By Sam Richards
(Friday, Feb. 25) The GRF Board on Thursday gave its enthusiastic formal support for an almost $5 million grant application by the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District to pay for clearing brush for a firebreak that offer Rossmoor improved wildfire protection.
The Board also on Thursday reiterated that it is seeking support from local and regional elected officials for its own grant proposal to do similar vegetation clearing work around much of Rossmoor’s rim. GRF Board members and staff, including former landscape manager Rebecca Pollon, had started a study in January of what work was needed to clear a firebreak around the community, and how to obtain a state grant to do the work.
The separate ConFire and GRF grant projects cover much of the same land on Rossmoor’s upper rim and were developed independently of one another. Pollon had said earlier that acreage included in the Rossmoor plan could change, depending on how much the ConFire proposal ultimately takes care of.
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Feb. 8 endorsed ConFire’s grant application.
The ConFire grant application with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) seeks $4.991 million. But Chris Bachman, ConFire assistant chief and fire marshal, told the GRF Board the grant request isn’t for all or nothing, that a lower dollar figure could be approved, meaning less work would be paid for.
But it was clear a plan to improve wildfire safety in Rossmoor is very popular with GRF Board members. Board President Dwight Walked asked Bachman on Thursday how the GRF Board could help drum up support for ConFire’s grant application. Bachman said local and regional officials are already behind the grant request, and that reaching out to state legislators might be most helpful.
Another indication that GRF officials consider landing a state fire safety grant a high priority was when, on Feb. 24, the Board voted 8-0 (with Kathleen Stumpfel absent) and with little discussion, to change the Rossmoor public safety manager’s job position from a 32-hour-a-week part-time position to a full-time position. Tom Cashion, a former Walnut Creek police officer, has been Rossmoor’s public safety manager for about a year.
His change in job status will cost GRF $34,306 in additional wages, taxes and benefits. But Jeff Matheson, GRF’s director of resident services, told the Board he thought the job has expanded in scope sufficiently that the added expense was worth it.
“The position has evolved, and new responsibilities have been added,” Matheson said, including overseeing Rossmoor access control systems upgrades, renewing Securitas’s service agreement to provide security in Rossmoor and heading up implementation of GRF’s Emergency Operations Plan, including live evacuation drills. And with Pollon’s recent departure, Cashion’s to-do list now grows to include shepherding the vegetation control/firebreak plan.
“I’ve really seen Tom step up and expand that position,” GRF Board member Carl Brown said Thursday. “I think it’s essential, and I think the community deserves a full-time (public safety) position.”
Cashion’s position becomes full-time starting in March.
Soon after voting 8-0 to formally support the ConFire grant application, Walker gave a short presentation on how GRF has been reaching out to area elected officials to grow support for GRF’s own grant proposal. Among those with whom GRF leaders have had an audience are state Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda, Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (San Ramon) and Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, with offices in Walnut Creek and Richmond. GRF officials were set to meet with County Supervisor Candace Andersen this past Friday.
GRF meetings to stay on Zoom for now
GRF directors voted 6-2 on Thursday to keep the twice-a-month Board meetings, and all committee meetings, on Zoom through at least late March, holding off on any in-person meetings until after a possible surge of a new COVID omicron variant, BA.2, materializes – or doesn’t. The Board will revisit the issue at its next meeting on March 31.
“I think it’s confusing to open things up and shut them down again,” Board member Neva Flaherty said.
Most Board members acknowledged the trepidation that Rossmoor residents, and some among their own ranks, still have about gathering in close proximity. GRF CEO Tim O’Keefe said COVID case rates have fallen dramatically. He also noted that residents’ participation in Board meetings has burgeoned over Zoom.
Most Board members said they like the concept of “hybrid” meetings, held in-person and with live audiences and also streamed over Zoom. Peacock Hall is equipped now to host hybrid meetings, while the GRF board room is expected to have the technology for such meetings within a month or two.
O’Keefe said the GRF Board meetings are recorded by Rossmoor Television staff who also can troubleshoot if technical problems arise. There isn’t sufficient staff to similarly handle GRF’s various committee meetings, he said.
Walker and Board Treasurer Mary Hurt voted against this motion, both of them saying they supported resuming in-person Board meetings once again. Board members also want to, before the March 31 meeting, survey GRF committee members about whether they support re-starting in-person meetings.