San Jose OKs three new fire stations, relocating two existing stations
San Jose Fire Chief Robert Sapien Jr., right, on Tuesday laid out the plans for three new fire stations in the city, as well as the relocation of two existing stations. Photo by Mauricio La Plante.

San Jose is now in the market to build three new fire stations and relocate two existing ones after the City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to move forward with the search for five new sites.

Emergency responses have spiked 83 percent in the last decade, according to a memo from San Jose Fire Chief Robert Sapien, Jr. In 2016, city officials recommended adding more stations after a study revealed that nine neighborhoods would take first responders more than four minutes to reach. The Willow Glen, East Foothills and Centerwood neighborhoods were among the nine that officials deemed were in a significant coverage gap.

Now with the help of Measure T funds – a $650 million public safety bond that was approved by voters in November – the Willow Glen, Santee and Ramblewood/Sylvandale neighborhoods will be at the top of the list to get long-awaited stations.

“These fire station placements will reinforce the existing emergency response system, improve travel time to areas currently beyond four minute travel time reach and in preparation of anticipated growth and development,” Sapien wrote.

Willow Glen residents in particular have long awaited their own fire station. A 2002 bond measure, dubbed Measure O, was supposed to fund a station on part of the Lincoln Glen Park parking lot. However, the city ran out of money before it could be constructed – skyrocketing Willow Glen to the top of the priority list for Measure T funding.

The two stations that are slated for relocation are situated in the downtown east and Vinci/Berryessa neighborhoods. Station 8, which is located at the cross section of East Santa Clara and 17th streets, is one of the highest emergency response areas. But the nearby Coyote Creek has been posing risks to the station’s future.

“Fire Station 8 must be relocated from its current location due to risk of land erosion which could compromise structural integrity,” Sapien wrote.

The council on Tuesday also approved a proposal from Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilmembers Raul Peralez and Magdalena Carrasco to explore using Measure T funds to expand new or existing stations “with the addition of dormitory space and second bays to address existing and anticipated critical gaps in coverage in adjoining coverage areas.”

In particular, the councilors are eyeing Station 20 on Coleman Avenue, which is being funded by the FAA.

“Adding marginal funding for more dormitory space and exploring a second bay concept can expand bandwidth at the station to provide off airfield service,” Liccardo, Peralez and Carrasco wrote. “This can serve the city well if we should end up building a station to adjust for the future development in this area.”

The councilors also asked officials to explore funding energy storage or micro-grid infrastructure at fire stations. Last week, Liccardo, along with Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Pam Foley and Peralez asked the city to study how San Jose can be more energy resilient as PG&E exercises its ability to shut off power to mitigate wildfire risks.

The councilors worried that increasing blackouts in San Jose could create problems for emergency responders, as well as hospitals and other vulnerable populations. To keep the lights on, they want to take control over their energy use by building infrastructure for micro-grids or backup generators.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, Liccardo said he had Measure T in mind when he co-authored the proposal on San Jose’s energy resiliency.

“We’ll need multiple sources to be able build out the micro-grids,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight. “The really critical thing in all this is to recognize that we’ve got a crisis coming and we’ve got to invest significantly now… That crisis is going to come in the form of blackouts that we will have very little to no notice about.”

Liccardo expects to have enough funding between Measure T, San Jose Clean Energy and other grants and loans by early next year to start investing in energy storage.

Contact Grace Hase at grace@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @grace_hase on Twitter.

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