Los Banos Fire Chief Chet Guintini set to retire

dwitte@losbanosenterprise.comAugust 22, 2014 

Chet Guintini announced his retirement Wednesday — again.

The Los Banos Fire Department chief, who originally planned to retire in April 2013, announced to the City Council he will officially step down Sept. 12. Assistant Fire Chief Tim Marrison will be promoted to acting fire chief.

Members of the council, along with City Manager Steve Carrigan, heaped praise upon Guintini, but he was quick to deflect it.

“There’s success — and I thank you for all the accolades and everything that you put out there — but the bottom line is the team that we built,” Guintini said. “And I say ‘we built,’ because it’s not just me. It’s Tim sitting back there. It’s all the members of our Fire Department and staff of the department that put this whole operation together and how we move forward in the future.”

Guintini has been with the department for 38 years, 12 of them as the volunteer fire chief.

“That speaks highly. Someone wants that job that bad that they are willing to take 12 years of your life to do it for free,” Los Banos Mayor Mike Villalta said. “It means so much to me to see the volunteerism, and I know you promote it in your department.”

In recent years, Guintini was heavily involved in the rally to pass Measure P, which levied sales taxes to support the fire and police departments, as well as working on extensions to the measure. He can also be seen at fires, either manning a hose or overseeing fire crews.

Guintini just shrugged when Councilman Scott Silveira asked if he would go back to volunteering.

“As long as I’ve known you, you’ve been the fire chief,” Silveira said. “That said, I think you should feel confident we’re turning the reins over to a very qualified, very talented individual.”

Guintini originally announced last year that he would retire that April, but issues with unions, as well as a general reluctance to step down, caused him to postpone it.

Marrison will be acting Fire Chief for several months, after which the city will decide whether to keep him in the position permanently or open it up to other applicants.

In other fire news, Carrigan said that the Los Banos fire crew that was working the Oakhurst fire, which destroyed several structures in and around town, returned safely. Guintini said another crew, working the Happy Camp Fire in Siskiyou County, is scheduled to return today.

RTIF fees suspended

The council held its final vote Wednesday on whether to indefinitely suspend the city’s contribution to the RTIF, the regional transportation fee. The city had already temporarily suspended its contribution from industrial and commercial building permits. Wednesday’s action suspended residential fees as well.

The resolution passed by a 3-2 vote, with Silveira and Elizabeth Stonegrove dissenting. The discussion took place in July, when the council voted to ask the city staff to come back with a resolution.

In another item on the agenda, the council voted to direct staff to explore the possibility of reducing its residential impact fees as an incentive for builders to begin filling in the more than 1,000 build-ready lots around town.

Assistant planner Stacy Elms said there are 1,114 finished lots in Los Banos with the required infrastructure. So far, no building permits have been pulled in 2014 to build houses on those lots.

The hope is that reducing the fees from $28,089 will give builders an incentive to start construction. The option the council decided to pursue would reduce those fees by $6,885 for the first 100 houses, then it would creep back up by $750 for the next 50 and another $750 for a final 50 houses.

“I like the tiered system,” Silveira said. “At that point, each 50 after the first 100 comes back to council for approval.”

The new system would also require builders to complete a building permit in six months.

“With incentivizing homebuilding, we need to be very cautious,” Councilman Tom Faria said. “How will this affect our services? All the things that make our city work. Right now we’re stretched pretty thin.”

John Beckman, a building industry representative and former mayor of Lodi, was on hand to talk about a similar program that town put together. He said the extra property taxes brought in by new residents would provide the funding needed for additional services.

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