Oakland scales back controversial plan to shutter fire stations

San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland will deactivate one fire station instead of three to help offset the city’s budget shortfall — a compromise after firefighters and neighboring communities that contract with the city for fire protection criticized the earlier plan.

The decision announced Friday comes after discussions between the city administration and the local firefighters union. It will go into effect on Wednesday and last until June.

“Obviously, we think that the fire department should be at full strength. This is not something we take lightly, but we are happy that the city backed off their plan to close three,” said Zac Unger, president of Oakland Firefighters Local 55. “We understand the budget realities being what they are, no service is going to stay whole, although we wish it would.”

The temporary closure will be scheduled for six days at a time and will rotate through each fire station in the city. The new plan will save about $1 million.

Oakland has 25 fire stations, each of which operate with one engine. The only station that remains unaffected by the closure is at the Oakland International Airport.

The initial plan was to deactivate three fire engines for six days at a time in an effort to save $5 million. County leaders and neighboring cities widely criticized the plan and asked Mayor Libby Schaaf to reconsider the closures.

Last month, the city’s finance department said Oakland is facing an “unprecedented fiscal challenge.” The city ended its 2019-20 fiscal year in June with a $30 million budget gap. Now that’s grown to $62 million.

The overspending came primarily from the Oakland Police Department exceeding its budget by $32 million over the past fiscal year, wrote Margaret O’Brien, the interim finance director, in a report presented to the City Council last month.

In December, city administrators said they would cut $29 million to address the financial crisis — $9 million in general spending through a hiring freeze, $20 million from the police department and $4.3 million from the fire department.

On Tuesday, the city council’s finance committee will vote on a plan proposed by Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan to help close the city’s budget deficit. Kaplan’s plan transfers $10 million from the Coliseum Authority to the city.

Kaplan proposed transferring some of those funds to the city’s fire department to avoid closures.

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