Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 23, 2010

Council members: Bias in fire-staffing study?

Project consultant for 'standard of coverage' study has never recommended staffing reductions

by Gennady Sheyner

When Palo Alto officials asked for an independent study of Fire Department staffing, they had no idea the analysis would be performed by a veteran firefighter who belongs to the International Association of Fire Chiefs and who has never recommended staffing reductions for any of his previous projects.

These facts came out Tuesday night at a meeting of the City Council's Finance Committee, which was hearing an update on the highly anticipated "standards of coverage" study. The council had hoped to use the new study during its upcoming contract negotiations with the firefighters' union, but after hearing from the project consultant Tuesday, the committee's hopes largely dissolved into buyer's remorse.

Joe Parrot, the project consultant with the firm Emergency Services Consulting International, told the Finance Committee Tuesday that the new study would analyze the fire department's capability and the level of risk in the community and identify ways to achieve more efficient and effective service. Parrot, a deputy fire chief in Salem, Ore., said the study is scheduled to be completed and presented to the council in early June.

But the committee's eyes lit up after Councilman Larry Klein asked Parrot whether his company has ever recommended a staff reduction and Parrot said he couldn't recall a single case where that has happened. Parrot's statement startled the committee, which is grasping for ways to close an estimated $8.3 million budget gap in fiscal year 2011.

"The reality is that once we have a conversation with a community, in this case with the council, on what the department is trying to achieve in terms of incident mitigation and effective delivery of services, expectations about performance tend to go up rather than down," Parrot told the committee via telephone during Tuesday's meeting.

"In my experience with elected officials working all over the country, I have yet to have one suggest that they want a less effective fire department," he later added.

But while Parrot argued that his tendency to not recommend staff reductions is "client driven," committee members said they were shocked by his track record. Klein said it seemed "extraordinary that no study has ever come up with a reduction." Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa said he was "amazed, flabbergasted, but maybe not surprised." He also said he was "shocked" to see the city go "down this path."

"We're obviously looking for an objective, independent review of our — specific here — coverage standards and staffing standards," Espinosa said.

The department's staffing levels have emerged as one of the city's hottest topics in the past month. The city's firefighters' union is trying to place a petition on the November ballot that would lock in the current staffing level in the department and require the city to hold an election any time it wants to reduce staff size or close a fire station.

The union is also preparing to begin negotiations with the city over a new contract. The current agreement is scheduled to expire on June 30.

On Monday night, the City Council voted 7-2 to support a colleagues' memo calling the union proposal "bad government" and urging citizens not to sign it. If the union gets the needed 5,446 signatures to put the measure on the ballot, the election would cost the city about $190,000.

Tony Spitaleri, a retired fire captain and president of Palo Alto Professional Firefighters, Local 1319, accused the City Council Monday night of hampering democracy by encouraging city residents not to sign the ballot petition.

But Klein demurred. "If this were on the ballot and somehow passed it would be the reverse of democracy," Klein said. "We'd have a situation where one group of employees would have far greater rights than another group of employees in the city.

"I don't think it's appropriate or democratic."

At the Finance Committee meeting Tuesday night, Klein wondered aloud whether Parrot's affiliation with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, a network of high-level fire officials, constitutes a conflict of interest or, at the very least, creates an institutional bias.

Klein told Parrot: "You're either recommending efficiencies — moving people around a bit — or you recommend an increase."

Parrot said the fire chiefs' organization provides his firm with additional expertise and experience. He also maintained that while his group has not recommended staffing reductions, it has recommended closing down stations and using existing resources more effectively.

Fire Chief Nick Marinaro said Parrot's firm was chosen by a five-member staff committee that included three high-level members of the Fire Department and financial analysts from the Utilities Department and from the Administrative Services Department.

The city is spending $55,000 on the study.

According to Marinaro's report, the company has conducted more than 100 studies and has a long history of experience with fire departments in California and in the Bay Area.

Committee Chair Greg Schmid noted that the informational letter from Emergency Services Consulting International describing the scope of the project doesn't really address the subject of overtime — another touchy topic at the Fire Department.

Assistant City Manager Pamela Antil said staff will review the city's request for proposals for this study and consider whether the city "veered off in the wrong direction." Staff will return to the Finance Committee May 6 with its report, Antil said.

