BY ERIK CHALHOUB –
Gilroy’s long-awaited fourth fire station took one step closer to reality Dec. 2, when the Gilroy City Council approved revised plans for the facility on the southwestern portion of the city.
However, while early estimates put the station online in 2022, its construction is tied to the vitality of the housing market, according to the 2005 development agreement for Glen Loma Ranch, site of the new station.
If all goes according to plan, the real estate developers will pay for most of the cost of construction.
The Glen Loma Ranch housing subdivision being built along Santa Teresa Boulevard will have 1,643 units once it is fully built. The first four neighborhoods totaling 275 homes sold in 2016, and more are expected to wrap up soon.
Estimated costs for a 7,350-square-foot fire station in Glen Loma is now $9,337,872, according to architect RRM Design Group. The developer is required to fund the fire station construction as well as another park, but just up to $7.8 million. If the actual cost is above the budget, the city is required to pay the difference.
The council on Dec. 2 decided to allocate funding for the second park in the development to the fire station, closing the gap to nearly $1.5 million, which would be funded through the city’s general fund.
A rough timeline puts the station’s groundbreaking in early 2021 and being fully operational in 2022. But even if funding is available, construction could still be delayed on other factors, said City Administrator Gabriel Gonzalez.
According to the development agreement, the station must be completed before Glen Loma applies for a permit for its 1,100th residential unit. A housing market slowdown would result in fewer permits being pulled by the corporation.
Gonzalez said that Glen Loma is currently looking for a builder to construct not only the fire station, but an affordable housing project nearby. A deal that Glen Loma had earlier this year with a builder “fell through,” he added, reporting the developer is currently searching for another.
According to Deputy Community Development Director Sue O’Strander, about 849 units have been completed or in various stages of planning, with 520 building permits issued so far.
Councilmember Marie Blankley said residents have been told for years that the fire station was not being built due to lack of funding on the city’s part. But now that the city has allocated the money toward the station, construction is in limbo based on the developer’s ability to find a builder, she said.
“I feel completely misled,” Blankley said. “It’s disappointing to feel like you didn’t get the facts when you should have.”
The council voted 6-0 to approve the revised plans and signal Glen Loma Corporation to move forward with construction. Councilmember Fred Tovar was absent.
The city’s exponential growth on its southwest side in recent years has exacerbated the issue of its very few east-to-west routes.
There are roughly three major arterials to Santa Teresa Boulevard: the busy First Street corridor to the north, the far-off Luchessa Avenue/Thomas Road route to the south, and the narrow Miller Avenue between them.
As a result, the city reported that fire department response times have suffered in the area, with the nearest fire station roughly four miles away.
According to a study by Citygate Associates, the total response time in the Santa Teresa area from the initial 9-1-1 call to the first units arriving on-scene is just under 11 minutes, compared to the average eight- to nine-minute response time in other areas of the city. However, these numbers are still below the ideal seven-minute and 30-second time as outlined in the study.
“We believe that when the city finally has four fire stations, that’s a very achievable goal,” said Interim Fire Chief Jeff Clet.
Clet added that the Alternative Service Model program, which went into effect on July 1, has seen some improvements in response times in the Glen Loma area. The program, with firefighters responding from a temporary facility at nearby Christmas Hill Park, uses an existing advanced life support vehicle and two firefighters on overtime Monday through Sunday between 8am and 8pm.
Still, the city’s three fire stations, with three firefighters on duty at all times, coupled with the Santa Clara County Fire station at Gilroy Gardens, fall short of what is needed in the city, according to Stewart Gary, public safety principal with Citygate.
“You’ve grown beyond your current fire station coverage,” he told the council during a Nov. 25 meeting. “The city is too large to serve from three fire stations.”