Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - October 15, 2010

Blowing smoke?

Firefighters claim Measure R would protect residents; critics call measure a union 'power grab'

by Gennady Sheyner

Friends and foes of Measure R have the same message for the voters of Palo Alto: If you vote for the other side, you are placing your family's life in danger.

The city's firefighters union, which gathered more than 6,000 signatures to get the initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot, claims the measure would protect citizens from impulsive decisions by uninformed politicians to close fire stations and reduce staffing levels in the Fire Department. Opponents, led by a coalition called "Safe Palo Alto," counter that the measure will unfairly protect firefighters while forcing police officers, utility workers and other Palo Alto employees to face steeper cuts to their departments.

The two sides have a few other things common. Each says it wants to protect democracy from special interests either the union or "politicians," depending on who is talking. Each also says it wishes Measure R had never made it onto the ballot, though the firefighters claim their hand was forced by a City Council intent on shrinking an already understaffed department.

If voters approve Measure R, the City Charter would be revised to severely restrict the council's ability to close fire stations and eliminate Fire Department jobs. The measure would embed the current department staffing levels in the charter and require the council to hold two public hearings and a citywide election before it could cut even a single firefighter.

Tony Spitaleri, president of the Palo Alto Professional Firefighters, 1319, says the measure is designed to protect residents from hasty and dangerous council decisions, which he claims are just around the corner.

"The city manager and members of the City Council are looking for ways to reduce resources and possibly close fire stations on a rotational basis," Spitaleri told an audience at an Oct. 6 debate at the Palo Alto Art Center. "We believe the citizens should have a voice in any action that would place them and their loved ones in danger."

The union's attorney, Alan Davis, stoked the rhetorical flames further when he asked the audience to imagine a fire station in their neighborhood facing a "brownout" as temporary station closures are often called. Would you be willing, Davis asked the audience, to wait longer for a fire engine or a paramedic to get to your house during an emergency?

Opponents of Measure R say the proposal is a brazen "power grab" by the firefighters union. Members of Safe Palo Alto claim the initiative would give the union powers over other labor groups, most notably the police, and wrest control of city budget from the council. It's no coincidence that the campaign adopted "Too Risky for Palo Alto" as its official slogan.

"They talk about public safety," former Mayor Dena Mossar told the Weekly. "They don't even acknowledge that anyone else in the city is a member of the public-safety team.

"They don't even acknowledge that the police are present."

Mossar's group includes former mayors Bern Beecham, Vic Ojakian, Lanie Wheeler, Judy Kleinberg and Liz Kniss and a wide assortment of civic activists, local commissioners and former council members. Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa and Councilman Larry Klein are both on the group's campaign committee a group that includes such unlikely bedfellows as developer Chop Keenan and land-use watchdog Bob Moss. Every member of the current council endorses the Safe Palo Alto campaign, which has raised $58,000 as of Sept. 30.

The council has been sounding alarms since spring about the negative ramifications of Measure R. In April, the council approved a colleagues' memo calling the measure "bad government" and a "waste of money" at a time when the council is wrestling with lagging revenues and consecutive budget deficits. The City Clerk had estimated that mounting the special election in November for Measure R would cost the city about $213,000.

"This is putting a hole in the canoe while we're bailing water," said Councilwoman Karen Holman, one of the authors of the April memo.

Former councilman John Barton, a member of Mossar's coalition, said at the Art Center debate that the firefighters' proposal would make the council's budget duties even harder than they already are. The Measure R debate isn't about public safety, Barton said, but about proper governance.

Palo Alto is "not a direct democracy," Barton reminded the audience. Staffing decisions should be left to the leaders whom the citizens elect to make decisions. Otherwise, he said, residents end up with a dysfunctional system in which the budget is chronically late sort of like California's.

"If we want to switch to a direct democracy and have citizens vote on every aspect of the budget, let's have that conversation," Barton said.

For all the talk of looming brownouts and democracy under assault, it is easy to see the battle over Measure R as something else the latest skirmish in the chronic power struggle between a cash-strapped city and its most obstinate union.

Spitaleri, a retired fire captain who currently serves on the Sunnyvale City Council, is a seasoned veteran in this political struggle. He last squared off with Mossar and Barton in 2007, when both were on the City Council. In June of that year, the council passed a city budget that restricted staffing of the Foothills Park fire station to high-risk fire days. In late June, a fire near Junipero Serra Boulevard scorched about 170 acres, stoking a wave of protests from residents about the reduced hours at Station 8. A week later, another fire burned 20 acres of grasslands.

On July 8, 2007, Spitaleri joined foothills residents in calling for the council to keep Station 8 open throughout the summer, as before.

The station, staffed by firefighters working overtime, poses an annual conundrum for the council. At the time, former City Manager Frank Benest and the council were trying to find a cheaper way to staff the station but couldn't persuade the union to renegotiate the relevant staffing provisions in its contract. Spitaleri declined to discuss staffing and asked the council to "not blame the union on everything that's going on."

"The issue here is public safety," Spitaleri told the council in July 2007. "All we do every year is bring to you our concerns of potential danger."

The following week, after hearing from the foothills constituency, a reluctant council reversed course and voted to keep Station 8 open all summer. The station has been reopened every summer since. It continues to be funded through overtime.

The touchy topic of Fire Department staffing simmered in the background until this spring, when the city kicked off its negotiations with the 109-member union over a new contract (the previous contract expired on June 30).

Keene and the council have indicated publicly they hope to use the current negotiation period as an opportunity to decrease firefighters' compensation as has been done in other departments.

Earlier this year, when Palo Alto was facing a projected $6.3 million deficit in its general fund, city officials asked the city's labor groups to share the budget pain. Palo Alto's largest police union, the 83-member Palo Alto Police Officers Association, agreed to defer its negotiated raises for the second straight year. The Service Employees International Union, Local 521, which represents more than half of all city workers, grudgingly accepted reduced benefits, including a two-tiered pension system with less generous pension benefits for new employees. Management workers followed suit.

The fire union, for the second consecutive year, refused to cave in (in 2009, its reluctance to take cuts prompted former Vice Mayor Jack Morton to accuse the department of "giving the city the finger"). This year's budget, which the council approved in late June, raises the Fire Department budget by $1 million, largely because of previously negotiated increases in salaries and benefits.

According to city data, an average firefighters union member receives a salary of $104,878, along with $16,001 in overtime. When benefits are factored in, the average annual compensation is $178,387.

Firefighters counter that, unlike other workers, they bring in major revenues. In the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2011, the department is projected to contribute about $11 million in revenues (compared to $26.2 in expenditures).

The subject of staffing levels is the most explosive topic in the current negotiations. Spitaleri told the Weekly the union has repeatedly offered concessions that would save the city more than $1 million while maintaining current staffing levels. The city refused to accept these terms, he said.

The union contract includes a "minimum staffing" provision that requires the city to have at least 29 firefighters on duty at every shift. Keene has told the Weekly the requirement precludes the city from even discussing alternative ways to staff the department. The city wants to revisit the provision, while the union hopes to preserve status quo. Spitaleri said the "minimum staffing" provision is needed to protect citizens.

The union has another reason to feel anxious about department staffing. Palo Alto is now completing a study aimed at evaluating the Fire Department's resources and recommending ways it can operate more efficiently. The study has been on the city's agenda since 2003, when the City Auditor's Office first recommended it, and is due to be completed later this fall.

Spitaleri claims the council wants to use this study as a pretext for slashing staffing. He pointed to a similar study the city was conducting earlier this year to measure the effectiveness of current staffing levels. In April, the council's Finance Committee was receiving a status report on that study, conducted by the firm Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI), when council members were startled to learn that the consultant managing the study had never recommended a staffing reduction.

"I'm not sure we're getting the kind of study that we all thought we were," said Councilman Greg Scharff, capturing the council sentiment.

The committee quickly ditched the study and commissioned a new one, which is now being jointly conducted by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the Virginia-based firm TriData. Assistant City Manager Pamela Antil said the study examines data from the fire-dispatch unit and considers ways to reduce the Fire Department's overtime hours. The report is scheduled to be completed in late November.

Council members say the study is an important and overdue analysis of department operations and marvel at the firefighter union's opposition to the pending report.

"It seems to me, if things are as they describe, they should welcome the report that would verify what they're saying," Klein said.

Spitaleri, for his part, points to the aborted Emergency Services Consulting International report and to a recent study completed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which recommends four-person firefighter crews as the most effective response forces for low-hazard fire operations (in Palo Alto, three-person crews are the standard). These reports, Spitaleri said, are being tossed aside by the council because they don't say what the council wants to hear.

"Our command staff is at a very low level, and it's a dangerous situation," Spitaleri said at the Oct. 6 debate, referring to the department's nine management positions. "Every report that says we have to boost it up is being ignored."