The full City Council is scheduled to discuss the standards-of-coverage study May 17.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2010 at 9:36 am

Certain members of the Council are already ripping the study they approved and it's not even out yet.
"were looking at reductions" sounds like they just wanted a study finding that already had reductions as a finding?
Why have yet another study if you already know what you really want?
How about waiting for the study to be completed and see what it says before complaining.
If some Council members wanted the study to justify cuts and reductions why not just dictate that in the RFP from day one.
Just another study the Council approved to begin with. If Palo Alto had all the money back they have paid out for consultants and studies the last 10-15 years we would most likely have a budget surplus!!


Posted by Too Much Traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2010 at 10:03 am

And our council did not look into this before they contracted with this firm???
Boy, it is really easy to put one over on Larry Klein and company. First the PACT problems, then the HSR, then the budget and now this. I expect that soon Larry Klein will be releasing a statement that he was "misled". I though these council members were lawyers, industry people, professionals. How come it is so easy to put one over on them?
Have they no responsibility? Don't they care?


Posted by Lawrence H, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 21, 2010 at 10:04 am

Many times, when problems arise, you will find them rooted way back in time.

It is comforting to see Councilmen Larry Klein, Sid Espinosa, and Greg Schmid drilling down on the background and past findings of a fire staffing consultant. What they learned raised flags for them. Now we will see if some meaningful mid-course correction can be accomplished.

I am optimistic, given the wisdom and insight repeatedly displayed by our Councilmembers who exhibit thoughtful leadership on issue after issue. The union machines may not like it, but our Council is serving our community well.


Posted by opus, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2010 at 10:10 am

what independent consultant report isn,t biased? It appears councilmember klein is trying to discredit both the consultant and any report studied by the consultant before any report is even submitted or allowed to progress to an independent conclusion. if council wanted an independent report biased to their point of view perhaps they should have put that in writing as a qualification to secure the consulting contract. perhaps honesty is the best policy!


Posted by MBA From Orange County, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2010 at 10:14 am

My...

Me smells a bit of EGO coming out of our Finance Committee as a consultant we paid for didn't come up with the findings that our City Council wanted... NOT Scientific or Objective. Shame... Shame... Shame...

We continue to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on fountains, buildings, and projects that the City Council wants.

In the 80's, as a MBA Student who grew up in a very conservative family in Orange County. I felt stuck as an intern to be assisting in a Organizational review of a fire department. The company where I was an intern had no attachments to any current or former firefighters. The company was a group of bright suits and youngsters like me who wanted to be bright suits.

The city managemant staff hired us and gave us our assignment - an organizational review of fire and emergency services. After meeting with local community groups to discuss what level of fire protection and emergency services the community supported. We studied surrounding areas service levels. We interviewed the firefighters and the fire chiefs. We considered daily emergency responses as well as potential response needs {earthquakes, fires, floods} - Back then, we didn't consider events like children bringing guns to school and shooting each other, local, national and international terrorism}. Did you know that many consider, Palo Alto / Stanford one of the top terrorist targets in the Santa Clara Valley?

I digress... Back to our study. Being a future bean counter, I wasn't involved in the writing of the report; my mentor assigned me the task of editing it - he wanted me to broaden my experience.

Want to guess what the study's result was? The fire department / district budget INCREASED and their service level INCREASED. Why? To meet the local daily and anticipated service needs of the community.

I asked my mentor about this... He replied, in my experience, when we look at just about any organization from the outside. One of the basic findings is that in some fashion, the organization has to expand and grow. At the time, I thought his statement was radical. I remember talking about it over dinner that night with my future wife. She was in medical school and her father was doing pretty good building houses in Orange County. "Dad always says that his clients always end up spending more money than they thought to get the house they want - why would a fire department be any different?" If your study supplies the service that the community supports, it makes sense that it might cost more to support the service.

Back to current day Palo Alto. Going in to this budget crisis, no one from the City Council or City Staff has come through our neighborhood and asked us what I want. Have they asked you, what you want or I support. I enjoyed the senior games, but I didnt' support the use of city funds. The fountain downtown, to me seems a waste of city funds. Locally as in statewide and nationally, the special interest groups and elected officials have been making very poor decisions for many years.

If our city services are supported by tax revenue WHY do we continue to support projects and land use decisions that DECREASE our tax revenue?

I like my neighbors live in a floodzone. REMEMBER the FLOOD? Our street flooded. Guess who down our street to HELP US? The Firefighters. Not the city council or the city manager.

