Measure T, the astounding $650 million bond passed in November, has city officials fervidly making plans to expand Internet access to low-income households, contemplate the future of Coyote Valley and fund sustainable building projects.
But firefighters, who have expected a station in Willow Glen for nearly two decades, have yet to get their turn.
As the city plans to allocate funds towards disaster preparedness and public safety, firefighters are among those who wait for the city to mend the gap in its growing infrastructure backlog.
“San Jose fire and medical services are constantly increasing,” said Sean Kaldor, president of the San Jose Firefighters, IAFF Local 230. “The city has very rarely an opportunity to grow or handle that demand.”
And now Kaldor and other fire personnel are hoping to get their new fire stations built before the money runs out — again.
According to the city’s allocation plan, at least $175 million will be used to fund police, fire and emergency operations projects. Building the long-awaited Fire Station 37 in Willow Glen and relocating Fire Stations 8 and 23 are a top priority for the fire department, in addition to the construction of two new fire stations.
A long-awaited promise
Kaldor said Station 37 has been desperately needed in Willow Glen since Measure O was passed in 2002. But the city quickly ran out of funding and the project was left on hiatus.
“The cost of everything went through the roof,” added Kaldor. “We want to make sure that this one moves forward quickly.”
The neighborhood, which continues to grow at a rapid rate with several new housing projects, is “very poorly served,” Kaldor said, and relies heavily on service from Station 6, which borders the northeastern side of the neighborhood closer to Interstate 280.
Building the much-needed station could significantly improve emergency response times and reduce the number of calls from other stations, relieving pressure in neighboring areas while expanding the fire department’s reach.
“We are resource challenged,” said Fire Chief Robert Sapien, Jr. “With the addition of fire stations, we will have support that will help us with call volumes. Station 37 will address one of the most critical gaps in the city and will serve to mitigate some of our significant response time challenges.”
Relocating fire stations
Measure T is also supposed to fund relocating Station 8, which is on 17th and Santa Clara streets. According to the SJFD, the station sits dangerously above Coyote Creek — making its location susceptible to flooding and danger in the case of an earthquake.
The station was built in 1949, and currently does not maintain many of the necessary design features of a modern fire station. It also poses serious safety concerns because firefighters have difficulties moving equipment in and out of doors, and they don’t have enough space for mandated fitness activities.
Similarly, Station 23 “lacks many of the appropriate workplace features for a modern fire station,” according to Sean Lovens, a spokesman for the firefighters union. The station was converted from a single family home in the early 1970s, Lovens said, into a temporary fire station as the city experienced rapid growth.
“Unfortunately, the temporary status was removed and now this house is the last of its kind in the SJFD,” Lovens added. “We did have similar homes that were converted to temporary fire stations throughout San Jose, but those have all been rebuilt.”
Waiting for the funding
Kaldor and his colleagues are now waiting for San Jose officials to put together a timeline for construction of the new stations.
“That process gets dragged out and gets forgotten,” Kaldor said.
He fears that the fire department’s infrastructure needs might be pushed aside in favor of other proposals, or that the city will not have the appropriate funding to staff the new stations. “The concern is that it takes two or three years to find a site, find a plan,” he said. “Measure T pays for the building but it doesn’t pay for the people. The city needs to find in the budget the firefighters to work in these stations.”
But city leaders made assurances Friday that the fire department will be a priority for Measure T funding — and it won’t lose its turn again.
San Jose Public Works Director Matt Cano said that the City Council has already earmarked funding for the fire station projects.
“We know exactly where (Station 37) is going to go and we’re moving on it very quickly,” Cano said. “We are currently moving forward. We have a draft project schedule and those are the project categories and some are more defined than others but we are pushing forward with this.”
Sapien added that the city is aware of the department’s staffing needs. A cost estimate for bringing station 37 on was submitted, and the department will work closely with the city on forecasting those costs as the stations are being built.
Station 37 in Willow Glen is well underway while Stations 8 and 23 are still in the land evaluation phase, said Cano.
In June, the Public Works Department will provide the City Council with an update on the projects. If all goes according to plan, the new station should be up and running by Jan. 2022.