In face of Bay Area housing crisis, barracks for San Mateo officers

An old fire station in San Mateo will soon become a barracks, a rest stop for the city's police officers who are too tired to drive, sometimes hours to get home after a long day of work. 

Perhaps no one is more relieved than Officer Carlos Basurta.

"When I found out I started tearing. And I was overjoyed," he said.

Basurta is back at work but now gets around on a prosthetic leg.

He lost his leg in a car accident.

After working a long shift one-day last year, he headed off into his usual two-and-half-hour commute home to the Central Valley.

"I fell asleep. No warning. Just fell asleep," Basurta said. "Next thing I remember is I woke up and saw a car in front of me. To prevent hitting it I turned my car sharply which caused me to roll over in my car multiple times."

"After that incident, we all looked at it and said something needs to be done," said Detective Nicole Von Glahn, President of the San Mateo Police Officers' Association. 

She also has a long drive home to the Tri-Valley and is often in heavy traffic. 

"I'm exhausted. Then hit the road in a tired state. Sometimes it's not safe," she said.

But safety is coming in the form of the retired fire station.

The plan is to convert it into a barracks with enough bunk beds for 24 exhausted officers to get some sleep. It's an idea that officers believe hasn't been done before. 

"For me, it would be for particularly longer days when I have a quick turnaround," Von Glahn said. 

While this may help solve the fatigue factor, it doesn't get at the underlying problem.

Ninety-percent of the 125 officers in San Mateo must live outside the county because they can't afford to live closer. The average police salary is $110,000 a year.

"We're in the middle of that thresh hold of low income and getting paid enough to afford something over here," said Von Glahn.

But until there is more affordable housing the barracks will have to do. 

Basurta says he'll make use of it when it opens in January.

"I just wish, hope and pray again that this doesn't happen to anyone ever again," said Basurta.

The police department says the barracks should help retain officers, with many leaving to work closer to where they live.