The Oakley City Council has approved an expansion of two major housing developments proposed on the city’s East Cypress Road corridor that may eventually add more than 5,700 new residential units to the city.

The council’s approval Nov. 10 came amid a continuing struggle over the financing of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District, which this year warned local officials that a lack of funding would lead firefighters to limit its response to some residential fires during wildfire season.

Fire Chief Brian Helmick has been pushing hard to increase support for a district that includes three fire stations to cover nearly 129,000 residents across 249 square miles in eastern Contra Costa County.

At any time, the district deploys only nine firefighters on regular duty to protect Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Bethel Island, Byron, Knigthtsen, Marsh Creek, Morgan Territory and surrounding rural communities. Three fire stations remain empty for a lack of funding to staff them.

The district has recently reached agreements for added financial support from Brentwood and the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. The fees, created to fund special Community Facilities Districts or CFDs, are attached to the cost of new housing purchases and property tax bills in order to fund local firefighting districts or other public services.

The CFD fees for the fire district were set decades ago when most of the area was rural and mostly agricultural. The rush of growth in housing construction has created a massive increase in calls but little increase in operational funding through CFDs.

An aerial image shows the 2,546-acre parcel the Oakley City Council recently approved for residential development between Bethel Island and the Summer Lake subdivision. The project will add up to 5,759 housing units in eastern Oakley. (Google image)

The Nov. 3 passage of the county’s Measure X is expected to add financial support for the fire district.

The fire district has been circulating a proposal for a new schedule of fees to the county and cities in its coverage area. Despite approval from the county and Brentwood, Oakley has yet to sign on to the increase while continuing its march of housing approvals.

At the end of October, the Brentwood City Council approved allocating $1.5 million more annually to the fire district. The approval passed with the condition that Oakley and the county sign on to the new joint funding arrangement. The added funds would support hiring of a fourth crew of nine firefighters at one of its three empty stations.

Last week’s Oakley City Council vote will allow added housing units to the Bethel Island Property and Lesher Property projects that will total 5,759 units across 2,546 acres adjacent to the Summer Lakes development and Bethel Island.

“The burden of funding the staffing of the new stations is mostly falling on the new residents of Oakley.”

Mayor Kevin Romick

Helmick said Tuesday before the most recent council approval that “Oakley has been challenging” in trying to reach added financial support through a new fee structure, calling it “surprisingly difficult.”

Oakley Mayor Kevin Romick again Tuesday during the council meeting expressed his reluctance to approve the new CFD structure with the fire district.

“Now we’re being asked to pay for a Brentwood station,” Romick said. “The burden of funding the staffing of the new stations is mostly falling on the new residents of Oakley.”

Helmick did say Tuesday that he was encouraged by “recent progress in talks with city staff in Oakley” and he hopes for a resolution sometime soon.

Oakley City Manager Bryan Montgomery pointed out Wednesday that last week’s house approvals are “yet another example” of the city’s support of the fire district.

“When the Specific Plan for those areas was approved in 2006, the City Council required that the developments join a CFD for Fire. That approval last night confirmed over 3,000 homes in Oakley that will pay into a Fire CFD,” he added in an email.

The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District has also initiated talks with its East County neighbor about the possibility of consolidation of the two districts. East County has been relying on mutual aid agreements with the county to cover their emergency staffing coverage.