Thursday, February 7, 2013


"CLAYTON: City purchases 'linchpin piece' of downtown"

Pioneer Inn Property
That was the headline printed in the San Jose Mercury News as reported by David DeBolt, staff writer for the Contra Costa Times just yesterday, Thursday, February 4, 2013.  An interesting bit of news after reading part one wouldn't you agree?

The article by Mr. DeBolt confirmed that the Clayton City Council, by a vote of 5-0, agreed to purchase the old Pioneer Inn property for $1 million from the Clayton Community Church.  Needless to say, I was flabbergasted to read that our city leaders would agree to a $1 million expenditure of taxpayer funds in the wake of our only fire station being shutdown 75% of the time.  Now I know what Mayor Pierce meant in reference to the partial closing of Station No.11 when she told me by phone, "we don't have any money."

After severe opposition by a coalition of "Claytonians" to a new 42,000 square foot church facility being constructed for the community church in the heart of downtown Clayton, the owners of the property entered into closed door negotiations with city leaders to purchase the property and build their church elsewhere in town.
Clayton Community Church

Even though the vote was 5-0 in favor of the purchase, at least one city staff member expressed some concern about the purchase, however, not for the reasons I wanted to hear.  Instead, Mary Pelletier, the city's finance manager, was somewhat stressed by the fact that in order to pay for the purchase, the city would be forced into using money from its capitol improvement fund.  This expenditure would as she put it, "severely limit" the funding for other capitol improvement projects, and that so far is the only concern being reported in the local news, nothing in regards to the partial closing of Station No.11 in the mix of all this.

So, was the Mayor mistaken when she told me the city didn't have the funds to mitigate the crisis we are currently experiencing in adequate fire protection?  Or is it that her "visions" for the city just do not include basic services such as fire protection and prompt medical care for its residents?

With the purchase of this property, "Mayor Julie Pierce envisions a project that will bring ground-floor retail with the possibility of housing units and offices upstairs.", to quote Mr. Debolt.  Well, I would submit that the Mayor take another walk around town, because what I observed after a leisurely stroll through town does not cry out for more retail space.  Dotted throughout our small and quaint downtown, I counted no less than a half-dozen "For Lease" signs in the windows of vacant retail space, a situation that has existed since I moved here in 2009. 

Obviously the victim of the "great recession", downtown Clayton still is struggling.  Only two new business have popped up in the last year that I'm aware of, a Subway sandwich shop at the end of town that according to employees when asked, is barely scraping by, and a real estate office down the street.  It is the same story with the Village Market just a block away.  The owners of the business, who also own Johnny's Deli, have tried to sell for years with no luck.

Perhaps the Mayor and City Council receive their optimism based on the fact that two medium sized shopping centers located at the entrance to our town have seen a tremendous turn around in the number of businesses moving in, including Orchard Supply, Fresh and Easy, and Panda Express in the last year and a half.  So why not the same enthusiasm to rent retail space in our city?  I'm not a real estate expert so I don't have and answer to that question.  However,  I do have one last question of the Mayor and City Council.  If the redevelopment of the old Pioneer Property is worth the risk, then why did the city have to buy the property instead of real estate developers?  Why risk a million dollars of the taxpayers money, why not let investors risk their own cash? 

Visions of a bustling downtown, complete with a hotel and tasteful shops in the shadows of the crisis we are in, is inexplicable to me.  Why a crisis you say?  After-all, nothing has happen since the partial closure of Station No.11 has it?  No, and I pray each day that nothing tragic befalls our small community of just over 10,000 residents.  However, bad things do happen everyday, and just to prove my point, here are some recent incidents that have just crossed by desk in the last few weeks since our fire station has been forced to cut service by 75%:

Holiday Display Starts Fatal Fire
MASSACHUSETTS- An 84-old woman died of exposure to heat and smoke when a holiday display on the deck of her third-floor apartment caught fire.  The fire department received the initial call from an alarm company at 11:18 p.m. and responded as other calls began to come in.  The first-in engine company arrived nine minutes later and reported heavy fire coming from the deck of a third-floor apartment.  Advised by a police officer on scene that someone was trapped inside, firefighters attempted to gain entry but were unable to save the woman.  The fire eventually went to four alarms, with five more residents sustaining injuries including smoke inhalation and exhaustion. 
This fire occurred late in the evening hours, when most fatal fires occur.  At the current level of service, our station is only open from the hours of 2 p.m. to 8 p.m in the evening, hardly the peak hours for a serious fire to occur.  Further complicating matters is the response time that I underlined for emphasis.  Currently the nearest engine company available for such a fire as this is 10 miles away, 75% of the time.

Firefighter Hears Gasps, Rescues Boy From Apartment Fire (1/31/12)
Kansas City, Missouri- An alert firefighter, hearing a 3-year old boy gasping for air, pulls the child from a burning two-story apartment building Thursday afternoon.  Firefighters had to deploy three fire hoses and begin an immediate search of the residence in order to successfully save the lad.  The youngster received treatment from a local hospital and then was released to his mother who suffered minor injuries.  In order to successfully pull off a rescue like this takes resources, two fire fighters for each fire hose and a minimum of two firefighters for the rescue.  At the current level of service we receive from COCO Fire, do you think the outcome would have been different in our city?

18 Kids Hospitalized After Bus Engine Fire (02/01/13)
Houston, Texas- 18 students from a Texas elementary school as a precaution were hospitalized after the school bus they were riding in experienced a fire in the engine compartment.  All of the students were released from the hospital after the observation period was complete.  Fortunately this incident turned out to be relatively minor, but would still be classified as a "Multi-Causality Incident" or MCI.  At present staffing levels, could our fire department even handle an incident such as this?

NJ Firefighters Injured At Fatal House Fire  (01/28/13)
East Rutherford, New Jersey- One elderly resident was killed and two New Jersey firefighters were injured after investigators described the incident as, "a fast moving fire that tore through a 2 1/2 story, wood-frame dwelling."  Hording conditions inside the home delayed firefighters in gaining access to the interior.  Once inside, again hording conditions impeded firefighters from reaching the victim in time.  These types of fires are becoming more common these days and typically require huge amounts of manpower to mitigate.  I have serious doubts that COCO Fire can meet the challenges of an incident like this, what do you think?


Again, I remind my readers that it is not my intention to belittle or degrade the Mayor or City Council, including their staff.  I sincerely believe however, that decisions are being made, such as the one above, that just do not seem to make for good common sense, and therefore, must be the feeling of others in the city.

I also believe that basic needs such as public safety must be met above all others, and that our city leaders should conduct themselves with that in mind.  Regardless of the benefits in the future, fire protection is something that we need now, today, this hour, this minute and not a second less. 

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