Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Lynch Canyon (Solano County)
“Room to Roam; Open-space designation may burden fire district”
by Kimberly K. Fu from “Vacaville Reporter” newspaper:
Cordelia Fire Protection District Assistant Chief Aaron McAlister opens a gate while driving through Lynch Canyon recently. (Brad Zweerink/ The Reporter)
Within the year, more than 1,000 acres of open space in Cordelia known as Lynch Canyon is expected to become a park.
Which means more room to roam, hike, picnic and otherwise enjoy outdoor activities.
But more access also means more people, and that is what concerns the Cordelia Fire Protection District.
Assistant Fire Chief Aaron McAlister said officials are not opposed to the park concept. They're just worried about funding and their ability to respond to the needs of those in their 56-square-mile jurisdiction.
"We need to supplement the funding for things that are added to our mission," he said. "We need to pre-plan, put in as many fire lanes, all-weather, as possible, (and) widen roads."
McAlister said that fire breaks would have to be cut in Lynch Canyon, roads built in any public-accessible area and spaces designated as medical helicopter landing zones.
The open space area would also require a general clearing of brush and other debris to tamp down the potential for fires.
"We talked about closing the park on red flag (high chance of fire) days," he said. "Less fires start, no rescue issues."
Lynch Canyon measures 1,039 acres and is owned by the Solano Land Trust, a local nonprofit organization that promotes preservation of Solano farmlands and open spaces.
Lynch Canyon is located in the area of Lynch and McGary roads, and the property falls within the purview of the Cordelia fire district.
All medical calls, as well as reports of fire in the area would be answered by district firefighters.
The district currently serves about 5,000 residents of Cordelia, Green Valley, Rockville and lower Suisun Valley.
When Solano Community College is in session, or during the summertime when nearby Rockville Park is host to numerous visitors, the population the district serves drastically increases, fire officials said.
A new coverage area will require the department to buy specialized equipment in order to respond to that area's needs, Chief Jay Huysoon said, and there's just no money to do that.
The Cordelia district operates on a small budget that, together with funding provided through tax assessments via the Measure I bond measure that barely passed in 2002, offers no frills but keeps station doors open, Huysoon said.
As an example of the shortage of funds, he cited decades-old firefighting vehicles that should be retired, but instead act as the district's front-line equipment.
"We budgeted $22,000 for repairs," Huysoon said. "This year, it'll cost us $65,000."
Increased response times are another concern. Should firefighters be on a call within Lynch Canyon , he said, and another emergency occur in another part of the district, officials cannot guarantee a quick response time.
"If they do this, we may not be able to put an engine in front of someone's home who pays taxes," Huysoon said.
Should Lynch Canyon become a park, the small tax revenue generated by the property would stop, he said.
Larger districts seem to get more funding, Huysoon said, while Cordelia is forgotten.
"Everything costs us the same as bigger agencies," he added.
Marilyn Farley, executive director of the Solano Land Trust, said officials are working with the county to address these concerns.
"Public access implies making sure you have park rangers there, fire and emergency services, and that your trails are maintained," she said. "The question now moves to whether we can make arrangements with the county and I hope we can do that."
Officials hope to come to terms with the county regarding the park by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
"But that doesn't mean that it'll open July 1," Farley said.
Supervisor John Vasquez said the fire district's concern regarding funding is very real, and that the county doesn't want to add to the district's burden.
"They need help," he acknowledged.
But the park, he added, would be a great benefit to many. County officials are researching ways to make the situation work, and even looking at partnership possibilities.
"We're looking at what it would take to run Lynch Canyon for three to five years until it could run on its own," Vasquez said.
All Green Valley resident Marvin Schechtman wants is to know that, when help is needed, it will come. Even if it means chipping in more money to help stabilize the fire district's coffers.
"We can all afford a little more, but you can't afford to be cut off," he said. "These guys are so dedicated. You can't help but want to help. It could be a concern that we'll be diluting their services. They still need more money to just do what they do."