He also took issue with the pending report, noting that Antil has a long history with ICMA, where she has served on various policy committees. Antil called the joint report from ICMA and TriData an "independent analysis" and said the group conducting the report includes former fire chiefs and other public-safety officials.

Antil said the ICMA team will focus on dispatch data, while TriData will wrestle with the question for overtime. She said her membership in ICMA has "no bearing whatsoever" on the group's work.

The new report, however, is just one reason why firefighters are bracing for cuts, Spitaleri said. Pleas from firefighters and residents to maintain adequate fire staffing have been falling on deaf ears for years, he said. Palo Alto residents need to have a say in these decisions, he says. That's why Measure R is necessary.

Members of Safe Palo Alto laugh off the union's premise that Palo Alto residents currently don't have a voice in the council's decisions. Ironically, both they and the fire union point to the 2007 dispute over Station 8 as exemplifying their points either that the council makes reckless decisions about staffing or that the council listens to its constituency and reverses course accordingly.

More recent examples suggest that Palo Altans may not be as timid or voiceless nor the council as unwilling to listen as the union alleges. Earlier this year, residents packed public hearings to urge the council to maintain funding for school-crossing guards; to dispute a 33 percent increase in garbage collection for residents who use 20-gallon minicans; and to refrain from imposing housing-size limits in the foothills. The council sided with residents in all three cases.

Safe Palo Alto's Barton, Mossar and Beecham point to a wide array of ways residents have to reach their public officials. In addition to the "public comment" period at council meetings, during which time any speaker can talk for three minutes, residents can write letters, send e-mails, make phone calls, post comments on online forums and use the city's Open City Hall website, which allows residents to weigh in on the hot agenda topics of the day.

Given these forums, "the idea that the public is excluded or has no voice just doesn't make sense," Barton said at the Oct. 6 debate.

Beecham agreed and said Measure R would needlessly take away from the council one of its most essential duties.

"The public does elect the council to make decisions and to do labor negotiations," Beecham told the Weekly. "To do anything but that for one special group is simply wrong."

Watch it online

Video excerpts from both sides of the Measure R debate are posted on Palo Alto Online.

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

Comments

Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on Oct 15, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Why not outsource the fire services? If the firefighters are so ungrateful they have jobs at all, they don't deserve to work in Palo Alto. Why do the firefighters think they should be exempt from economic realities?


Posted by Hermann, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Gennady,
Very good and as I read it unbiased and comprehensive report.
Thank you.

Hermann


Posted by Outsource, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 15, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Let's not let scare tactics work. There are plenty of firefighters who would come to work here for less than what these guys are asking for. Let them go and get some people in who are willing to sacrifice like the rest of us! I agree with Chris.


Posted by Dan, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 15, 2010 at 12:57 pm

The article quotes the City Clerk as estimating the Measure R referendum will cost $213k. If it passes, to reduce 1 firefighter position will require 2 hearings and another referendum, another $213k. Plus the guy getting laid off will probably get a buyout in addition to his pension. Bottom line: the PAFD will never shrink, no matter how broke we get. Would the union suggest we'll be in more danger if we cut their $120k salaries or $60k in benefits?


Posted by Vote NO on Measure R, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I am voting NO on Measure R. The average citizen does not have time to read the HUNDREDS of pages of departmental budget related documents each year. That is why we have a representative form of government-- So that INFORMED decisions will be made.

This would set a precedent for other unions. If the firefighters union is successful, all of the unions will want their departmental budgets on the ballot.

Repeatedly sorting out budgets by ballot would be hugely expensive. This is no way for the city to do business.

City Council would lose control of the budget, and we cannot afford that mistake. If they don't have control, we can't hold them responsible. This is the problem we have in Sacramento. Let's not repeat it here.

Please vote NO on Measure R.


Posted by Mk, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 15, 2010 at 1:01 pm

How can the fire Department be so greedy?


Posted by I Support Firefighters, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Wow, If I read this article right. The Fire Dept. returns approx. 42% of its budget back to the General Fund. What other city dept. does that? Maybe Utilities? If stations are closed and the number of firefighters reduced. I bet that Stanford will be first in line to renegotiate their Fire Protection Contract with the City. This will mean less revenue for the city that relies on its neighbor way to much. Why are the large contributers to the "Safe Palo Alto" committee builders and developers? I bet they want something in return for their "investment." I will be voting "Yes" on Measure R. Thank you Firefighters


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 15, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I've posted this before, but since every thing involved in government from here on out necessarily involves massive amounts of money, this post helps to focus on the bottom line for the costs for the residents in the future:
---
Let's perform a little "thought experiment" concerning the cost of "fire insurance" here in Palo Alto--

Suppose that there are 20,000 houses, and that the average fire insurance policy comes to $1,000 per year. This means that the residents are paying about $20M (yearly) for "private label" fire insurance.

The PA Fire Department now costs the taxpayers (residents and businesses) about $26M a year. This we'll call "public label" fire insurance. Because the City does not use "true cost" accounting, it's almost impossible to know what the actual cost of providing fire services is--based on some sort of a "standardized" accounting scheme. In all likelihood, the "true cost" of providing "public label" fire insurance is $10M-$20M more than the yearly operating budget, but at the moment, this is an unknown.

So, let's compute a straw man cost of the current fire fighting/EMS (public label fire insurance) for the next 20 years: $26M + a 4% yearly increase. This comes to about $775M (plus unknown capital expenses).

The cost of "private label" insurance for the next 20 years is: (20,000 x %1,000) + 3% yearly increase. This comes to about: $537M.

So, the total "public label" and "private label" insurance costs for the next 20 years is estimated at no less than: $1.3B (Billion dollars).

$1.3B is a lot of money for "insurance". The Fire Fighters Union is trying to lock up as much of this money as they can in salary and benefits--while the actual number of fires that will be fought during that period is likely to be a continually-decreasing number.

There are many other issues that have not surfaced during this debate—such as the role of current, and emerging, technologies that can be expected to detect/report/suppress fires, and fire damage—thereby reducing the need for as large a department. "Regionalization" of fire fighting resources offers to reduce costs, while not reducing safety. Passage of Measure R will doubtless end up reducing Palo Alto's ability to deploy new technologies quickly, when they become viable.

Ultimately, Measure R is about how the residents want this $1.3+B to be spent--on traditional "insurance" ("business as usual"), or on leaving the City free to pursue other delivery models that could reduce the total cost of "fire insurance" by perhaps 30%-50%--while decreasing the likelihood of fire, and fire damage, in our city.



Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 15, 2010 at 1:44 pm

"I Support Firefighters"

You have mentioned the dirty little known fact no city council member or city manager will ever mention. The PAFD is actualy costing the City of Palo Alto and it's residents very little for a city department of any type, let alone a fire dept that provides both fire, rescue, haz mat and transport paramedic ambulance service.
The City year after year takes the money the the PAFD takes in through fee's, contracts and billing and puts that money in the general fund. The money is a fact, and the City does it's best to play down the actual cost.
The City for years 20+ has staffed an ambulance and the Station 8 Engine with overtime, year after year. The City put that staffing plan in operation, NOT THE FIREFIGHTERS or THEIR UNION.
The City then points to the overtime budget everytime they can! to drive up the "average salary" which again is printed in the paper every time somebody speaks about the PAFD. Why does the City staff units on a daily basis with overtime instead of hiring properly?
They ORDER people to work sometimes for 72 plus hours straight to work on the MANDATED units! Xmas, funeral, childs school play, etc. It does not matter, they get ordered to stay. Nobody was on vacation, sick leave, disability. The truth is the City does not have enough people to cover the spots THEY MANDATED on a daily basis.
The City actualy staffs over the now REQUIRED minimum staffing levels now. If the CITY feels so strongly about these units then why don't they hire enough people to fill the required positions??
The City of Palo Alto actualy lost money when they closed Station 8 for a period of Summer years ago to "save money"! Los Alto's Hills which funded one person on the three person crew of E8 pulled out of the contract when the City Council voted to not open 8, that money is gone now. Los Alto's Hills now contracts with SCCFD for that service. Now the City of Palo Alto is paying for ALL THREE positions!instead of only 2 out of the 3.
The City Council, City Manager will also never mention the facts about which city departments have GROWN over the years and ADDED staff and which ones LIKE THE FIRE DEPT have actualy gotten smaller and made reductions through the years. THEY ONLY MENTION THE PRESENT TIME in regard to cutbacks. It doesnt take an expert to figure out that if you expand your department, employee's and budget by doing the same that you will have more areas in which to reduce your budget and employee's!!
I would just like to see the press around here do a little actual work and print the facts in regard to what the PAFD actualy costs in regard to every other department in the city and in the area, TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION THE MONEY THE PAFD RETURNS BACK TO THE GENERAL FUND THROUGH REVINUE THEY THE PAFD GENERATES.
Instead of the same old argument week after week. I think everyone in the City is well aware of what a firefighter makes now. How about some slightly in depth reporting on true costs and what departments have gained the most through the years in size and which ones have been reduced.