Since the flood, Stanford and the Santa Clara County Water District took aggressive action to prevent a similar flood in the future. NOT the City of Palo Alto! The Chaucer Street bridge is STILL unchanged - this winter it came within INCHES of flooding again. I would prefer that our city council be working with the community so that we can support ourselves, the programs and services that are important to us.

What if we listened to this consultant we hired and asked informed questions, versus objecting to their findings? My wife does the shopping because she feels more comfortable with my ability to laundry than to pick out a nice piece of meat. She mentioned to me that she met the firefighters and signed their petition. I asked her what was the basis behind her decision.

"I support having that fire station near our house. It makes me feel good just driving by. The firefighters who asked me to sign their petition were friendly. I want the men and women who come to our house in the future to know that I support them and that they are my friends."

I was lucky to find my wife. I'm glad she still puts up with me. This weekend, when my grandson and I go for our walk, I'm going to find a few of those firefighters. I want to sign their petition.

Maybe lightning will strike city hall and they will speed up the plans to mitigate the clear and present dangers like the Chaucer St. Bridge. Maybe they will wake up and ask my family what's important. If not, I wonder if my wife would be interested in running for city council.

Change... We need change in our City Council!


Posted by Jim, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Apr 21, 2010 at 10:16 am

The firm has recommended closing fire stations in other studies. Good luck in Palo Alto!


Posted by Luis Parham, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Apr 21, 2010 at 10:18 am

Sounds like the city has done it again...wasting our tax dollars frivolously. They need to immediately hire a firm that is non-biased. How can a reasonable person say that this company is not biased towards fire departments. The burden will be placed on the police, who by the way gave up their raise while the fire department kept their raise in the midst of a financial crisis within the city...


Posted by Retired Staffer, a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2010 at 10:39 am

MBA hit the nail on the head. This study was supposed to call for staff reductions in order to pay for fuzzy-headed green initiatives. The citizens should be outraged at their safety being brokered to support cocktail-party chatter.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2010 at 10:43 am

Another example of the city's lax attitude when hiring consultants. Remember the $250K website?

"Parrot's firm was chosen by a five-member staff committee that included three high-level members of the Fire Department and financial analysts from the Utilities Department and from the Administrative Services Department."

Now Council has buyer's remorse. They're "amazed, flabbergasted," "very, very troubled."

When will council members learn that their job includes oversight? Why didn't they look at the contract or ask questions before it was signed?


Posted by Problem is with the Fire Department, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2010 at 11:24 am

I think drawing the line between letting the professional staff manage without getting in their way, and overseeing the appropriate level of detail must be very hard for the city council. And we have to remember that many of our City Council members have real jobs, which last time I looked do take time!

But I do agree that this is a troubling finding right now. Had the fire department not chosen to politicize its department for personal gain with the current ballot initiative, perhaps the level of dismay might be reduced. Since, however, the fire department has decided that its personnel are more crucial than any other city employees, and is acting to try to persuade the public to institutionalize this, the idea that the analysis will be biased (NEVER recommending reductions in over 100 cases? C'mon, let's be reasonable here) is dismaying.

I hate what the fire department's selfish approach is doing to this city.


Posted by What a waste, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2010 at 11:43 am

So long as members of our City Council receive endorsements and financial support from the firefighters' union when they run for City Council nothing will change.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Of course, one, maybe two fire houses should be closed. Five fire houses are located on the west side of town and on Stanford land and only one in South Palo Alto demonstrates the problem.

We don't need $55,000 worth of consulting fees to point out that there is a discrepancy. I expect the consultants will recommend we add a firehouse and firefighters in south PA!!


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2010 at 11:49 am

Another small detail, I thought the study was contracted to find out if service is being provided in the best way possible, how coverage is related to where the emergencies are, ways to improve service or save or generate revinue?
The study was supposed to look at the number and types of emergencies, where they are concentrated, resources, staffing, number of calls missed because of multiple calls in more active areas of the City, etc.
Nobody knows what the study says at this point, there are many ways to accomplish providing emergency services. The study should be looking at emergency services provided by the FD, and ways to see if we are or can be providing better or improved services. Are they meeting response times? are all areas of the City provided with acceptable EMS and Fire protection, density, population trends, high life risk occupancies, future construction and projects, number of calls missed that had to be handled by other agencies, age,location and number of stations, equipment, number of firefighters, water supply, number of ambulances, number of paramedics, etc.
How can certain Council members already know and feel there should be reductions in the number of stations or firefighters and paramedics? given the fact the number of emergencies responded to has increased greatly, how can some want reductions in stations and numbers without learning how it will effect emergency response?
Deabte the issue yes, but for some to blindly call for reductions and cutbacks in service seem clearly biased.


