During the October firestorm, the administration of Sonoma State demonstrated admirable caution by proactively evacuating the campus. Fortunately, due to the professional work and personal courage of firefighters from Rancho Adobe and neighboring districts, the fire was stopped at Crane Canyon Regional Park, approximately a mile from the campus.
This is just one example of how the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District, and its predecessor agencies, the Penngrove Fire Department and Cotati Fire Department, have protected Sonoma State for 57 years, without receiving one dime of compensation.
A statement like that calls for some explanation. First, Rancho Adobe recently completed a five-year plan showing that without an increase in revenue, we face deficits ranging from $215,000 to $1.1 million. Unless these deficits are mitigated, our only choice will be to close stations, which could double response times.
The deficit has been caused by increasing demands for service without corresponding increases in revenue. When Rancho Adobe was formed in 1993, we responded to approximately 1,100 calls. In 2017, we made 2,571 service calls. But we still receive the same $40 per household parcel tax, which is worth far less in today’s dollars. Ballot initiatives to adjust this parcel tax to a reasonable amount have failed twice.
Last year, we made approximately 200 calls to aid Sonoma State students. The vast majority involved alcohol poisoning. Historically, SSU have accounted for 10 percent of our annual calls. The district has approximately 28,000 residents, including 3,200 who live on campus.
In a fair world, since Sonoma State comprises 10 percent of the population we serve, and is responsible for 10 percent of our calls, it would contribute 10 percent of our annual budget, which is $4.1 million for 2017-18.
Unfortunately, the university contributes nothing, so the citizens of the district are unfairly forced to shoulder the costs of operating a modern fire district. To resolve this inequity, Frank Treanor, the former fire chief, and Leonard Thompson, the current part-time chief, have repeatedly requested meetings with President Judy Sasaki and her predecessor, Ruben Armiñana.
Neither president has agreed to attend these meetings. Instead, SSU has delegated the matter to three different CFOs. None of these meetings have moved us toward a fair resolution.
This situation isn’t unique to us. Twenty-one of the 23 fire departments or districts that serve CSU campuses face this problem. There is a provision in the California constitution that says one state agency cannot impose property taxes on another. In larger departments, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, the cost of serving CSU campuses is shared by a large population. For smaller districts, such as ours, the inequities are much more troublesome.
At the most recent meeting, SSU offered to pay a fee that would cover about 1 percent of our budget, but only in exchange for additional services that would cost us more manpower to provide. Two CSU campuses, Humboldt State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, have found ways to support their local fire districts financially. So when all parties are motivated, it is possible to find a solution.
We believe this matter can be resolved if it is brought before the Legislature, which could propose an amendment to this defect in the state constitution. But as a first step, we invite the full leadership team of SSU, including President Sakaki, to meet with us to help solve a problem we can no longer afford to ignore.