Posted by WHAT?, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 15, 2010 at 1:49 pm

How does the Fire Department bring in revenues? Their pay and benefits equal $178,000? Another Union ready to destroy their employer...


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 15, 2010 at 2:03 pm

"Wayne Martin"
Your insurance example doesnt mention the little things like HUMAN LIVES or reduced tax revinue from destroyed or damaged companies and lost production and jobs. It also doesnt mention that PRIVATE insurance will actualy increase premiums when losses go up and when the fire department is reduced. Insurance costs are directly tied to losses in an area and the level of protection.
Also there is the area of emergency medical care from medical calls, this is the area where most of the lives are saved in regard to fire dept response.
Imagine for example if let's say Fry's Electronics was destroyed by a fire? what do you think the impact would be to the City of Palo Alto? how about if a internet server hub in Palo Alto was damaged or destroyed? what would the far reachings costs of that be?
It was actualy the INSURANCE COMPANIES that pushed for improvements and growth in municiple fire departments. Losses from fire were costing them dearly in losses and most likely would have broken the insurance industry period. Look at what happened after the 1906 Fire and Earthquake in SF. Many insurance companies were not capable of covering their losses, and are no longer around.
Cities are also rated on their ability to provide fire protection, the lower their rating the more expenses are passed down to the city, it's residents and tax generating companies.
The Wallmart mentality so often pushed these days (not honestly refering to your post) in this Country of the cheapest product, actualy ends up being the cheapest. The true cost to the community, people, economy, etc is not fully measured in the fact the product was cheap.
The issue is more complex than comparing what insurance cost is now, and then making the argument to reduce a basic city service. The cost of insurance is directly related to losses and level of protection in the insured area.


Posted by Steve C, a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 15, 2010 at 2:25 pm

If someone can explain to me why, when there is a need for an ambulance, say for a heart attack victim, or some other non-fire related emergency, a fully manned fire truck shows up along with the EMT vehicle and crew,then I'll take whatever the firefighters say at face value as valid.
There was a three car accident at an intersection on Alameda last year. No flames or car fires. There were three or four EMT crews on the site, and three fire trucks. One was a hook and ladder. A hook and freaking ladder? Come on, something is way out of whack here.
What's next, Tennessee-style pay as you go fire protection? No checkee, no truckee.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 15, 2010 at 2:59 pm

> Your insurance example doesnt mention the little things like
> HUMAN LIVES or reduced tax revinue from destroyed or damaged
> companies and lost production and jobs. It also doesnt mention that
> PRIVATE insurance will actualy increase premiums when losses go up
> and when the fire department is reduced. Insurance costs are
> directly tied
> to losses in an area and the level of protection.

This was just a "straw man", to set the stage for discussion to refine the number, and propose alternatives.

With all due respect, since you post as a "member of another community", I assume that you are not a Palo Alto voter, and don't pay Palo Alto property taxes. If you are a current/former Palo Alto Fire Department employee, you have not signed a "code of conduct/ethics", and are not required to tell the truth to Palo Alto voters. So, it's a little curious why you are so invested in this matter. Moreover, many of your examples are provably false, making your contributions closer to disinformation, than helpful to the discussion.

> Human life, lost production/jobs ..

Ok .. these are nice buzzwords .. typically used to scare people, but what data about Palo Alto's current, and future, human life loss/corporate loss, can you bring to the discussion. The Auditor's yearly report shows 3 deaths for the last five years, and maybe $5.M-$1M damage for structure fires.

> Also there is the area of emergency medical care from medical
> calls, this is the area
> where most of the lives are saved in regard to fire dept response.

As I posted earlier, I requested of the PA Fire Chief the number of people who called for EMS support, and died after the EMS arrived, but before the EMS got to the receiving Care Facility (hospital). The Fire Chief has not responded to the Public Information Request. It's totally possible that the PA Fire Department does not log this information—making it impossible to claim that "lives will be lost" if Measure R does not pass.

The PA Auditor's Yearly Report shows three (3) deaths have occurred during the past five years. While three (2) deaths may be three (3) deaths too many, so far—nothing has been introduced into this discussion that claims (or proves) that more firefighters/EMS personnel would have saved these lives too.

> Imagine for example if let's say Fry's Electronics was destroyed
> by a fire? What do you think the impact would be to the City of
> Palo Alto?

There's every indication that Fry's is planning to move out of PA in the next five years or so. Will the impact of Fry's leaving voluntarily (with all of its inventory unburned) going to be any different than your "Henny Penny, The Sky Is Falling" suggestion that the PA Fire Department will not be able to put out any fires at Fry's? (Do you really believe that if a fire were to start at the Fry's location—that there is a 100% probability that it will burn to the ground?)

Really—this kind of "fire mongering" sinks to the lowest levels of political rhetoric.

> It was actualy the INSURANCE COMPANIES that pushed for improvements
> and growth in municiple fire departments.

Of course, because paying multi-million dollar payouts is quite expensive.

> Look at what happened after the 1906 Fire and Earthquake in SF.
> Many insurance companies were not capable of covering their
> losses, and are no longer around.

And your point it? That example is over 100 years old. California has slowly responded to these sort of catastrophes by adding building codes to strengthen buildings ability to withstand earthquakes, increased fire prevention codes in most building types, and has insured better fire prevention infrastructure as it moved from 1900 to 2000.

> Cities are also rated on their ability to provide fire protection,
> the lower their rating the more expenses are passed down to the
> city, it's residents and tax generating companies.

This is a fair point, although not certain how you plan to introduce it into the discussion meaningfully.

Cities are rated by Insurance Companies in terms of "class" (which is an arbitrary rating of how capable a City is for fighting/preventing fires. Palo Alto is currently a "Class B" city. This "Class B" status is a factor in the fire insurance premiums that individuals/businesses pay. One of the projects that the Palo Alto Fire Department should have finished a long time ago would be the cost to move to "Class A" in terms of "public cost", vs how much money property owners would save from living in a "Class B" city. There does not seem to be much information about this topic available from the City, so it's an open question for all of us.

However, it stands to reason that if the City were to spend $1M (say) to move to "Class A" status, and the aggregate insurance costs were to drop for all residents by (say) $.5M a year, then this $1M of "public" money would be recouped by the residents (in the aggregate) in only 2 years--and this savings would continue to accrue year-after-year.
Sadly, the PA Fire Department doesn't seem to have looked into this, or at least has not published its findings if it did.

> The issue is more complex than comparing what insurance cost is now,
> and then making the argument to reduce a basic city service.

Absolutely! Unfortunately, nothing that you, or any of the promoters of Measure R, have brought to the table has meaningfully advanced this discussion. All you have done is to try to scare people.

> The cost of insurance is directly related to losses and level
> of protection in the insured area.

Absolutely! The Auditor's report shows a decreasing number of structure files (only 20 last year), so it stands to reason that the losses in Palo Alto are about as low as one can expect. However, with additional technology, such as on-line fire detectors in every home/business/school, and sprinkler systems retrofitted into every home/business/school, it's very likely that the number of structure fires will continue to diminish, and the fire damage will be reduced.
It's also hard to believe that the aggregate cost of fire insurance will not go down over time, if these kinds of distributed firefighting techniques are employed. Measure R, if passed, would hobble the City's ability to deploy this sort of technology quickly (with a repeal of Measure R, anyway).


Posted by Brian, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm

The arguments for measure R use scare tactics. "What if this?", and "What if that?", and "Imagine for example". By that line of reasoning every service provided by the City should be doubled and tripled to prevent any possible harm coming to any individual. The world doesn't work that way.

Vote No on Measure R is correct. The budget cannot be left in the hands of uninformed people who haven't the time or desire to do the tough work of resolving the competing claims on scarce revenue. Let the city government do the job they were elected and hired to do.

Of course there is always a small minority who say, "we don't trust government to make decisions", but don't offer viable alternatives. It's easy to criticize and hard to do the difficult jobs.


Posted by Steve C, a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I don't think it is good idea to rely on what other "area" fire departments are receiving in salary and benefits. This is the circular negotiations trap that Sports Management agents invented, which was then picked up by executives and other professionals, as a negotiating tactic. If so-and-so is worth X amount of dollars, then I am worth X amount of dollars, and so on. Once one high level of compensation is negotiated, everyone else uses that as the basis of their negotiations. And these pay levels are "sticky", in that once they go up, they rarely ever go down, regardless of the current economic realities. The basic fall-back excuse for exorbitant pay levels is that "we have to pay this to attract an keep the highest performing individuals". No one has the guts to challenge that assertion.
If an analysis is to be done, it should be based on the needs of the communities and the economic realities of that community. If it doesn't work to the satisfaction of the parties, then they are free to go elsewhere for employment.
For $178K a year in salary and benefits, I'd stay right at the firehouse 24/7, and sleep on a mat on the floor. I'll bet there are plenty of other people out there who would jump at the chance as well.


