What Was Life Like?
The years leading up to the creation of the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District (SRVFPD) can only be described as turbulent.
By Beverly Lane
Providing services for the burgeoning population was the major challenge. The valley had 2,120 people in 1940, 12,700 in 1960 and 57,307 in 1980.
Consolidation of the Danville and San Ramon Fire Districts had been discussed for some time. The San Ramon Valley Chamber did a study on whether or not the districts should join the County Consolidated FPD in the early seventies. In 1977 the county grand jury recommended that the two districts consolidate and, after Proposition 13 passed in 1978, merger talks began in earnest.
The status of South San Ramon was another issue. The Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) provided fire, parks, sewer and other services for South San Ramon. In 1979 the DSRSD had even sponsored a vote on incorporation which failed in San Ramon and passed in Dublin.
The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) was in charge of district consolidations. LAFCO’S Executive Director Dewey Mansfield pronouned “There’s a built-in LAFCO outlook for consolidation.” He outlined the process but found it was a little like herding cats with strong opinions.
In March, 1979, a San Ramon-Danville Joint Study Committee was set up to study fire service consolidation composed of board members Howard Wiedemann, Lou Sylvia, Larry Davidson, Armand Borel and Don Miladinovich. All four valley fire districts in the valley were discussed: Danville, DSRSD, San Ramon and Tassajara.
That May the Committee approved consolidation and asked the Danville and San Ramon boards to prepare merger applications for LARCO. Led by Don Miladinovich, Danville was ready to go. They were worried that the County Con Fire would annex the districts, which would create reductions in emergency services and loss of local control. But the San Ramon board pulled back, saying that more time and details were needed. Sylvia said “why is Danville in such a hurry to do this?”
Mel Deardorff, an assistant Fire Chief for Danville at the time, was very involved in the proposed merger. “Don Miladinovich was the spark plug for this merger, for sure. He was a board member for Danville Fire. He thought it made sense and was involved in a lot of behind-the-scenes politicking to make it happen and talked to others on the fire boards.”
He added “In 1978 Bill Fereira retired as Chief in San Ramon and he had really started that district. Bill was not happy about the prospect of a merger at first. It was hard for him to see the district change that way. Richard Schuller became chief next and then the San Ramon board hired Roy Asmundsen as chief; he had been Danville's Fire Marshall and was near retirement himself.”
After more discussion and no resolution, the Danville board brought our two plans and pledged to take one to LAFCO by the end of the year. One would consolidate Danville, San Ramon and South San Ramon. If San Ramon didn’t want this plan, the Board would go to LAFCO and propose that San Ramon and South San Ramon be annexed to Danville. Neither plan called for an approval by the DSRSD board, which sent board president Joe Covello into what one newspaper called “paroxysms of outrage.”
The San Ramon board offered an alternate plan and continued to worry about the implications. Director Ben Clark said there are “just so many unanswered questions…”. The valley’s County Supervisor Eric Hasseltine finally said “Nowhere is the provincialism more rampant than it is in the fire boards. You talk consolidation and they go nuts.”
All agreed that a new district should be called the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District. But there were differences over emergency services, with Danville having its own ambulance and San Ramon contracting with an ambulance service. Who would be chief? How should they go about selecting a new Fire Board? What about seniority, retirement equity, salary differences?
To make a really long story short, the two districts combined on March 18, 1980. Both Boards endorsed it unanimously (with San Ramon’s Armand Borel an initial hold out) and it sailed through LAFCO hearings. The name was changed, Danville’s Mike Blodgett became Chief with Roy Asmundsen as Assistant Chief, pay scales were equalized, Danville’s ambulance was kept (with a study set up to address the valley’s emergency needs). By late spring the board included both San Ramon and Danville representatives Don Miladinovich, Lou Sylvia, Al Houvenin, Robert Ingram and Sam Pappalardo. The San Ramon Valley Unified Fire District was firmly in place.
Sources: Valley Pioneers July 13, 1977; August 29, Sept. 12, Oct. 3, Nov. 21, Dec. 5, 12, 19, 26,1979; March 19, 1980, April 9, 1980, May 7, 1980; Contra Costa Times Dec. 13, 1979; Tri-Valley News Dec. 19, 1979; Fire Line; interviews with Mel Deardorff, Bill Fereira, Rick Probert