17 Jun 19
The Mercury News
SAN JOSE — Residents of Willow Glen and a few other neighborhoods across the city could see new fire stations in the coming years.
If the City Council approves a recommendation from San Jose Fire Department Chief Robert Sapien Jr. on Tuesday, staffers can move forward with identifying and buying property for at least five stations using money from Measure T, a $650 million bond measure voters passed in 2018 aimed in part at improving emergency and disaster response.
Several of the stations would be new, but a couple of existing stations would also be relocated using the funds.
In the last decade, the department has fielded more calls and battled more traffic, which has stretched resources and lengthened response times. In a new memo, Sapien said current overall response times meet the city’s standard — arrival within eight minutes 80 percent of the time for emergencies that require lights and sirens. But while the department meets its two-minute targets for call processing and mobilizing to depart, it only meets the four-minute driving target less than half the time, with late responses concentrated in the center of the city.
“These fire station placements will reinforce the existing emergency response system, improve travel time to areas currently beyond 4-minute travel time reach, and in preparation of anticipated growth and development,” Sapien wrote in his memo.
Among the stations set to be built is the long-sought Station 37 at the corner of Lincoln and Curtner avenues in Willow Glen. Nearly two decades ago, voters passed Measure O and the station was slated to be constructed with bond funds. But there wasn’t enough money to complete the project until voters passed Measure T.
“The residents of District 6 have been waiting many years for Station 37 to be built,” said Councilwoman Dev Davis, who represents the area. “This station will improve response times for fires and medical emergencies for all of Willow Glen and keep us all safer.”
Also on Sapien’s list are new stations in Santee near McLaughlin Avenue and Story Road and in the Ramblewood neighborhood, near Capitol Expressway and McLaughlin Avenue. The city won’t know the exact locations until staffers negotiate for property.
The department is recommending relocating two stations — Station 8 at E. Santa Clara Street and N. 17th Street just east of downtown, and Station 23 at the intersection of Via Cinco De Mayo and N. Capitol Ave. near Berryessa. Station 8 sits on the banks of Coyote Creek. According to the memo, it needs to be moved because of the risk of land erosion, but the location is otherwise good, so the department would like the station to remain in the area. The department wants to move Station 23 toward Lundy Avenue. and McKay Drive. Currently, a four-minute drive north puts firefighters well into Milpitas, and shifting the station could provide better coverage in San Jose. The idea has been discussed in the past, but now the funding is available.
“Finally the stars have aligned,” said Councilman Lan Diep, who represents North San Jose, “and we’ll finally be able to do it.”
The existing station, Diep pointed out, is in a renovated single-family home, which is “not ideal.”
(City of San Jose)While Measure T is only expected to fund these five relocations and new stations, Sapien suggested moving another station in Cambrian to the west and other new station locations in the future, for a total of 11 recommendations. One spot is the Diridon Station area, set to be home to a major Google campus in the coming years and other new developments.
When it developed the list, the department factored in where anticipated developments could increase demand for emergency assistance.
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag”]And while the recommendations are based on current data, Sapien warned that the analysis is a “point-in-time assessment” that should be performed regularly.
Measure T should help get the first five stations up and running if the City Council votes to move forward on Tuesday, but the city will have to work operating and maintenance costs into future budgets.
In a separate memo, Mayor Sam Liccardo and council members Raul Peralez and Magdalena Carrasco said the city should also consider adding to Measure T funding to expand some stations in anticipation of needing more coverage in some areas.
The trio cited Station 20 at the city’s airport as an example.
“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is funding a new station build on the Coleman Avenue side. Adding marginal funding for more dormitory space and exploring a second bay concept can expand bandwidth at the station to provide off airfield service,” they said.
Liccardo, Peralez and Carrasco also called on the city to look into ways to fund energy storage, generation and micro-grid infrastructure at stations.
“The recent announcement by PG&E to de-energize during weather-related high-risk events makes this direction all the more imperative,” they said. “While funding may not be available while staff works on the design of these stations, staff should consider including energy storage (and solar) as “add-alternates” on the Measure T projects, and actively pursue state and federal funding opportunities to ensure we have resilient critical facilities that can operate off the grid if need be.”