Posted by Herb Borock, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 21, 2010 at 12:02 pm

It is possible the Finance Committee members were trying to influence the consultant's final report.

However, the concerns expressed by the committee members were made in the context of the history that led to the study.

Recommendation #2 of the November 18, 2003, Audit of Overtime Expenditures said, "The City should conduct a staffing study to assess the appropriateness of current Fire Department minimum staffing levels in the context of call volume, response times, and employee safety."

The previous Fire Chief concurred with that recommendation and planned to conduct a "standards of coverage" study to determine the appropriateness of current staffing levels.

A proposal was received from a consultant, but action on the proposal was postponed pending the appointment of a new Fire Chief.

The current study is the same study the previous Fire Chief agreed to do in response to the November 18, 2003 Audit of Overtime Expenditures.

One of the Finance Committee members suggested that all departments' responses to future City Auditor recommendations include a date when the department would implement any proposed action.



Posted by John, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2010 at 12:29 pm

In over a 100 studies the consultant had *never* recommeded staffing levels reduced. And they aren't going to even look at overtime ?? With $8M in deficits what was the Finance Committee thinking ? Looks like the firefighters have the City under their thumb. And now they want a petition on top of it ? Yikes. Maybe we should have a petition to force the council to outsource all fire services. Now that might be a really good idea....


Posted by Bob, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 21, 2010 at 1:52 pm

To What a Waste

There are TWO fire stations south of the Oregon Expressway. One is on Arastradero between El Camino and the Foothill Expressway and the other is at Middlefield and East Meadow near MItchell Park. There is ONE in the Stanford Industrial Park on Hanover between Page Mill and California - that's west of El Camino.

As for the northern section of town, there is one (Main) on Alma at Everett and another on Embarcadero at Newell. There is a big one on the Stanford campus. Then there is one during fire season in Foothill Park. There is another listed on the city website at 2575 Sand Hill Road. SO, the southern part of the city is not being 'slighted'.


Posted by What a waste, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Bob, You divide the City into three sections like the school district does, the fire station on Arastradero is West of El Camino.

Fire Stations North of Oregon Expressway & East of El Camino are: Station 1 is at Alma and Everett, Station 3 at Newell and Embarcadero.

Fire Station South of Oregon Expressway and East of El Camino is: Station 4 at Middlefield and East Meadow.

Fire Stations in Palo Alto West of El Camino are: Station 2 at Hanover & Page Mill, Station 5 on Arastradero & Clemo and Station 8 in Foothill Park (Summer only). Fire stations on Stanford land west of El Camino are: Station 6 on the Stanford Campus, Station 7 at the Linear Accelorator.


Posted by George Browning, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 21, 2010 at 6:57 pm

The City of Fremont (3 times our land area) was in financial trouble several years ago and considered closing one or two fire stations. It should be relatively easy for the City Auditor to contact the Fremont government and find out the results. Did they close any? What was the difference in loss by fire if any? Was the fire fighting staff reduced? Would they make different choices now based upon their experience?

I believe during Vallejo's financial melt down the city did close two fire stations and contracted with its county for backup. What were the results in terms of loss?

A great deal of relevant information is, or can be, readily available locally without paying outside consultants. After collecting the data, hire a true independent firm to use these data as well as information from state-wide data bases to make recommendations.

More information on the Department's efficiency can be had from the City Auditor's 2009 Service Efforts and Accomplishments (SE&A) Report. I'm not sure how to reconcile the 239 fire incidents with the 63% of confined fires to 20 residential structure fires reported, but I believe there was only one major fire at Walgren's on University and one or two where the residence was a total loss. This should be clarified.

We need to assure ourselves that a true independent judgment is made and reviewed carefully by all Council members. They may lack expertise in fire suppression, but are intelligent enough to review good information and act on it.


Posted by LS, a +40-year resident, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2010 at 11:14 pm

I believe that P.A. taxpayers are being fleeced by the P.A. Fire Department. Any sane and critically objective study of the Department's engagements and activities will no doubt show that we are being overcharged for generally illusionary or, at most, once-in-a-lifetime services.