Posted by Steve C, a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 15, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Yet another area of our lives dictated by the insurance industry.


Posted by Brian, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 15, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I omitted to say I would be surprised if 5% of Palo Alto firefighters live in Palo Alto. We know Mr. Spitaleri doesn't, nor does Jake, "a resident of another community". Yet they want to take over a vital section of our city government's responsibility.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 15, 2010 at 3:15 pm

> How does the Fire Department bring in revenues?

Actually the PA Fire Department does actually "book" revenues, based on their internal accounting model—which may, or may not, be accurate.

However, when one looks at the "big picture", one finds that, for the EMS activities, the "revenue" is booked by billing insurance companies (of one form or another). Those insurance companies end up passing along the (increasing) costs to the premium payers, or the US tax payer—through Medicare (and friends). These government backed payment methods end up becoming (of late, anyway) a part of the US deficit spending machine ($1.3T this year, and over $1T last year, and who knows how many Trillions next year). The current US debt, which is where these yearly deficits are "rolled over", has grown to about $13.5T (about the size of the US GDP) and promises to grow to $19T+ if the Obama spending spree is continued in 2012.

Remember, health care for the US is current consuming around 15% of the GDP, so the PA Fire Department has been "getting a little piece of that action", by overcharging (relative to the cost-of-services rendered) the various insurance pools, and then pocketing those overcharges (called Fire Department "revenue") as higher salaries (which also drive pensions higher).

While perhaps not a traditional "ponzi scheme", it's difficult not to mutter under your breath—"there otta be a law" to keep this sort of thing from happening.

The Hazmat operations also generate some money. The costs are becoming expensive, but business simply pass the costs on to their customers in terms of higher prices.

Stanford is paying about $7M of the $26M budget. Why they are paying this much is an open question. This is too complicated to try to "sound-byte" in this venue, but we all should have concerns that there will be residual costs to the taxpayers (pension contributions in the future) which have not been fully estimated when these contracts are signed.


Posted by never forget, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 15, 2010 at 3:24 pm

"What other city dept. does that? Maybe Utilities? "

And the libraries! Don't forget the libraries! You get back 10x the ROI for every dollar spent on the libraries. A much better investment than the FD.


Posted by PA Resident, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 15, 2010 at 4:25 pm

I'm reminded of something a now retired police officer said to me. If they close two fire stations in PA, response times will hardly increase at all. Compared to other cities we have far more fire stations than say Mountain View - we don't need them all.

Also every time there is a fire I read that neighboring cities fire departments are called in for "mutual aid" What a smoke screen that is!!! Vote "NO" on "R"


Posted by FireHazard, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Hey folks we live in an area where we are surrounded by fire hazard. Just look up at the hills looming over Stanford. They were set ablaze just a couple of years ago. Fire fighters also respond to medical calls and car accidents. Palo Alto Fire Department goes up and down Page Mill Road (yes "Palo Alto" extends up Page Mill road, through the "Hills", including Foothills Park, and all the way to Skyline Blvd.) several times per weekend. Fire fighters also have a lot of equipment that has to be maintained in excellent condition and they need a lot of training. It's going to be hard to staff-up quickly if everyone discovers it was a mistake closing the fire houses. Finally, Palo Alto should've learned its lesson when it closed down so many elementary schools thinking they were unneeded. Yes on R!


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 15, 2010 at 5:00 pm

"never forget"

Yes you are correct, Utilities Dept is the revinue collector for the City. They City also attaches many people and costs to the Utilities Dept that in reality not related in any manner to Utilities. This is done to blur the accounting facts on certain positions and programs.
As for the libraries, I completely see the need for books, education and lifelong learning. Education and reading pay dividends far beyond money returns. But honestly, does Palo Alto really need so many libraries? how many library visits does each library actualy have? why is there not a library of a decent size and modern with the types of services and resources that many surrounding Cities have? Palo Alto has the same number of stations of which firefighters and paramedics respond from as it does libraries. What other City of this size has that many libraries and would library consolidation work better? ie libraries on border of PA and MtnView?
Does the library dept recover almost half it's budget back through fee's or revinue? one could argue does the library or fire dept even need to or defend it's cost. I'm sure everyone likes having their neighborhood library and also their fire station. But if most residents were voting on closing down the library close to their home or workplace or closing the nearest fire station which one do you think they would choose to eliminate? Many people don't even realize their neighborhood fire station has saved many lives with their paramedics and EMTs than they have from fires in most cases.
The morning and evenings news reports and coverage show fires and emergencies where people died and major property damage occured. The fires stopped when small, prevented, kept to a object, area or room don't make the news. Footage of a one bedroom fire are not that exciting on TV. The news for the most part covers losses, not saves.
Reporters want to report what went wrong, not what went right or what could have been lost. Quick, proper responses by enough people and units will often dictate the outcome of an emergency. Slow response, by unit far away followed by not enough or delayed help will often mean lost property and possible death or injury.
There are many other factors but a person not breathing and a building on fire depend on a quick response and action.


Posted by danos, a resident of another community
on Oct 15, 2010 at 6:29 pm

This issue has nothing whatsoever to do with public safety. The San Jose firefighters, who opted to lay off firefighters and close fire companies rather than take pay cuts that other city employees took, have proved that.

If this measure passes, firefighters will essentially be guaranteed JOBS FOR LIFE, at WHATEVER PAY AND PENSIONS they dictate, at the current 30-per-shift staffing level, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CITY BUDGET.

Do all of you "Yes on R" supporters realize this? That even if the city verges on BANKRUPTCY, that if there is no more money to fix roads or pay teachers, you will still have to support the unsustainable pay, benefits and pension payouts for firefighters at current staffing levels? NO MATTER WHAT!!??


Posted by steve, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2010 at 9:37 pm

All right folks, this battle is getting ridiculous. The Firefighters are not trying overtake the city. The City Council does not know all of the ins and outs of the Fire Dept. Have a conversation with a member from both and you will see.

Just maybe, maybe, the City Council told the Fire Dept. that they may not staff every station, every day, in the future. This is called a "brown out." If anyone reads a newspaper, they will know that this has been a problem in the past in other cities that already brown out stations. Whether those losses are worth it or not is personal opinion.

What if the firefighters did nothing and accepted, for example, the Rinconada Fire Station (St. 3) was browned on a random day. Then something bad happened at the Rinconada Pool, say a drowning. Normally, they would be there almost immediately. But on that day it took Engine Engine 6, (who was training), 10 minutes because Engine 1 was on a call with Medic 1 and Engine 4 was on a call with Medic 2, which is very common by the way, (firedispatch.com). And the 3rd due ambulance is AMR from out of town.

This may or may not happen, and it could be a thousand other scenarios, but if it did happen, it would be on every local Front Page and maybe the New York Times. It would be a disaster. Then the City Council would begin staffing every station again.

Now, what if you were one of those Firefighters listening to that person die on the radio. Because there would be radio traffic that they would have to listen to.

What if the Fire Dept. thought that if they knew the City Council wanted to "brown out" stations, the citizens might want to have a say.

Everything Jake reports is true, even though you may not want to hear it. I have talked to a few firefighters from other areas about this stuff. What they are requesting is not that crazy.

And guess what, if we say no on "R," then we say no on "R." They are giving us the choice. Even it is costs $200,000, the at least it was an important issue. The City Council has wasted much more than this with nothing to show for it numerous times in the past.

Don't blame the Firefighters. I doubt these naysayers have any idea what it is like to do their job.



Posted by Steve, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2010 at 9:47 pm

1 more thing. All of this talk about why it takes an Engine (3 people) and an Ambulance (2 people) to respond to an EMS call is 100% ignorance. Again, you have no idea what it is like to do their job.
I'd like to see you pick up an overweight person from the back bedroom of their house and carry them outside with 2 people, day after day, and by the way, for 30 years. Tell me how your back feels when you are done. How about a cardiac arrest, the Emergency Room will use about 10 people in this scenario and the Paramedics do the same procedures. How about an asthma attack or allergic reaction. Someone needs to find out what caused it, someone else needs to take vitals signs, someone else needs to take care of the persons airway to breath, someone else needs to write down what happened and you still need to someone to drive to the hospital.
Yeah, sometimes they only need 2, but for the most part, they NEED 5 and sometimes could use more.

