City clears air on CDF base

While negotiations continue between the city and the California
Department of Forest and Fire Protection over a lease agreement at
the Hollister Municipal Airport and negative publicity about
differentiating bargaining prices, one official said it is

Much ado about nothing.

While negotiations continue between the city and the California Department of Forest and Fire Protection over a lease agreement at the Hollister Municipal Airport and negative publicity about differentiating bargaining prices, one official said it is “Much ado about nothing.”

Laurence Jackson, deputy director of public works, repeated Thursday the sentiment he has held since the CDF proposed base expansion in 2000.

“Everybody wants CDF here,” Jackson said.

CDF wants to expand its base at the Hollister Airport from the current two acres on the south end to a larger, modernized 10 acres on the west end. At its current capacity, CDF is violating state regulations, said Battalion Chief Paul Vlastelica, and parking for tankers is too congested. If the fire protection agency is unable to expand, it would be forced to move to another location in the future.

The 21 statewide CDF units respond to an average of 6,400 wildland fires each year and the agency carried a $600 million budget for the current year. The local base played a major role in battling the 3,127-acre Croy Fire last month.

CDF currently pays $15,600 a year to the city to lease its space at the airport. The current agreement, however, expires in April.

Currently, Jackson and the city have dealt only with the Department of General Services, which represents CDF. Before making an offer to the city, the DGS brought in a separate firm to appraise the land, then came to the city with its proposal of an annual rent of $25,000. The DGS would not disclose the appraised value of the land to the city and requested Hollister perform an additional appraisal of its own.

The city did so and also hired an outside firm, which appraised the land at $92,000. The use of those figures is standard practice for negotiating, Jackson said, and added that serious negotiating has not yet begun. He said the two sides have experienced delays “for various reasons,” which he did not specify.

“I guess you can really start to see how absurd this is,” Jackson said, referring to the notion that the city purposefully inflated its rent to frustrate the CDF.

“It’s pretty dull stuff,” he said. “There have never been plans to ask them to leave,” Jackson said.

He said there are two primary issues as the two sides enter serious negotiations – the existing lease and the request for additional land.

“We have no problem at all with them leasing additional land,” Jackson said.

Other city officials also expressed a desire for the CDF base to remain in Hollister.

Fire Chief Bill Garringer said he strongly supported the base remaining in Hollister. And although he said by principal the extra land should equate to somewhat higher rent, the city needs the fire rescue unit for safety’s sake.

“They’re getting 10 times the property, so they’re going to pay more,” Garringer said. “But if they left to go to the Central Valley, we would see a loss of property at some point.”

According to Vlastelica, a new base potentially at the west end of the San Joaquin Valley would mean a response time of an additional eight to 10 minutes for wildfires in the Hollister area.

Garringer said he understands the city’s perspective. He said it’s a combination of maximizing airport revenues while maintaining the safest environment possible.

“People at the airport have a job to do,” he said.

But Garringer also said he is doing everything possible “behind the scenes” to ensure that the CDF base stays. He referred to conversations with Jackson and City Manager George Lewis about the subject.

Lewis gave no comment on the CDF issue and said it will come before City Council soon.

Even Robert Scattini said he thinks the city of Hollister is now “trying to work” with CDF. Scattini, a member of the Hollister Airport Commission, is running for a City Council seat in the November election.

“They’re trying to keep them here the best way they can,” he said.

“I don’t think the CDF is going to move,” Airport Commissioner Jerry Gabe said. “They offer fire protection to Monterey, Pebble Beach and Carmel. Those people are significant contributors. … The other CDF base close by is all the way in Paso Robles.”

Gabe said the public has been misled on the CDF negotiations.

“Some of this information that gets out is just not correct,” he said.

For instance, the current base would not likely be turned into a fire station, Gabe said – a scenario brought up by sources in other reports.

Gabe also reiterated Garringer’s point about other reports falsely comparing the city’s appraised asking price of $92,000 to the old lease agreement amount, which was for much less acreage.

Scattini emphasized that he merely advocates a fair rent for both sides. When the time comes, he said, the city should just “be reasonable.”

According to Jackson, that’s exactly what the city plans to do. “We’re trying to do the best job for residents,” he said.

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