The Department's union protagonists are to be congratulated on their success in duping City leaders and the City Administration for decades on the riskiness and community services and benefits of a fire fighter. In actuality, a fire fighter's job is just another job that, however, is vastly overpaid for just modest know-how and performance -- especially at the leadership positions.

"Fear" is a great driver of opportunistic taxpayer exploitation, as all fire fire fighters know so well. Wake up, Palo Altans, and insist that the City Council cut back on the Fire Department's outrageous budget and, especially, the Department's personnel costs.


Posted by Too Much Traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2010 at 6:07 am

Just noticed that the end of my last post was deleted (and the editors did not even make a point of noting that it was deleted). I basically had written that I was a bit concerned about PA residents since they continue to elect Larry Klein to the city council. Given his recent comments regarding the PACT, HSR, budget and now this--I think that is a valid question.
Is there a problem with that comment, editors?


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2010 at 8:04 am

"LA" from Midtown?

Why even conduct a study? you have already concluded on your own how it will "no doubt" show what you have professed.
It's comments like that and the writings of Diana Diamond that have no proof or data to support that many people form their "opinion" from. Some people feel that if it's printed in a "news paper" it's fact. No the case all the time.
The people of Palo Alto do not know and are not told what the real budget of the Fire Dept is. The number in the paper does not show the revinue that the Fire Dept brings in to offset it's operating budget. Make a big difference related to true cost. The real cost of the fire dept is cheaper in Palo Alto than most other fire depts period. The City of Palo Alto attempts to keep that information out of the publics eye. The revinue generated by the FD pays for other programs in Palo Alto because it's put back into the general fund of the City.



Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2010 at 9:36 am

Fremont Fire Department was and is still in a finanial bind. They are still considering merging with two other departments to reduce overhead (admin) costs.

IT IS TIME THAT THE PALO ALTO CITY COUNCIL SHOULD BE MERGING OR CONTRACTING OUT PALO ALTO FIRE WITH OTHER DEPARTMENTS!


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 22, 2010 at 11:15 am

@ Jake: Please provide the numbers, reports or web links that prove your point about revenue, true net costs and the data that shows PAFD is cheaper than other fire departments. If true, this information should be seen by all. It is dubious to say such things without verifiable data.

I hope you're right - but it's hard to consider your claims as valid without the numbers and their sources.


Posted by Jake, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2010 at 11:25 am

Cresent Park Dad,

The information is available in the City of Palo Altos budget which is listed on the Cities website. It's not broken down in a real reader friendly fashion but look at the FD budget, then look at the area listing revinue and Stanford Universities contribution. There is also a large portion of revinue shown in fee's collected.
If one looks at the overall budget and then takes into consideration that the fire dept also collects revinue back the true overall cost is much lower than the gross budget shown.
The fact the Fire Dept generates revinue through inspection fees to developers, and bills medical insurance companies for ambulance transports and is paid by Stanford for fire and ems services, is something the City Council and City Manager don't like to recognize.
It's all contained in the Cities budget listed online.


Posted by Jake, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2010 at 11:32 am

Cresent Park Dad,

My apologies, you can look at most every FD in the areas budget also online simply by going to the desired cities website. Some are easier than others but almost no others around the bay area generate as much revinue. Most don't have paramedic ambulances such as Palo Alto has had since mid 1970's.
Most other Cities rely on private companies who respond with the local FD. The the private ambulance company makes a profit by billing the patients insurance company. The local FD may or may not have had a paramedic there, provided EMS care, etc. Then the private ambulance company transports and makes a profit. The private ambulance company obviously provides no revinue into the local FD budget.


Posted by samiam, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm

One third of the Palo Alto Fire Departments budget is paid by Stanford University. Stanford also chips in for one quarter of all PAFD capitol improvements. Other revenues come from ambulance transport fees and hazardous material fees which brings the PAFD budget to a point that about 45% of the budget comes from outside revenue. No other fire department in California or anywhere else can claim that, but the number the city budget shows for the fire department does not credit the revenues to show people what the fire department actually costs the taxpayers.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Hey, I have an idea, let's get a bunch of plumbers or truckdrivers to do the staffing study for the fire department and when a large plumbing concern needs a staffing audit, we can let the someone who is an expert in fire department staffing do the plumbing study.