At least present a valid argument.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 15, 2010 at 10:25 pm

"PA Resident"

You spoke with a retired "police officer" who claimed if they closed two fire stations response times would hardly "increase at all"?
I will agree the example is a subject to be debated but how can somebody, let alone a retired police officer be quoted as source for data on response times? what exactly is "hardly increase at all"? 1 min, 2 min, 3 min?? 5 min? In an emergency at your home or place of work does waiting an extra say four min for paramedic response sound like "hardly an increase"?
There are actualy standards set by cities, counties, insurance agencies, NFPA, etc for response times by the fire dept. Also shutting down even one firehall has an impact that ripples out. It again is open to debate whatever side your on but it does have an imapct and it will be a negative one, it will increase response times. Just two medical emergencies happening at the same time in Palo Alto after 8:00 PM takes four units out of service and eleven people from those units. That is only TWO medical emergencies at the same time. So closing one station will have a far reaching impact. Units and people would then be covering greater areas with longer response times. So even a second due unit will have to drive longer and farther out of their own district to cover the other. Leaving their area without coverage or delayed response in case something happens in the district they vacated.
I love when people and elected officials, city managers tell people "response and or response times will not be impacted in a negative way" most times they have no data to back their claim or they infer another unit nearby will simply cover that area, like that happens in an instant.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 15, 2010 at 10:41 pm

"wayne martin"

You again make charges you have no idea what you are talking about, you appear to claim the PAFD "over charges" for paramedic transport?
The PAFD actualy charges less than the private ambulance comapny that covers other areas of SCC. Thats right less, and that company bills the same insurance companies a higher rate. They are making a profit and are a private company, they don't provide any other service to those residents other than medical transport. The FDs in those other areas arrive first, start treatment and then the private company comes, takes the patient to the hospital and then charges a higher rate for a for profit company. The money collected does not go back to the city, it goes to a company based in another state.
Stanford pays what they do because it's a cost effective way of providing fire protection, emergency medical response and transport, haz mat, rescue, etc to its residents, staff, buildings, property, visitors at a high level of service for a cheaper cost than what they could most like provide had they their own FD. Which they had at one point. In doing so, Stanford also makes it possible for Palo Alto to provide a lower cost high level of service to the residents of Palo Alto. Don't take my word for it, look it up yourself. No other City I know of gets a similar level of service at a lower cost.
If Stanford or Palo Alto did not have the other to help offset the cost of fire and paramedic services both would have less service and protection at a greater cost. If the PAFD stopped providing paramedic ambulance transport service would go down, and response times would go up. Oh and costs would go up for the City because no transport fees would be collected. The PAFD would still send an Engine to the emergency but the patient would be waiting for an ambulance that could be coming from anywhere in the county.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 15, 2010 at 11:05 pm

"wayne martin"
Show me your plan for getting a residential retrofit sprinkler ordinance" into effect. Good luck on that. It's been attempted all around the country in many places. Most times they fail. People don't want to pay for them. Would they save lives? yes. So does driving without texting but people won't do that and that example has no cost.
The 1989 Quake did major damage in many areas. Most of those areas were built after the 1906 quake and fire. Sprinklered buildings still burn, properly engineered, installed and properly supplied buildings incur less damage but they still have fires and damage.
Modern construction is lighter in weight and more engineered. It will not last as long in a fire before being destroyed. The min one major member is compromised there is often major damage or collapse.
Its cheaper and faster to build using that typr of construction.
You also failed to mention ISO ratings, this is a rating given to cities after their department is studied. Everything from equipment, training division, number of employees, station locations and numbers, age of equipment and types, number of types, etc etc etc is looked at. You end up getting a rating by the ISO. Class 1 rating being the highest a department can get. The PAFD is not a Class 1 rated FD.
These ratings have an effect on insurance rates everyone pays in that city. The lower the rating, the higher the cost to insure you will pay.
Your number of fires and dollar loss, no matter the source is not correct. And also most numbers people see do not include losses due to lost tax revenue or jobs.
You quote "only 20 structure fires" really? what are you citing as counting as a structure fire? Contents in a room? room and contents? sofa in a room?
1-5 million damage in 5 years? not even close. That number is simply wrong. Wallgreens was more than that by itself.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2010 at 12:27 am

"danos"

So measure R is about "guaranteed jobs for life ant whatever salary and pension they dictate" is your claim? Really did you read the measure even? do you have any idea what you are talking about?
No place does it guarantee anything, pay and benefits are contract issues the City Council approves or does not approve. The residents don't and won't be voting on that no or if R passes.
Doesnt matter if there are 50 firefighters or 500 in Palo Alto. Pay and benefits are fairly close around the bay area. And under Measure R, if the VOTERS pass the measure. It is the VOTERS who decide in the end. If they agree with what the City Council wants to do than they VOTE to approve the City Councils wish to reduce the number of Stations and Units. If they don't agree then the VOTERS reject what the City Council is proposing. If the City Councils ideas make sense and the Voter is OK with the Council shutting down a station then cast a vote.
If the PAFD Union had a measure that proposed for instance that the PAFD will pay its members a salary and benefit package that keeps them in the top 5% for pay and benefits and to reduce that amount the City would need to hold two public hearings and pass a measure, etc. Then you might be right with your claim and charge, but it does not. Measure R simply says that the Council will need to get the approval of the VOTERS and END USERS in Palo Alto prior to shutting down a station. If the Council is so skilled as so many people hear seem to think they are then they should have no trouble convincing the voters that their proposed reductions will have no negative impact on their safety or property.
Also if the City Manager and City Council are really not planning on reducing the number of stations or units as some people have mentioned, then it begs to mention why are many of them spending so much money and time to defeat measure R? Why waste the time and money on something that is not going to happen? The City Council already closed a Station before by not opening Station 8 as it normaly is in the Summer. They did not even notify the residents of the City they were doing it, they just did it. It took the residents being notified or finding out on their own by others that the City Council was called on their decision and after a couple of fires voted to open Station 8. Their Run Silent Run Deep trick backfired. In doing so they lost Los Alto's Hills contribution to that protection and now the City of Palo Alto pays the entire cost of Station 8. Not only did they have the residents of Station 8s area and other areas crying foul but their cost cutting measure in reality ended up costing more! That does not take into account the fact the Council members at the time were not risking their own property since none of them lived in that area.
For those people who feel the Council should decide such important decisions than why not simply have the Council decide everything that happens in the City. The Voters could let the Council as they please and think of all the money that would be saved on elections year after year. Don't like what the Council has done? change their decision or vote them out AFTER the decision they made has already been put in effect. Most people like having a VOTE or CHOICE prior to something being put into effect, not after. The City Council by the way gets benefits and in some cases retirement benefits. They have jobs and careers but expect the same benefits that 30+ year employees get that work 40-70 hour weeks and who's jobs are their sole careers. Ask the City Council how many part time jobs give you medical, dental and retirement benefits for a few hours of work per week? And NINE Council members?? I guess they feel everyone else can take reductions except them? And was it not this same City Council who refused and who has never taken a pay reduction, as they did this year by refusing to take a cut? And the Council Members slam others.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2010 at 1:15 am

"wayne martin"

Do you really find it hard to believe "the aggregate cost of insurance will not go down" honestly? has auto insurance cost gone down? cars are safer, occupants more likely to survive a crash, better safety features. People still die though, cars still get totaled and repairs still need to be done. Sprinklered buildings still suffer damage and suffer losses. Fires still occur no matter the safeguards.
How many lives lost is an acceptable number for you? how many deaths from other causes is acceptable to you? how much dollar loss, tax revene lost, jobs, etc is acceptable to you or is acceptable loss.
You make low life loss and low dollar loss sound like it's a bad thing, should Palo Alto be striving for more losses? should they look around the Bay Area and see which Cities have higher life and dollar losses and try to model the CPAs fire and EMS response and level of coverage after those Cities?
To listen to some people they would prefer seeing burned out buildings and empty lots to justify the current size of the PAFD? News flash for some of the posters here, increased deaths and damaged or destroyed property means most often the JOB IS NOT BEING DONE!
You also seem to think some of the Cities statistics are correct and others are not depending on your argument. Wouldnt it make sense then that all of the numbers and statistics are in question to some degree? The City of Palo Alto has never kept statistics on number of lives or property not lost that I know of? what agency does? maybe they should. Damage is a loss, saving a part or the whole property is not a loss. Reports seek data on damages or loss not saves or prevented.
Would you feel better if you saw 5 lives lost but 29 probable deaths were prevented? or $300,000 dollar property loss and 1.2 million dollar additional damage prevented by fire being stopped at fire in kitchen?
I feel it's a whole different ball game making decisions on staffing and resources when you talking about selling products or services than when your talking about potential loss of life and property.
Lost sales revenue at a department store due to cutbacks in staffing is totaly different than losses in emergency services.
The people who are going to be affected the most should really be able to have a voice in the level of service they want.
The residents of Palo Alto have in past surveys rated fire and emergency response services by the PAFD as being very good and high rated. Those surveyed seemed to feel they got excellent service. Do people feel that they want lower service and more losses? Is the service is Palo Alto ratd excellent at a lower cost than other cities? Do people want a lesser level of service in the future?
What also is the TRUE cost to residents of the city? are they paying less for their higher rated service than other agencies? If so is that not a good thing? at what point do we go from acceptable death and damage ratios to un acceptable? at what approval rating number do people start asking for improved service? Is 50% approval rating OK? 40%?
I'm just asking? If somebody told me my wife or daughter was "only the 4th person to be murdered over a 5-10 year period in the city limits" I know it really wouldnt make their death any less of a loss or easier to live with.


