Canyon Lake offered incentives in firefighting contract negotiations

Avery Benham dressed in a fire hat and pink dress, holds up a sign in protest of the closure of the Canyon Lake Fire Station in July 2015, but a proposal endorsed by Riverside County supervisors last week could bring a station back to the community. Kim Harris photo
Avery Benham dressed in a fire hat and pink dress, holds up a sign in protest of the closure of the Canyon Lake Fire Station in July 2015, but a proposal endorsed by Riverside County supervisors last week could bring a station back to the community. Kim Harris photo

RIVERSIDE – Riverside County supervisors endorsed a proposal to ensure that the city of Canyon Lake is offered incentives to resume contracting with the county for on-site fire protection services during its Dec. 13 meeting.

Supervisor Kevin Jeffries submitted a two-paragraph recommendation on the Board of Supervisors’ policy agenda emphasizing the need for Canyon Lake to receive cost breaks slated to be provided to the city of Calimesa, which is negotiating with the county for a one-year fire protection compact.

Jeffries did not elaborate on the terms that the two sides are close to reaching but noted that “offering Canyon Lake the same short-term, one-year contract as is being offered Calimesa will afford (Canyon Lake) residents improved services while the city determines its long-term fire protection plans.”

The board voted 4-0 – with Supervisor John Benoit out for health reasons – in support of Jeffries’ recommendation.

Canyon Lake has been without an active fire station since July 2015, depending instead on county fire personnel from Lake Elsinore and Menifee to respond to calls within the gated municipality under a “mutual aid” compact.

The arrangement has exposed Canyon Lake to increased risks stemming from longer response times and the possibility of resources not being available from the neighboring cities.

Jeffries’ 1st District includes Canyon Lake. The supervisor, a former firefighter, has regularly expressed concern about the potential pitfalls of Canyon Lake having no firefighters standing by 24/7.

The county and Canyon Lake, home to about 11,000 residents, became steeped in legal wrangling during the first half of 2015 over nearly $2 million in unpaid fire services bills, which the city blamed on increased firefighter staffing that it did not want and warned the county it wouldn’t be able to afford.

City officials said budgetary reserves were depleted paying for county public safety services.

In a 57-page breach of contract lawsuit, the county alleged that, beginning in the last half of the 2013-14 fiscal year, Canyon Lake stopped making payments under the fire protection contract that went into effect July 1, 2011, and ended July 1, 2015.

The suit was resolved last fall when Canyon Lake agreed to reimburse the county $1.7 million. At that time, city officials said they were moving ahead with plans to establish an independent fire agency.

The city’s Vacation Drive firehouse remains shuttered.

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