Posted by anonymous PA employee, a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Why are we talking about this? There was never a need for a consulting firm to get the police department to lower its budget year after year by simply changing its schedule to lower overtime, or canceling additional classes or equipment.

Also, why cannot the city tell the poor residents who dont want to travel that extra mile to go to their favorite library that we need to consolidate them to save thousands.

Think of our budget this way; When you were a starving student or beginning of your career, did you waste money on extra's like dinners out, movie channels on your cable, or going on long vacations? NO!!! You tightened your belt, ate Top Ramen, watched local TV or went outside and found inexpensive or free ways to entertain yourselves until you made more money and could afford the luxuries.

Palo Alto is like a graduate student on their first year in employment. Only use money for necessities like safety,food,clothing and a home. Forget the luxuries for a couple of years. I know that there are many people in this community that have old money and are financially secure enough to not give a damn and demand,demand,demand, but let's get real people!!!

Quit your complaining about the libraries and go outside and read once in a while. GEEZ!!!


Posted by carlito ways, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm

This is real funny and sad at the same time. So let me get this straight; Moe, Larry, Curly and friends in the Palo Alto city council hired a consultant to find ways to reduce staff at the Fire Dept and who they got? The Fire Deputy Chief of Salem Oregon. This is the way to go if you want to get an unbiased report.

One of his suggestions is the closure of fire stations but no firemen lay offs, now that is funny too.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 22, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Thank you samiam. Also, the papers never mention that the Fire Dept. re-covers 48%, yes... 48% of their yearly budget (which goes into the general fund) with paramedic and inspection fees. Nope...NEVER a mention this. No other Fire Dept in the Bayarea can come close to this. In fact, no other Palo Alto dept can come close to that percent either, except for Utilities.


Posted by opus, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2010 at 8:52 pm

where did we find $55,000 for the consultant when our deficit is $8.4 mil? what happened to the missing and unaccounted for $4.8 mil from this year's budget that the city manager and city council disclosed in november and quickly covered in december using $1.2 mil each year for the next four years in general funds and reserve funds slated for technology infrastructure improvements? seems like a lot of taxpayer money being used to cover undisclosed costs and plenty left over for consultants to review each and every matter up for management/council decision.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2010 at 12:31 am

Klein and Co. are upset because they have a premonition the study is going to say the Fire Department is "right sized". You can bet if they thought the study was coming back saying the Fire Department is too big or has too many employees, they would be jumping up and down about what great "experts" the people who did the study are.


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Apr 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Klein is prohibited from voting on the part of the Fire Department budget that impacts Stanford, because Stanford contracts with Palo Alto (since 1976) for its fire service, and Klein's wife is a Stanford professor.

However, despite Klein's conflict of interest on Fire Department budget issues, he has taken the leadership position in complaining about the Fire Department staffing.

I wonder what the City Attorney thinks about that.


Posted by Lee Thé, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 23, 2010 at 6:50 pm

When the fireman's union started its drive to pass an initiative that would set it above all other Palo Alto employees--it lost my trust and respect.

Homes are far less likely to burn down these days. I follow local news closely, and fires in Palo Alto are few and far between. Another resident suggested in a local paper that firemen jobs not just be evaluated for total staffing and number of fire departments--they should get a zero-based budget/responsibilities review. In this electronic age it's conceivable that we could restructure fire department work to get a lot more productivity for the city and we the city's collective employer.

As for "Deep Throat"'s implying the Mr. Klein is doing something illegal--recusal isn't a gag order. It just means you can't vote on recused issues. He's exactly as free to voice his opinion as anyone else here. I find efforts to silence him highly suspicious.

And I also find it highly suspicious that city managers hired a consultancy that has never recommended anything but adding to fire dept. staffing. It sounds as though the consultants are fire department experts--but then the foxes are henhouse experts. That doesn't mean you want them evaluating henhouses.

And such people are highly unlikely to think out of the box about what's possible in 2010 in the heart of Silicon Valley.

However, I don't fault the city council for not catching this before now. "Oversight" doesn't mean "micromanagement." The councilmen must give city employees rope--and then act if they hang themselves with it.