Posted by Stephen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 16, 2010 at 9:38 am

In the previous thread, I asked "Jake" to answer a simple question: Is he or is he not a Palo Alto firefighter. I have yet to see a reply. The answer to this question will help many of us to interpret his lengthy posts.


Posted by B.Li, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 16, 2010 at 10:09 am

RESIDENTS,

Your opinion and vote is important in this PAFD supported proposal. I would bring up these points to consider: If the PAFD is really concerned about the residents and level of service then why not have any minimum staffing concerns go to binding arbitration, which the union put on the ballot several years ago as a way to objectively decide labor and staffing level impasse. Seems like the fire union believed it would work when arbitration was first initiated and applied on several occasions since. I think the reason this did not occur was because the union knew their minimum staffing arguement would not have been ruled in their favor by an objective arbitrator! Second, by the passage of R, the fire union will have totally tied the hands of the decision makers (City Council), who we (Residents) have voted into office as the representatives of the residents, to make the often difficult budget and staffing related decisions. However, if R passes then any future cuts to the fire union will require the two public meetings and a ballot vote.

So two things will occur if additional cuts need to occur in the future with the passage of R. The City holds the two meetings and puts any future fire cuts to a ballot at a cost of thousands of dollars to do, which will obviously negatively impact the budget even more. No guarantees on which way the vote will go and now the City is mired in a budget decision making process, costing thousands more of staff time/work, to await the ballot outcome. Or the City decides to forego the absurd requirements of R and makes the needed cuts elsewhere such as Police, Community Services, Infrastructure needs, etc.

Well if you look at the fact that there are 34 fire fighters on the job 24/7, even during the sleeping hours of midnight to 5 A.M. (albeit in their stations, waiting for the rare call to occur), and compare that to 5 or 6 police officers who are awake and actually driving around patrolling your neighborhoods. During these night hours the police officers are almost always the first emergency responders on the scene for the ACTUAL fires and ACTUAL (CPR type) medical emergencies. If you don't believe me get a scanner and/or ask to see the statistics on the dispatch logs. I'm talking about who gets there first to vacate the house that's on fire and the neighbors, or who gets there first to help with CPR, 9 times out of 10 its the police. Not that the police are better than the fire department but because of how they are deployed during those late night hours. So maybe we should look at the fire staffing, wait for the staffing studies to be completed and see if there are more efficient ways to DEPLOY the 34 or so fire department personnel who the union believes are needed to keep our residents safe. I would venture to say that the CITY OF SUNNYVALE has certainly identified a way to efficiently deploy their public safety, with the use the on-duty police to supplement their fire fighters. So if Sunnyvale can be more efficient with their unique method of public safety maybe there are other alternatives out there. I'm not advocating a public safety (police/fire combined) in Palo Alto, but i do believe there are better deployment options available.

The City Council, who represent the residents, should have the ability to identify and implement deployment of all City employees, police, fire, public works, etc. in a manner they deem most beneficial for the residents. In my humble opinion this CANNOT be done effectively and efficiently with the passage of Measure R.



Posted by never forget, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 16, 2010 at 11:02 am

"Does the library dept recover almost half it's budget back through fee's or revinue? "

Yes! It returns 10 times it's investment. Does the fire service do that?


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2010 at 11:45 am

"never forget"
Is any fire or police dept anywhere getting 10X returns? should they even be expected to? Do we rate in order of importance how much a city service makes in revinue as to how vital or important the service is?
If departments are going to be prioritized and retained simply by how much they take in and how much they cost the City then I am sure the FD would not be in danger of being reduced in size.
I'm sorry but there are more important reasons for having services in a city than cost recovery. I think most people expect, police, garbage, sewers, utilities, fire, ems, street lighting, etc. Most peope consider those basic services. Palo Alto is very fortunate to go way beyond those.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2010 at 11:51 am

"Stephen"

Would my answer really change your view? have I wrote anything that is not factual?
Shouldnt the issue be more important than my career or employer?
Others hear can make completly false claims and accusations and nobody asks them where they work or who they are.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2010 at 12:35 pm

> You again make charges you have no idea what you are talking about,
> you appear to claim the PAFD "over charges" for paramedic transport?

If the PA FD is providing "revenue" to the general fund, it is only because they charge the customers more than they spend--in the private sector this is called "profit". In the public sector, it's called "overcharging".

Even if it were true the the PA FD EMS transports are less expensive that the private sector, that does not mean that the PA FD is not overcharging.

The basic premise of government was to provide common services for the residents--not make a profit, or to make government employees multimillionaires.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 16, 2010 at 1:16 pm

> Do you really find it hard to believe "the aggregate cost of
> insurance will not go down

There are multiple inputs into setting insurance rates. The ISO Property Protection Classification (PPC) is one; however, the following paper:

Web Link

points out that some insurance companies have developed their own, since they have a sizable store of data from the fires they have investigated doing their business and have developed their own models from this data.

Obviously, the fewer fires, and the smaller claims from fire damage, will combine in their rate-setting model to produce a lower aggregate base rate for a community. However, that doesn't mean that the yearly base rate won't rise, no matter what the Property Protection Classification (PPC) might be. Inflation, and cross-subsidization by other revenue streams, intended to reduce end-user insurance rates, can fluctuate, causing rates to fluctuate (although UP does seem to be the only direction most insurance policy owners see).

For instance, several years ago many insurance companies had invested in Mall real estate, which had become less productive, financially, than in previous years. The revenues from these investments were used to subsidize some of the home owners' insurance reserves began to drop off. Insurance companies at the time were warning home owners to expect rising rates, even though most had made no claims against their policies.

Additionally, insurance pools often are county-wide, so disasters in one area will result in high rates for all, in order to raise the money needed to payout the victims of the various disasters that befall communities.

However, Mr. Jake, you clearly miss the point I was trying to make. The example was about how the Fire Department management should understand that there are "green dollars" being paid by property owners for insurance, that could be reduced (in theory), by having highest ISO/PPC rating for the city. This is called "strategy", which is what we pay the Department Managers, in part, to develop/adopt/deploy.

The paper cited above is an example of a pro-active FD management, which understands that there is an relationship between aggregate insurance rates, general public safety, and various investments in fire suppression. It's a shame that the PA FD does not make all of the various classification/rating documents available on its web-site, so that we (the residents) could see why we are only a "Class B" city, and maybe get the question answered: "Is it worth becoming a "Class A" city?

Sadly, the question before the voters is whether the estimate $1.3B that will be spent in the next twenty years on public and private "fire insurances" will be largely locked up in salaries/benefits, and "business as usual", or if the door will be open to integrating new technologies, and organizational techniques in the FD to reduce these costs.




Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2010 at 1:30 pm

"wayne martin"

