Judge Timothy Volkmann ruled Monday, Oct. 4, that the Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Commission was right to deny an application by Bonny Doon Fire to create its own district.
In a tentative ruling, Volkmann ruled that LAFCo followed the correct procedure and presented enough information for commissioners to make the November 2008 decision that rejected Bonny Doon Fire’s application to create a fire district in Bonny Doon.
“The judge’s job is not to play a super-LAFCo,” said Pat McCormick, executive officer of the commission, after the ruling.
Bonny Doon Fire submitted the application for LAFCo review in October 2006. It was denied by the agency in late 2008.
“In 2008, LAFCo considered the proposal at two spirited hearings,” McCormick said in a statement. “The record of LAFCo’s hearings contains more than 3,600 pages of information. The court decision today found that there was sufficient information in the record to support LAFCo’s action.”
Bonny Doon’s proposal would have had Bonny Doon Fire and Rescue Inc. detach from County Service Area 48 — pending voter approval — to create an independent fire district, allowing tax dollars from the Bonny Doon community to pay for the district’s workings.
As the matter stands, Bonny Doon tax dollars pay for Cal Fire coverage. Last year, Cal Fire opened a year-round station in Bonny Doon. The paid firefighters co-exist with the Bonny Doon Fire volunteers to provide emergency coverage to the rural community.
Part of the argument by LAFCo’s legal counsel, Christopher Cheleden, was that removing the Bonny Doon tax base from CSA 48 would weaken fire coverage in the rest of the 286-square-mile service area.
Bonny Doon’s central argument, presented by attorney William D. Ross, was that a community should be allowed to pay for increased fire coverage if it wanted to do so, and that a local district can operate more efficiently than a countywide agency.
It was a quiet scene outside the courtroom after the ruling.
“We’ll wait and discuss the next steps with our legal adviser,” said Rob Caldeira, who sits on the Bonny Doon board of directors. “It’s our goal to become an independent fire district, and we will exhaust any administrative remedies to do it,” he said.