County Service Area (CSA) 38 advisory committee was dissolved last week by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors during their regular meeting. The committee was appointed by Riverside County Third District Supervisor Chuck Washington and served the area of Pine Cove. CSA 38 funding comes from an Ad-Valorem tax (property tax) for enhanced structural fire protection. 

The resolution dissolving the committee reads: “Pine Cove Advisory Committee was established in 1976, there have been significant changes in the services provided within County Service Area No. 38, most notable change being that the fire protection services in the area are no longer provided by a volunteer fire department; and whereas, the needs that existed when the Pine Cove Advisory Committee was established have since diminished considerably, thereby diminishing the need for the Pine Cove Advisory Committee.” 

“Throughout Riverside County there are 59 CSAs, eight with advisory committees,” wrote Opal Hellweg, legislative assistant to Washington, in an email. “The dissolution of the advisory committee does not impact the funds collected for CSA 38. 

“The leadership of the [Pine Cove fire] station will work directly with the Economic Development Agency (EDA) staff, Mike Franklin and David Alverez, to acquire equipment to support Station 23. Community members are free to provide input and recommendations without the need for an advisory committee and all the resources a committee requires.”

An email was sent Feb. 3 to Michelle DeArmond, chief-of-staff to Washington, asking if Washington considers it a conflict of interest that three CSA 38 advisory committee members (the majority of the advisory committee) are associated with the Pine Cove Water District (PCWD): Jerry Holldber is the general manager of PCWD and was a CSA 38 committee member, PCWD board members Lou Padula and Robert Hewitt were also on the committee. CSA 38 funds purchased 10 new fire hydrants. The newspaper never received a response back, except that DeArmond was checking with county counsel. 

“The CSA is not the operational side of the fire hydrant project,” wrote Franklin in a March 2 email responding to where the hydrants are located. “I do not believe it is the county’s responsibility to maintain a mapping system for the hydrants but I do believe the water district [PCWD] should be able to provide locations if requested.”  

A map outlining where the hydrants were installed was requested from PCWD. In a March 11 email Holldber responded: “As of today, I do not have a map, and the plan is still being formulated with the fire department. When the plan is finalized, we will bring it to the public board meeting.”

Unless there is a new development going in — and in that case, the developer would be responsible — a water district would be responsible for paying for and installing fire hydrants. Franklin confirmed this in an earlier email.  

Plans for a deck between the Pine Cove fire station (staffed by Riverside County Fire), and PCWD was approved by the CSA 38 advisory committee. The county then spent just under $19,000 drawing up those plans before the project was scrapped by the county. 

Feb. 14, 2018 CSA 38 minutes state the following: “Status of deck cost breakdown – Michael [Franklin] stated that as of Jan. 31 when we stopped the project, the architectural costs were $18,829 for the Station 23 deck. This has not yet been invoiced. When asked who the plans belonged to Michael stated that they were CSA 38’s. Jerry [Holldber] asked if the cost could be helped by EDA or the board of supervisors.”

“… We got as far as the architectural and engineering design work,” wrote Franklin in an email. “The decision to move forward with the deck was made by CSA Admin and Riverside County Fire. It is my understanding that the deck project was going to alter the internal layout of the station which would ultimately create more space for more crew members. The end goal being to enhance the staffing level. The decision to cancel the project was also made by CSA Admin and Fire after realizing the costs were going to surpass the funding approved for the project.” 

The newspaper asked in an email how many more firefighters this was going to accommodate. Franklin replied, “I don’t recall a hard number for staffing increase for the station deck project.”

CSA 38 and Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council (MCFSC) also recently agreed to coordinate a hazardous brush abatement project in Pine Cove. Holldber is MCFSC’s treasurer. 

“MCFSC is being reimbursed for costs they incur related to the abatement project,” wrote Franklin. “There isn’t a specific amount guaranteed as payment to MCFSC, but the total approved for the fuel reduction program is $40,000 and dates back to our fiscal year 2016/2017. As the project moves forward, MCFSC, CSA Admin, and Fire will coordinate to determine which entity can accomplish each task most efficiently.  

“To date the CSA has contributed $1,892.50 which was for reimbursement to MCFSC for the CEQA report. Correction to previous information about total funding — in January of 2018 the budget for the fuel reduction project was increased to $75,000 and would cover through 2021,” concluded Franklin. 

According to a county representative, county counsel recently found out about Holldber’s affiliation with MCFSC.