Berkeley fire chief asks for urgent action to snag new HQ

The monthly rent for the 55,000-square-foot facility in West Berkeley is projected to reach about $121,000.

Berkeley fire chief asks for urgent action to snag new HQ
The Berkeley Fire Department hopes to develop new headquarters inside a six-suite building on the block between Eighth and Ninth streets north of Gilman Street. Google Maps

The Berkeley Fire Department "has reached a breaking point" and has asked for emergency help from the City Council to secure new headquarters.

Berkeley Fire Chief David Sprague has asked officials to consider his request as an urgent item Tuesday night. A two-thirds council vote is required to add the item to the June 4 agenda.

Sprague said the department's inadequate facilities had reached "emergency status" and that "significant overcrowding exists in every administrative facility."

The city has been working since 2020 to find the right location for the new facility and ultimately identified a building on the block north of Gilman Street, between Eighth and Ninth streets, as the "ideal property."

But time is of the essence, Sprague wrote: "If Council does not accept this item onto the June 4 agenda, there is a very real risk that the owner will walk away from negotiations in favor of a tenant who can sign a lease immediately."

In making his case, Sprague said that some BFD offices designed for one person are now being used by up to four; that the training facility on Cedar Street is already "packed beyond capacity"; and that there is no space for two new ambulances that have been recommended for "immediate deployment" given the city's needs.

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The city has already invested a "tremendous amount of time and substantial funding," he wrote, "in evaluating and pursuing multiple sites."

The Berkeley Fire Department has "informally pursued" 10 properties in Berkeley and Richmond and "formally pursued" two, according to the agenda item.

The sites "ultimately failed to fulfill requirements, or the City encountered intense competition that produced offers that superseded resources," he wrote.

The new property, which spans about 55,300 square feet, has adequate space indoors as well as off-street parking availability, "substantial" warehouse space, rooms for meetings and classes, space for an ambulance deployment center, room for "a modern day Emergency Operations Center" and "direct access to major transportation corridors," according to the agenda item.

No other known location would accommodate all the needs, BFD said.

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The fire department currently has "multiple administrative locations" around the city, making it hard to coordinate, he wrote.

The move to the new HQ would consolidate operations.

Negotiations for the new space have already begun, Sprague wrote, but that hasn't stopped other potential tenants from expressing interest.

The council item would authorize the city to enter into a 20-year lease with Smith and Walters, Inc. for a monthly rent that would increase over time to $106,268 in the first year as BFD occupies a growing number of suites on the property.

Once all six available suites are occupied, the rent would total about $121,000 per month, according to the draft agreement.

"Funding sources for these leases may include but are not limited to Measure FF, UC Funds, and General Fund," according to the agenda item.

Read the full item.

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See the full Berkeley City Council agenda for June 4 on the city website. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the School District Board Room at 1231 Addison St. (between Bonar and Browning streets).