Santa Clara County will soon be responsible for taking over firefighting on a portion of the NASA Ames Research Center, replacing services that the federal government historically had provided.
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday, Sept. 27, to create a new fire protection zone on a portion of NASA Ames property, allowing the county to take over fire services as well as generate a revenue stream to support those services.
“I think this is the federal government saying, ‘We don’t want to be in the business of providing these services, as these are services that are typically provided by local government,’ to which the county is saying, ‘Fair enough, but we don’t want to be in the business of picking up the cost for your services,’” said Supervisor Joe Simitian, whose District 5 includes NASA Ames.
The new Zone 3 is roughly 1,400 acres and includes much of the Moffett Federal Airfield. Highway 101 runs along the south section of the new zone, which borders Mountain View city limits to the south and west, and Sunnyvale city limits to the south, east and north.
Previously, the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District did not provide services to NASA Ames because it was under exclusive federal jurisdiction, according to a staff report. But because of an anticipated increase in private mixed-use development on its property, NASA Ames indicated its intent to retrocede some of its land.
Retrocession means the land would come under concurrent federal and state jurisdiction. It also means that the local government, in this case Santa Clara County, becomes responsible for providing services there.
But doing so comes at a high cost, with an even higher cost anticipated once new developments are built out. Those potential developments include a 90,000-square-foot Google office building, a 2,100-apartment complex and 100,000 square feet of retail and services over the next 15 to 20 years. In addition, University of California, Berkeley plans to build 200 housing units and 1.3 million square feet of research and development, academic, medical, conference and retail space, according to Supervisor Simitian's office.
“If you construct a 90,000 square foot office building, that’s going to generate several hundred occupants and a building that would require fire services,” Simitian told the Voice.
In order for the county to provide these higher-level services after the retrocession occurs, the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District asked the board to authorize the creation of Zone 3. By creating a new zone, the fire district can collect taxes from those living and working there, which can fund the fire services the county will have to provide.
The county also wanted to ensure that people who live in Zone 3 are the ones paying for the services there, so that non-Zone 3 residents aren’t essentially subsidizing them through their tax dollars, the staff report said.
“We want to make sure that the folks and facilities that occupy the land at NASA Ames in the years to come are kept safe and secure, but we want to make sure that service is paid for by the beneficiaries of the service,” Simitian said. “We want to keep everybody safe, and make sure everybody pays their fair share.”
The resolution to create Zone 3 passed unanimously at the Sept. 27 meeting.