If the PAFD is charging less than what the private for profit ambulance company is charging for paramedic transport how can anybody make a valid claim that the PAFD is "overcharging"??
It's less than the norm? Do you complain to the City of Palo Alto if you live in the City, that you are being "undercharged" for utilities? Are you against the CPA having it's own utilities which enables the CPA to actualy charge the customer less and still generate revinue for the CPA? Would you prefer paying higher costs for ambulance transport to an outside company?
And what exactly is "common service"?? Palo Alto provides it's residents with many services that other Cities don't, won't or can't.
I was under the impression that many people chose to live in Palo Alto BECAUSE the CPA offers an above avereage or "common" great quality of life, excellent schools, parks, recreation programs, police, fire, etc etc etc. If the PAFD has been providing paramedic ambulance treatment and transport since the mid 1970's at a transport cost cheaper than the private sector and faster response times, what is you beef?? If the CPA and PAFD can provide that service and offset the operating budget or return money to the general fund shouldnt that be considered a good thing? and something Cities in general should be striving for? Many people complain about goverment not being managed like a buisness but what do most companies do? provide a product or service with a goal of nothing less than at least covering costs an expenses, and hopefully make a profit. Profits can be used to improve services, infrastructure, etc anything to make the company better.
Cities are not designed to be 100% cost recovery for the services they provide, most Cities charge fee's to offset the cost of programs and services, not make a profit. The PAFD is not making a profit. The PAFD is fortunate to generate revinue in several ways that return a large percentage of it's operating budget back to the CPA. Is that a bad thing?? if so, why? If the PAFD was charging more than the private company for ambulance transport then I feel you might have a valid point to argue, but the PAFD is not charging more.
Most other Cities would jump at the chance to provide paramedic ambulance transport in place of contracting with the private sector. But unfortunatly those other Cities tried doing exactly that after the private sector ambulance companies lobbied and fought hard to keep Cities from expanding into paramedic transport in addition to FD paramedics treatment on scene. Now many FD's have paramedics on fire engines that provide a higher level of service than 30 years ago. The PAFD was one of the first FD's in California to provide paramedic transport. Up until that point in the mid 1970's if you called an ambulance in most cities a crew of 2 in white uniforms would simply give you a ride to the hospital. No or little treatment and no paramedics.
As to "multimillionaires"? are you implying there are CPA employees that are just that? PAFD members that have that amount of wealth?
Please provide some example for that claim? I find that very hard to believe. Especialy at the rank and file union member level. And an employee who was left a large house in Palo Alto from an estate in my opinion really doesnt count in my opinion. That would add up to "multimillionaire" on paper but that was not a result of being a city worker.
I would like to see the tax rate and fee's that would be required to maintain or even keep the present services in the CPA if the City started on a goal of not generating any revinue such as utilities, building permit fee's, ambulance transport fee's, etc etc etc???
Departments such as the CPA Utilities dept actually pays for many other programs in the CPA that have nothing to do with utilities. They are able to do that by returning revinue generated to the CPA.
I feel that is a good thing and an excellent way of providing for a great quality of life in Palo Alto. Do you think houses and property in Palo Alto are so expensive for reasons other than great schools, services, programs, safety, parks, recreation, etc??? Lower all of those listed examples to the CA State "common" average and I am fairly sure housing might be a tad cheaper in the CPA.
I could be way off base so please correct me if you still feel I'm wrong.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 16, 2010 at 1:42 pm

From digging through this paper a little more closely:

Web Link

the author states that the insurance companies in his area would not decrease the base rates for increased PPC ratings. He states: The agent said that cities with classifications of 1-4 are lumped together with the same base rate." It would appear that insurance companies are most interested in "high risk" cities, and insurance savings might be possible when these cities upgrade their classification (ie raising a 5->4).

Later on, the author states that two fire departments in Arizona joined forces to successfully reduce their insurance rates.

To restate my point, the PA FD should better document the PA PPC (or equivalent) and periodically conduct a cost/benefit analysis to determine if maintaining the current status makes sense.





Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm

> I could be way off base so please correct me if you
> still feel I'm wrong.

There are so many inaccuracies, and down right falsehoods in your claims that a person could easily pass his/her next birthday pointing them out, and correcting them. But let's start with the following:

> Departments such as the CPA Utilities dept actually pays
> for many other programs in the CPA that have nothing to do with
> utilities

The Utilities operates as an "enterprise fund", and the revenues can only be used on the utility infrastructure/labor/other costs. Some of the "profit" is passed through to the City's GF, as a "direct pass through" and through the charging of "rent".

To the extent that this money was generated by the "utilities", and eventually spent on "other programs", that is true. However, the extraction of the money is circuitous, due to state restrictions on City-run enterprise funds. Many feel that the rent the City charges the Utility is immoral and represents another example of "double dipping" and "overcharging". All of these overcharges drive the cost of utilities higher than they need be. Sadly, most of this extracted money ends up being used to raise salaries/benefits--rather than benefiting the residents as a whole.



Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 16, 2010 at 2:14 pm

> As to "multimillionaires"? are you implying there are CPA employees
> that are just that?

There are now over 400 employees making more than $100K, some are making over $200K. In some cities (locally), the highest paid employees are now making over $300K. This is because government workers have been able to demand automatic pay increases, with pensions linked to the high-years' salaries.

The following paper attempts to lay out the cost of a hypothetical PA police officer over 30-years of service and 30-years of pension:

Cost of a PA Police Officer:
Web Link

The paper looks at the total compensation (without overtime, promotions, etc.) of a police officer hired at $100K, receiving 5% yearly raises, and then also adds in the pension such an officer would receive for 30 years of life beyond retirement.

The 30-year salary comes to about $6.5M. It was shocking to find from these researches that such an officer would receive about $15.6M for a 30-year pension payout.

The total compensation then is: $22.3M. So, yes, PA (and many, many Cities around the US) have created a class of multi-millionaires out of their employees. (Note, this is a projection that is so clearly unsustainable that changes in the pensions system will necessarily happen to keep the City from becoming bankrupt. However, if those changes don't happen, these payouts are currently in the taxpayers' future.)

The paper below points out how much additional money "the Brass" make in pensions, which generally is invisible to the public:

Web Link


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 16, 2010 at 2:19 pm

> I would like to see the tax rate and fee's that would be
> required to maintain or even keep the present services in the CPA

Mr. Jake--what gives you right to comment on the tax rates of a town in which you don't live? Or maybe I should rephrase that question--why should Palo Alto taxpayers care what non-residents think about out tax rates?


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 16, 2010 at 2:40 pm

> retrofitting sprinklers--good luck with that.

The following is a FAQ about Residential Fire Sprinklers and the IRC
International Code Council:

---
Web Link

Q What is the fire sprinkler requirement approved in the 2009 International Residential Code?

A The 2009 IRC requires an approved fire sprinkler system in all new one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses.

Q When will dwellings and townhouses be required to install fire sprinklers?

A1 An approved fire sprinkler system must be installed in all townhomes
constructed after the 2009 IRC is adopted.

A2 An approved fire sprinkler system must be installed in all one- and two-family dwellings constructed after the 2009 IRC is adopted, OR January 1, 2011 whichever is later.
---
This is a straightforward document, but the understanding of how important residential sprinklers are is reinforced at the end of the document:

"This single requirement will have enormous impact on reducing the annual life loss due to fire in this great nation. US annual fire fatalities hover at about 3,000 and repeatedly 80 - 85% of these fatalities occurring in dwellings and townhouses. The fire sprinkler systems will save lives of the occupants and reduce the tragic annual fire death toll."
---

If this International Fire Code (IRC) is adopted here in Palo Alto, then new homes will sooner-of-later have this important firefighting infrastructure will be "standard issue". Getting public awareness to a city-wide retrofit program is an issue for another day, but the promise of reduced fire damage can be seen as real in other localities where this program is already in place.

---
Web Link

In fires with sprinklers present, the chances of dying in a fire are reduced by one-half to three-fourths and the average property loss is cut by one-half to two thirds, compared to fires where sprinklers are not present. Sprinklers failed to operate in only 7% of structure fires large enough to activate them. System shut-offs and other human errors were responsible for nearly all the failures.
---

This push for getting sprinklers installed in all Palo Alto homes is another of those FD Management "chores" that the City Manager needs to remind the Fire Chief that a plan for PA residents to start thinking about is long overdue.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 16, 2010 at 3:19 pm

The issue of technology and fire fighting has not been openly discussed by the PA FD, in this Measure R discussion. In addition to the relatively "low tech" sprinkler systems suggested, there is also the emerging field of robotics, with some firefighting robots now in test in London (UK):

City of London Deploying Fire Fighting Robots:
Web Link

QinetiQ Fire Robots:
Web Link

These are early days for robotics in the role of firefighting/EMS, so there is no way of knowing where these technologies will be in a decade or more. It may be that some of these devices are not all that suitable for fighting residential structure fires, but may be more suitable for Hazmat/commercial fires/incidents, and vehicle fires on city streets/highways.

Measure R, if passed, will doubtless make it harder for these sorts of devices to be considered, and/or, deployed in Palo Alto.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2010 at 3:39 pm

"wayne martin"

Residential sprinkler systems and sprinkler systems save lives, I'm not saying they don't or down play their importance. Palo Alto is pretty much built out. New houses are a tiny fraction of the residential building. Don't you think or realize it was the fire chiefs themselves that have been pleading for years for residential sprinkler systems and sprinkler systems period. It's lobbist's for developers, real estate, and sadly mayors, city managers and council people who resist sprinkler ordinances. People pressure elected officials to vote No.
And getting a residential retrofit ordinance into effect would most likely be impossible unless your talking about major renovation or rebuild. You will never get the residents of PA to buy into retrofitting their homes.
Yes that would greatly make a difference, but I live in the real world where its not going to happen.
Now it seems your trying to use sprinklers as a tool for FD reductions or lesson the FDs need. We don't have retrofit large scale sprinkler ordinance now or in the near future. It's not even a factor in PAFD reductions today. The PAFD has tried passing laws, they got turned away by the City.


