The Cayucos Fire Department is hanging by a thread, combatting alleged Brown Act violations as it weighs what options are left to keep things afloat.
The Cayucos Fire Protection District’s board was recently accused of violating the Brown Act, which governs public meeting laws, for nearly forming a citizen advisory committee without public notice (it wasn’t on the meeting agenda) and for not having documents available to the public during a meeting.
“It was a misunderstanding that was cured. At the following meeting, the formation of an advisory committee was on the agenda,” said the board’s lawyer, Michael Seitz. “If the board does not have documents prior to the meeting, which was the case, then the documents can be made available after the meeting is held.”
Seitz said two of the board’s members are brand new this year and may not understand the Brown Act. Board President Steve Beightner said it wasn’t the committee’s intent to violate any laws.
“We want to be as transparent as possible through this process,” Beightner said. “My goal is to assure that the citizens of Cayucos have adequate professional firefighting response that they need and deserve to have.”
He said the citizen advisory committee is the board’s way of looking for the most fiscally responsible option for the town to keep the fire department open.
“Cayucos is struggling to do two things: We’re struggling to staff the department, and we’re struggling to fund the department,” Beightner said.
The volunteer-run fire department is currently funded by a special fire tax from its residents at $100 per household. In 2016, the community voted against Measure C-16, which would have raised the special fire tax to $125 per residential unit. At four units per single family home, the fire tax would have increased by $500 per household.
The board created the six-person advisory committee to research three options: Cayucos completely funds the fire department with 24/7 career firefighters ($1.4 million), Cayucos enters into a contract with Cal Fire to provide 24/7 fire protection and staff at the existing station ($1.2 million), or the fire department dissolves and the department is turned over to the county ($550,000). The board will make its decision in June.