Fire Chief Richard Price discussed plans for a new Station 32 on Tuesday night that drew some opponents but more supporters, resulting in standing room only at the meeting of the Alamo Municipal Advisory Council at Hap Magee Ranch Park.
"It's a very simple project in our minds," said Price. "We thought it would draw appreciation from the community."
The San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District purchased the 1.24-acre lot at 2100 Stone Valley Road at the corner of Miranda Avenue in January 2009 for $1.2 million. Neighbors immediately became alarmed at what the facility in their midst would do to their property values and began to investigate the proposed plans and debate funding options.
"The purchase of the property was celebrated by the Fire District, after a five-year search," said Price. "It is likely the best site in all of Alamo."
He noted that the corner location with a stoplight will make it easier for emergency vehicles to exit the station. Opponents fear that traffic from Stone Valley Middle School will be impacted, as well as children on bicycles. Price explained that fire vehicles use Miranda Avenue now as a north-south route to emergencies.
Price said a team of experts has been working on plans for the application, which must follow detailed guidelines. For instance, they spent 90 days figuring out how to collect 100 percent of rainwater and then treat it.
"This is a fairly new requirement," he noted.
Plans are for a 9,255-square-foot station, with 5,153 square feet of living space, modeled after the last two stations built in the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District - Station 36 in Danville and Station 30 in San Ramon. These state-of-the-art stations are each about 10,000 square feet.
Price also read and rebutted what he called "lies and misinformation" from a flier that has been circulated in the community by unhappy potential neighbors.
"It says we did no study on our response time," he said, then held up an 88-page report on response time that was completed in December.
What the flier called a computer room for the firefighters is actually the office, he said. What opponents labeled "stratoloungers" are squares on the plans where chairs will go.
The flier says the station is located in a 500-year flood plain, Price said.
"The station is nowhere near a flood plain," he responded. "We're not going to put a multi-million dollar facility in a flood plain."
Price said that some criticisms on the flier are off the subject - such as how much do the firefighters make? - which proves that the project is sound.
"It's not land use criticism," he observed. "We're reassured."
The current station, located on Stone Valley Road a half mile west of the new site, was built in 1958. It has 3,737 square feet of total space, with 2,547 square feet of living space, and is outdated.
"We want to build a facility that would survive and continue to serve after a significant (disaster) event," Price said.
The San Ramon Valley Fire District is currently applying for a Land Use Permit for the new station. Aruna Bhat, deputy director of the Department of Conservation and Development, explained Tuesday night that public facilities require such a permit.
When the application is complete, there will be a California Environmental Quality Act review and, if necessary, an Environmental Impact Report.
"Then there will be a public review," said Bhat. "We have seven findings we have to make before approving the use permit."
Neighbors will be told about the hearing, she said, and anyone who wants notification may call 335-1339 to be put on the list.
"The Land Use Permit gives us the ability to go after grants," said Price.
The Municipal Advisory Council had 20 speaker cards on the issue, said Chairman David Bowlby, as he called on them one by one.
Mike Gibson from the Alamo Improvement Association said the design for the new station is good. Board members from AIA recently went through the current station and have been tracking the plans for the last nine months.
"We're trying to be careful of the design and what you see on the corner. We want to make it as residential-looking as possible," Gibson said.
Some residents voiced concerns about noise and safety. Other speakers said fire stations in other neighborhoods, notably Clayton, have proved to be good neighbors and noise was not a problem.
Resident Jan Conway said she opposes the new station.
"This is about environmental issues, money, traffic, property values," she said. "We're in a financial crisis."
"I have a little trouble understanding why the fire department has three parcels," said Alamo resident Ken Brown.
The district purchased land on Danville Boulevard at the corner of Hemme Avenue in December 2005 for $925,000, while weighing options for a new fire station. Now that site will be sold to help pay for the new station.
Brown also expressed concern about traffic on Miranda, especially after school when cars are lined up on the street.
"It's going to be a hazard," said Brown. "There is no way to pull over. I don't think that is the ideal spot."
Dan Haller, who lives on Megan Court behind the new fire station lot, said Realtors say homes next to fire stations have their property values reduced by 10-15 percent. He also surveyed members of a local mothers' club.
"Seventy-five percent of them, asked if they'd buy a home near a fire station, said absolutely not," he said. "The others said maybe, but they would expect a reduction in price."
Al Makely came out in favor of the new station.
"I've lived in Alamo for 33 years and that corner has been a blight," he said, noting that it all comes down to "not in my back yard."
"It's an important part of Alamo politics that people say things they can't prove," added Makely.
Ed Wolske, who lives next door to the lot, questioned its square footage, saying it was 1.07 acres, not the 1.24 acres the fire department claimed. He said it was impossible to "squeeze" the building and parking spaces onto a lot that size, and that the Fire District is asking to be an exception to the rules.
Price explained that the Fire District had ceded land on Stone Valley Road and on Miranda Avenue for road improvements, bringing the lot size to 1.07 acres.
In answer to questions from the council members, Price said that with sound walls and a landscaped berm, "Homes will be quieter than they are now." The station responds to 2.2 calls per day on average, he said.
"We are very respectful that we are in a residential neighborhood," he said. "During the day I think we will be able to exit the station without sirens." At nighttime there is no need for sirens to clear the traffic.
Opponents also mocked the district for doing traffic studies on Stone Valley Road during the summer when school is not in session; Price explained that the August study was done to measure the streets and examine the stoplights, not to study a traffic flow.
He also noted that a "green screen" was added to the project to mitigate a concern of the Haller family regarding their privacy.
"Work with us," urged Price. "We'll fix it if it's wrong."
See the fire station plans and more information at www.firedepartment.org.