Newcastle Fire District given final notice by county

Code enforcement official: Building is not condemned
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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The fight over the state of the Newcastle Fire Department building and how it should be fixed has reached a breaking point.

A group of Newcastle residents are upset over what they believe was misleading information about the legal condition of the fire department building. The group has led an effort to put a reform measure on the ballot after they learned the building, which was claimed to be condemned, is not, among other issues.

This week the county is stepping in with a notice that the building now needs to be inspected by a licensed engineer.

Final notice sent

The Newcastle Fire Protection District was issued a final notice on Thursday by the Placer County Code Enforcement Division to obtain a structural analysis of the 90-year-old Newcastle Fire Department.

Tim Wegner, chief building official with the Placer County Community Development Resource Agency's Code Enforcement Division, said he sent the final notice to the Newcastle Fire Station on Tuesday.

The notice requires the Newcastle Fire Protection District to have the building that houses the fire department evaluated by a registered official who has an understanding of structural integrity within the next 14 days, Wegner said. A copy of the final notice obtained by the Journal on Friday states if the proper inspection is not conducted within 14 days "the building will be posted with ‘restricted use' placards at its entry doors" to "notify the public and potential building occupant of the restricted building use which will permit brief entry for the purposes of accessing contents only."

Wegner made it clear that the Newcastle Fire Department building at 9211 Cypress St. has never been condemned.

"We've been in contact with (the Newcastle Fire Protection District Board of Directors) and working with them, and we're trying to be very considerate, as public safety is paramount to us, but they need to take some action and get this analysis done," Wegner said. "We've been having discussions with them and when we were finding that those discussions were not coming to fruition I sent them the final notice earlier this week."

Fallout from March election

Earlier this year during a special election held on March 6, 68 percent of those who voted in Newcastle passed Measure B, which includes an annual $146.46 parcel tax based on the square footage of a property owner's structures. The annual tax can also increase up to 3 percent each year. The funds gathered from Measure B were promoted to pay for a new fire station in Newcastle and wages and benefits for the firefighters.

Soon after it passed, some Newcastle residents started to question the campaign, how the money would be spent and how much would really be collected. Doreen and Tim Compton found out due to their property size, their annual bill is set to be $750.

A cluster of Newcastle residents calling themselves the Reform Measure B Group have seen to it that Measure K will appear on the ballot for the November election to reform Measure B.

If passed, Measure K will allow for the first three years of the $146.46 parcel tax so the new fire station can be built or the current structure can be remodeled, according to Doreen Compton, a member of the Reform Measure B Group. After the three years the tax would be lowered to $30 per parcel to pay for maintenance of the building.

The Reform Measure B Group circulated a petition and obtained 432 signatures to get Measure K placed on the November ballot, Compton said.
"The people of Newcastle were misled, lied to," Compton said at a recent meeting with the Journal.

Part of the reasoning behind the Reform Measure B Group's efforts focuses on the fact that voters were told the Newcastle Fire Department building is condemned. A copy of the ballot obtained by the Reform Measure B Group dated March 6, 2012, states Measure B funding would be used "to replace the old, condemned fire station with a cost-effective, safe building."

They meet regularly on Mondays to discuss the matter and attend Thursday fire board meetings.

Yvonne Lewis, chairwoman of the Newcastle Fire Protection District Board of Supervisors, said on Friday she hopes to hold a special meeting soon with the board to discuss the letter from the code enforcement office. She disagrees with claims that the district lied about the condition of the station.

"I do not feel personally that it was misleading (to say the fire house was condemned) because of the fact that the building is unsafe, it is deteriorating, it is not ADA compliant and it does not fit the equipment" Lewis said.

A longstanding problem

Wegner maintained that the building has never been officially condemned and that it is general procedure to operate under a "voluntary compliance" approach when it comes to developing a plan for the fire house and a structural analysis.

According to a courtesy notification obtained by the Reform Measure B Group from the code enforcement office, the Newcastle Fire Protection District was first alerted on April 7, 2011, that the property needed to be brought into compliance. Another notice was sent to the district on June 6, 2011, stating that the structural issues either needed to be addressed or a timeline for compliance needed to be discussed between the code enforcement office and the district.

This letter included a notice of violation and stated that no one could occupy the building over night and no members of the public, other than the firefighters that work there, can enter the building at any time. Firefighters who work night shifts now sleep in a travel trailer next to the firehouse and only enter at night to use the bathroom and access equipment.

Wegner said that given the passage of Measure B and the fact that members of the fire board continued to communicate with the code enforcement office about the fire house, time was allotted to see if compliance would be met.

On April 20, 2012, another notice was sent from the code enforcement office requesting a timeline or plan regarding the structural problems within the fire department be submitted by May 15.

The next letter from the code enforcement office was the final notice from Wegner and was received at the Newcastle Fire Department on Thursday.

"We work in a voluntary compliance approach, so while we were still having communications with the district we felt they were going to complete the structural analysis and that's why some time has drawn out a bit," Wegner said.

If an analysis is not completed and submitted to the code enforcement office within two weeks, the issue could be passed on to a board of appeals consisting of design professionals, engineers, architects and fire officials, Wegner said. It's either that or citations can be handed out.

"We can issue citations, but we don't feel those will compel the necessary analysis," Wegner said.

What's next?

On Thursday, Newcastle Fire Captain Greg Kirk was at the firehouse and said a crew of firefighters is there 24 hours everyday and that they continue to sleep in the trailer.

"It's not hard to see the obvious signs of disrepair here," Kirk said.

Jim Holmes, who oversees District 3 on the Placer County Board of Supervisors, said he is aware the fire house has never been officially condemned, but that the state of the building justifies a completely new structure.

"There have been some people who want to go ahead and repair the building, but that's like opening up a cancer patient. Once you're in there you're going to be spending a lot of money," Holmes said. "For all intents and purposes it's unfit for public entry and if you go in there you can see it's in bad, bad shape."

Lewis said she wasn't sure how the board would decide to react to the letter until they met. She also said land for a new fire house is being evaluated for construction of the new fire house now.

The land would be leased from Elliot Rose, owner of R&S Properties in Newcastle, according to Lewis.

"This notice comes at no surprise as we have been using that building on borrowed time for far too long," Lewis said. "I agree with the county that it is no longer tolerable to house our firefighters there and we are fortunate that no one has been hurt and appreciate that the county has worked with us."

Contact Amber Marra at Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.