“Forestville FPD”)
- The Bodega Bay Protection District (“Bodega Bay FPD”)
SCFD has indicated its intent to file an application for that reorganization with a goal of completion by June 2020. In discussions with staff, SCFD was sympathetic to the understanding that the Commission would likely consider sphere amendments that encompassed other agencies, specifically those in the River area and County Service Area 40 territory served by three volunteer fire companies to the south of Bodega Bay FPD’s territory.
Staff has provided notice regarding this proceeding to affected agencies and interested parties.
Staff requests that the Commission conduct a public hearing to receive testimony regarding the study and then consider adoption of the study’s determinations and approval of the recommended sphere of influence amendments.
SCFD and Russian River and Forestville FPDs
In early 2018, the Commission considered a Municipal Service Review and Sphere of Influence study that examined three fire protection districts and a portion of County Service Area 40 – Fire Services (“CSA 40”), and subsequently considered a reorganization proposal encompassing those agencies.
The result of the Commission’s deliberations and actions was the formation of the Sonoma County Fire District, serving areas in the central portion of the County essentially encircling the City of Santa Rosa.
The District has completed the combination of elected boards and the integration of leadership, administration, and staffing from the four agencies and has solid financial footing based on an extension of parcel taxes across its territory and an ongoing financial contribution agreement with the County.
SCFD was approached in 2018 by the Russian River FPD board, asking SCFD to provide leadership and administration services under contract; those discussions quickly led to consideration of a reorganization of the two agencies.
Although there is no requirement that the territory served by a fire protection district be unified (with no islands within or without the territory), from an operational perspective a unified territory is clearly preferable. With that in mind, SCFD also entered into discussions with the Forestville FPD to gauge its interest in joining in a reorganization proposal.
(It should be noted that while Forestville FPD supports inclusion in SCFD’s sphere, it has yet to sign off on participation in a proposed reorganization, although that decision may come as early as December 2019.)
From SCFD’s perspective, completion of a reorganization by June 2020 is critical in ensuring that parcel tax revenues can be collected using SCFD’s schedule for the subsequent fiscal year.
Therefore SCFD requested that LAFCO conduct a sphere of influence study and consider sphere amendments that would enable the proposed reorganization.
In discussions with staff, SCFD was enjoined to be open to a potentially wider sphere of influence amendment that would include other River area territories that receive advanced life support/ambulance coverage from Russian River FPD. These territories include:
- The Monte Rio Fire Protection District (“Monte Rio FPD”)
- The Cazadero Community Services District (“Cazadero CSD”)
- The portion of County Service Area 40 – Fire Services territory served by the Fort Ross Volunteer Fire Company (“Fort Ross VFC”)
- Three portions of County Service Area 40 designated as Incident Response Plan areas 51, 56, and 61. These are parks and predominantly wildland areas north and northwest of the Russian River and Forestville FPD territories.
(Three portions of Forestville FPD’s territory are served by private ambulance services; the northern third-or-so portion of the Fort Ross FPD territory is served by Coast Life Support; and the lower quarter-or-so of the Timber Cove Fire Protection District is served by Russian River FPD for ALS/ambulance coverage. Therefore, inclusion of the territories noted above in a sphere amendment does not perfectly mirror Russian River FPD’s ALS/ambulance service coverage area.)
Bodega Bay Fire Protection District
SCFD has also held far more recent discussions with the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District, and has requested that the Bodega Bay FPD territory be added to its sphere to enable a subsequent reorganization proposal.
It should be noted that both agencies have indicated that there are significant financial challenges that would be presented by the proposal, so it is unclear what timeline the proposal would follow.
Similar to the request for sphere amendments in the River area, staff has indicated to both agencies that a broader sphere of influence amendment might be warranted, recognizing the ALS/ambulance and primary mutual aid support that Bodega Bay FPD provides to CSA 40 territory to the south. This territory includes areas served by:
- The Bodega Volunteer Fire Company.
- The Valley Ford Volunteer Fire Company.
- The territory formerly served by the Bloomfield Volunteer Fire Company.
(The Bloomfield VFC has been inactive and the territory is now covered formally by the Two Rock Volunteer Fire Company to the south and by mutual aid support from Bodega Bay FPD and the Gold Ridge Fire Protection District. Bodega Bay continues to provide ALS/ambulance service to the Bloomfield area.)
The Sphere of Influence Study examines the broader area described above, but it is also critical to note that staff has received a request (Attachment 2) for a sphere of influence study that encompasses the three portions of County Service Area 40 noted above, along with two fire protection districts, one community services district, the City of Sebastopol, and four other CSA 40 territories served by volunteer fire companies.
(Three of the four CSA 40 territories have not been examined through a Municipal Service Review and are therefore ineligible for sphere of influence amendment consideration at this time.)
This request therefore includes the three CSA 40 territories (Bodega, Valley Ford, and Bloomfield) that are analyzed in the Sphere of Influence Study, and staff has sought to provide an evaluation of how to address these competing interests as part of the study.
Sphere of Influence Amendments
The study recommends that the Commission approve Sphere of Influence (“SOI”) amendments for the subject agencies, extending the sphere of SCFD to cover the underlying territories of the ALS/ambulance coverage areas of both Russian River and Bodega Bay FPDs.
The SOIs of the districts within the ALS territories will be set at “zero.” While the Commission has not adopted a policy regarding setting “zero” spheres, the term can be defined as: a transitional designation indicating that the public service responsibility and functions of the agency should ultimately be abandoned or (in this case) reallocated to another government agency.)
The SOI for the Cazadero Community Services District would be set to “zero” with regard to the provision of fire and emergency services only.
The SOI for CSA 40 would be withdrawn from the four areas covered by the volunteer fire companies and from the three Incident Response Plan areas.
The Commission, at its discretion, may amend the staff proposal to include other territories (as long as they have been evaluated in a recent Municipal Service Review) or exclude territories within the staff’s proposal.
Staff acknowledges that inclusion of the three territories in CSA 40 to the south of Bodega Bay FPD are potentially a point of contention given the proffered interest of the group agencies noted earlier.
As an alternative course of action, the Commission might withdraw these areas from a sphere amendment or withdraw Bodega Bay FPD and the three areas from an amendment.
(The Commission would not be foreclosing options to make sphere of influence amendments at a later date.)
Staff has prepared a draft resolution (Attachment 3) that includes the determinations from the study and denotes approval of the recommended sphere of influence amendments.
The proposed amendment to the sphere of influence of the Sonoma County Fire District is subject to CEQA. Staff has determined, however, that Section 15061(b)(3) of the State CEQA Guidelines applies. That section states:
…CEQA applies only to projects which have the potential for causing a significant effect on the environment. When it can be seen with certainty that there is not possibility that the activity in question may have a significant effect on the environment, the activity is not subject to CEQA.
The proposed amendment to the SCFD SOI will place all territory within five districts and a portion of CSA 40 within the SCFD sphere and enable eventual annexation of that territory to the District.
At this time, as a result of amendment of the sphere of SCFD, no impact on the environment is anticipated; thus there is no potential for adverse impacts.