Department Searches for Parcel to House Fire Station

Hoping to reduce response times in a remote corner of its coverage area, the Montecito Fire Protection District has been searching for a parcel to build a third station.

Fire Chief Kevin Wallace said Tuesday that the district is looking for a flat one-acre property in the northeast portion of the district – north of East Valley Road, south of Bella Vista Drive and west of Romero Canyon. The search was called in response to a Montecito Fire Board decision last year that approved the establishment of a third station within the next five years.

“With things like this, you have to plan in advance,” Wallace said. “If you take into account architectural plans and the time it takes to get a permit approved, by the time you’re done it can easily take five years.”

Wallace said the primary goal of gaining a new station would be to lower the district’s response times to the Romero Canyon vicinity, a heavily sloped and wooded area of residential neighborhoods. The chief said district firefighters “shoot for four minutes” in their response times and “try for under eight minutes,” but results on Bella Vista Drive have not been “within our standard.”

Wallace was unable to predict how much the addition of a station would cost. He said the building would be modeled after Station #2 on Sycamore Canyon Road. The new facility would be a little bigger to handle the storage of equipment. A new station would also require the hiring of nine new employees, he said.

The pursuit of the parcel is taking place as the Montecito Fire District has been reshaping its personnel, a move that was intended to inject more verve and vitality to an ageing department.

Wallace became chief last October, taking over from the retiring Ron McClain. Since then, Terry McElwee was promoted from battalion chief to division chief, the position that was previously held by Wallace. Chip Hickman became battalion chief, Dave Andreas is now captain and Dana St. Oegger was promoted from firefighter to inspector/engineer. Jeff Saley was hired Tuesday to fulfill a part-time position as a wildland specialist.

District Proposes Water Rate Increase

For the eleventh time in 14 years, the Montecito Water District plans to raise customer rates and charges, cost increases that officials say are necessary to keep up with changing water quality standards, to defray the costs of infrastructure maintenance and to preserve a reliability of water resources.

The district has set a date of February 20 for a public hearing to discuss the proposed rate revisions. If approved the rate increases would take effect on March 1.

The district plans to increase costs to each of its customer classes, except for commercial, which would stay at $4.25 per hundred cubic feet. Residential customer rates would increase from $3.47 to $3.75; schools from $3.23 to $3.49; agricultural $1.56 to $1.68; and recreational from $1.96 to $2.12.

District officials said they wouldn’t increase the commercial rates because those customers already pay more than what it costs the water department to supply them with water.

“Commercial clients’ charges have been way out of line for a while,” said Bob Roebuck, the district’s general manager. “Financial analysis showed commercial customers already paying their fair share of the cost of water. It would seem unfair for them to be already paying the highest rate of water and for their rate to increase.”

Roebuck said changing standards for water quality and storage have placed a strain on the district’s annual budget. For example, federal regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act now mandate covers on all water reservoirs to protect from intentional and unintentional contaminates.

The district is currently sharing $20-million costs with the Carpinteria Water District to put a cover on the Ortega Reservoir, the largest of the Montecito department’s 11 water storage facilities. The completion of that cover is scheduled for the end of June.

The district will also be doing work at the Cater Treatment Plant, a facility that consolidates water treatment for three agencies – the Montecito, Carpinteria and City of Santa Barbara water districts.

Roebuck said the rate increases would also be important for infrastructure maintenance. The majority of Montecito’s water system, Roebuck said, was established in the 1920s and will require “major investments to rehabilitate ageing water pipelines, reservoirs and other systems.”

The rate revision also takes into account the district’s future in acquiring water, Roebuck said. In 1997, district voters approved joining the State Water Project, an investment that critics have complained is too expensive and whose supporters say is necessary to secure needed resources. Roebuck said it’s again time to reconsider another investment.

“The implementation of banking water to Lake Cachuma helped the district prevent against water shortages during droughts,” he said. “The Water District will be purchasing State water to help firm up local water supplies.”

The public hearing to consider rate and charge revisions will be held on February 20 at 2 pm at the Montecito Fire District, 595 San Ysidro Road. For more info call 969-2271.