Lastly, someone criticized Diana Diamond. I can imagine who and why certain people would like to shut up a gadfly like Diamond. And I don't always agree with her, to be sure. Sometimes she comes off half-cocked. But Palo Alto desperately needs gadflies--especially when we have to cut the budget and ever single special interest in town is clamoring to exempt themselves from the bloodletting.


Posted by Herb Borock, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 24, 2010 at 1:43 pm

The October 20, 2009 Report on the Status of Audit Recommendations, was discussed at the Finance Committee meeting of that date. See pages 1, 2, and 3 of the committee minutes at Web Link

Audit of Overtime Expenditures, Recommendation #2:

The City should conduct a staffing study to assess the appropriateness of current Fire Department minimum staffing levels in the context of call volume, response times, and employee safety.

Original department response: Staff concurs and will conduct a
"standards of coverage" study to determine the appropriateness of
current staffing levels. Staff expects to complete the study by the
end of the 4th quarter of the fiscal year with outside assistance.

Auditor's update as of Sep-2004: In process. The Department
has received a proposal for a study from a consultant and is
reviewing it. Action on it may be postponed pending the
appOintment of a new Fire Chief. Target date: Jan-2005.

Auditor's update as of Sep-2005: In process. Target date: TBD.

Auditor's update as of Oct-2006: In process. A contractor has
been selected to begin a standards of coverage study in November
following the end of the wildland fire season. Target date: TBD.

Auditor's update as of Oct-2007: In process. The standards of
coverage study has been deferred. Target date: TBD.

Auditor's update as of Nov-2008: In process. With input from the
new City Manager, staff will be evaluating how a comprehensive
standards of coverage study should proceed for the Fire
Department. This will be discussed in the context of the proposed
Stanford projects. Staff will assess whether it will be possible to
proceed with the study in time to request funds in the upcoming FY
2009-11 budget cycle.

Auditor's update as of Sept-2009: Not started. The Fire
Department maintains minimum staffing levels as required in the
Memorandum of Agreement with the International Association of
Firefighters. In 2003, staff agreed with the audit recommendation
to conduct a staffing study and planned to complete the study in
2004. Although prior responses indicate efforts to initiate a study,
the study has not been completed

In 2009, the Fire Department planned to incorporate a
comprehensive standards of coverage study as part of a
development agreement with the Stanford Hospital/Shopping
Center expansion, however, this project did not precipitate. The
City's budget documents show that Fire Department overtime has
not decreased since the 2003 overtime audit. In fiscal year 2002-
03, overtime expenses were $1.23 million. In fiscal year 2008-09,
overtime expenses were $1.6 million. The Fire Department
attributes overtime costs primarily to backfilling for minimum
staffing, Station 8, Medic-1, and the State wildland fires. Target
date: TBD.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2010 at 12:35 am

Most people who do this type of work will at some point in their working life have been an administrator in an organized fire department, thus they would likely have been (or are currently) a member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs...the two sort of go hand in hand. You really can't have someone doing a study of the standards of coverage or the staffing requirements of a fire department without that sort of background and education. And speaking of "institutional bias"...what about the institutional bias of the members of the council who have the preconceived notion that the fire department is overstaffed?


Posted by Lee Thé, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 26, 2010 at 12:04 am

Insiders supply expertise, and should always be present to give advice on past standards and best practices.

But they rarely spearhead real reform.

So have a mix, just as smart corporations have boards of directors that combine savvy insiders with sharp outsiders asking the pointed questions and challinging unspoken assumptions.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2010 at 10:48 am

Well the City Manager and City Council have done it again it seems,
Worried the fire dept Standards of Coverage Study might bring to light facts that would go against them cutting the Fire Dept down is size and closing fire halls, etc.
So the killed the study and terminated the contract, this is about the third time this has happened. What a joke! This whole mess on the Council and City Managers Office stinks to high heaven.
I hope the whole issue is looked into and if the Council or City Manager is going to be investigated.


Posted by Charles O Jones, a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2010 at 7:41 pm

So the Palo Alto council members are upset because the expert hired to evaluate their fire department has experience as: GASP! a firefighter? Well just who did they think would offer expertise in this field? a cop? a politician? a short-order cook?

I live hundreds of miles from Palo Alto but politics and politicians are the same everywhere. In my opinion, Palo Alto's council is just playing the blame game because they didn't like what they were going to hear from the consultant.

One word regarding fire protection: REGIONALIZE. There is no reason for every little burg like Palo Alto to have their own fire chief and an entire management and support staff.


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