Posted by Don, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 16, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Jake. Why don't you answer Mr. Martin's question as to why you are spending so much time on long rants (that are repetitious and often hard to follow) when you don't even live in Palo Alto? I agree with Mr. Martin that many of your statements are opinions not based on fact. He has pointed out several which you choose to ignore.

You say "For those people who feel the Council should decide such important decisions than why not simply have the Council decide everything that happens in the City." The Council is elected to do that very thing and spends far more time than 90% of the average resident on reviewing and understanding city needs and allocating scarce revenue.

Fortunately we have many conscientious residents who hold the Council's feet to the fire on many issues. Just read the e-mail packet it gets and go to a council meeting and listen to people who care. It's called a democracy where you don't tie the government's hands so they can't do their job. Proposition R does that. Our Sacramento Legislature has that problem in spades


Posted by 50 plus years living in Palo Alto, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 16, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Jake

You feel that with great skill you are showing how wrong the citzens of Palo Alto are. If you are correct then we should not be the one's voting on staffing or stations. If you are correct you are proving that we should vote no. Thant you Jake for proving that no on R is the correct vote.


Posted by Dan, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Oct 16, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Being a Palo Alto Fire Department member I find this whole thing distressing for eveyone on both sides. It's unfortunate that such divisive opinions are being drawn without really knowing the whole issue or history.

I don't pretend to know exactly what the perfect answer is. I do know there is a lot of incomplete and misleading information being circulated. I encourage citizens with questions or concerns to visit their neighborhood fire station with questions, then draw an opinion.

Ironically, we have recently responded to at least 3 homes with a "No on R" sign on their front lawn. I hope they found our service valuable. We will continue to provide the best professional service possible no matter what. We actually care...


Posted by r5GkY, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 16, 2010 at 11:21 pm

I love this undercurrent of the last post - oppose us at your own risk!


Posted by so, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2010 at 8:40 am

dan,

I dont consider my no vote, anti-firefighter. This is about where the power to adjust the city workforce should be. It needs to all be in the same place and all aspects need to controlled by the same group. R moves only one small role to the citizens and then makes the bar so high to perform that role that it is practically impossible for that group to perform that role.

If firefighters truly want PA citizen's to decide their fate, and frankly I would not, the proposal must give us the entire role and across the board. If we must be forced to make these kinds of decisions for the city, then we need to trade them off against other services the city performs too. It cant be just the power to reduce firefighters at 2/3s vote. It needs to be the power to hire, fire, compenstate all city staff positions by a majority vote.
Now I would vote against that too, because of issues of scale and expediency problems, but with that type of power the citizens could govern properly. We would be able to make trade offs, on the entire budget just not in a timely manner

This legislation as written does not benefit the citizens, it only insures one area of the city's workforce can never be reduced, independant of need.

Its just an unbalanced piece of legislation that does not take into account the rest of the city workforce. It is poorly written.


Posted by Bill Moisten, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 17, 2010 at 9:39 am

Wayne, thanks for providing a well written set of arguments. Jake, thanks for showing that supporters of "R" are on shaky ground at best.

Public safety personnel deserve a lot of respect. However, measure R as it's written makes no sense. The intent doesn't make sense either. It seems like one public safety agency attempting to wrestle control of their fate from the elected body that governs them. That makes no sense. Dealing with one elected body is hard enough. Dealing with another body that's a monopoly and unchangeable without considerable expense and effort makes no sense.

It does seem that the city manages overtime and staffing in a strange way. Perhaps a compromise to measure R would be some public pressure to investigate why.


Posted by Bill Kelly, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2010 at 10:03 am

How are we not to see measure R as anything but extortion? In addition, will the police union create the next proposition proposing exactly the same thing? I had lots of respect for firefighters, but for god sake, this is political extortion. In my eye, the firefighters have a black eye and should send their Union Leader to the showers.


Posted by Gouged In Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Congratulations to Gennady for a very balanced piece of reporting. How many of us who live here make $178K a year with benefits? How many of us are guaranteed pensions? How many of us are guaranteed jobs for life?
This is nothing but a blatant power grab by a power hungry union that does not have the slightest realization on economic realities that the taxpayers are facing. I second those that call for the firing and outsourcing of the entire department. No on R.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 17, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I agree with the comments of the folks who realize that Measure R is all about union feather bedding and does nothing positive for the citizens of Palo Alto. Hopefully the discussion will result in major changes to the way PA obtains their emergency services. Instead of having 30+ union employees sleeping away every night, we should be looking at regional solutions that deploy resources efficiently. The salaries of fire dept employees should be cut by 50% and the # of on duty workers reduced by 50%.


Posted by JA3+, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2010 at 4:07 pm

This one is easy and simple: vote 'No' on Measure R.

Many writers -- both above and elsewhere -- have noted several strong reasons for so doing. The logic here is overwhelming.
_____

On a related note, I urge the City Council to thoroughly consider consolidation of PA's Fire Department with other, local jurisdictions; quite a few other localities have done so with significant savings.


Posted by Jenny, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 17, 2010 at 4:22 pm

The biggest savings will come when fire fighting is done with robots. The London Fire Department is in the process of converting the technology of robotics they've used in Iraq and Afghanistan and using them to fight fires in England.

Palo Alto prides itself on being at the center of the high tech industry. Well, we should be showing the world how we can use robotic technology to fight fires. This is the future and it will be a lot cheaper than using over-indulged human firefighters!!

Vote "NO" on Measure R.


Posted by Stephen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 17, 2010 at 9:46 pm

It's a simple question, why not provide a direct answer?


Posted by so, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2010 at 8:35 am

Stephen,

You are anonymous, as am I, why cant Jake be?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 18, 2010 at 11:53 am

If the fire department finding ways to reduce cost... why are there fire trucks cruising the street with at least 3 people in them on busy nights? (I see them out every Thursday and Friday night.. and probably Saturdays as well. I'm just not out.) This practice costs the tax payers money... in gas, if nothing else.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 18, 2010 at 12:35 pm

There not cruising. There coming back from calls. Friday and Saturday nights are very busy for the downtown. Stanford is very busy on those nights as well.
As of the three firefighters on the fire truck- one drives and pumps, one pulls the hose into the fire along with the other (the captain) who is in charge. OSHA mandates aleast two firefighters together into any structure fire. San Jose has four firefighters on their fire trucks. Most big cities do.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 18, 2010 at 1:13 pm

They maybe coming back from a call, but why do they need to go up and down the street instead of returning directly to the firehouse? I've seen them on Emerson, Ramona, and University... more than once in a short period of time. It looks like cruising to me. Does OSHA require them to check out the scene?


Posted by Stephen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 18, 2010 at 7:22 pm

The answer to my question will probably influence how many of us view his comments. Period.


Posted by Gordon, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2010 at 2:01 am

Measure R is such an outrage! How did we end up with a system where the average firefighter makes $178,387 and still feels entitled to more? Why should they be exempt from the rules every other department must play by? The union doesn't care about the city or safety. They'd rather have the police force cut twice as much than conform to economic reality.


Posted by momdoc, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm

"Gordon":

It was said that the average firefighter is making $100,000 not $178,387. The higher number includes all benefits.

That being said, I will not be voting for measure R because it treats different types of emergency responders differently. It is not right to protect firefighters' jobs and not protect other emergency response jobs which are just as valuable to citizens.




Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2010 at 5:46 pm

"Stephen"
What are you trying to say? If I am a PA firefighter my comments would apparantly be not true? I guess the others posting here no matter their background have all the facts?
I have yet to see anyone on here show or give an example of anything I wrote as being not factual, I at a min have the same right to have an opinion as anyone else.
PA Council members have opinions, Diana Diamond has opinions, PAFD members have opinions, residents have opinions, etc.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2010 at 5:50 pm

"resident"

Many of those FD rigs you see driving are from the MPFD, PAFD, RWCFD, etc.
getting from Stanford Hospital back to those Cities many times requires driving through downtown to get to 101


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2010 at 6:02 pm

"resident'
Also many of the occupancies that operate downtown at night exceed the max occupancy on a regular basis, inspections and occupancy checks happen, people complain, phone calls, competition generates complaints and people turn in others.
Overcrowding has a historic rate of injury and death in the US.
Maybe the fire truck was checking occupancies while returning from a call? who knows exactly? maybe people need to not jump to conclusions so quickly


Posted by Irritated, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 23, 2010 at 11:46 pm

It is clear power grab. They need to be punished for wasting this money and making an end run around the council. When most of us have no job stability and depend on ourselves for retirement - these guys need to brought down to earth.


Posted by fairness, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 30, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Just saw this forum, otherwise would have given comments earlier. I have already voted; my entire family voted NO on R.

To me, this is a simple common sense of responsibility and fairness. When everyone else is suffering from the bad economy, why would fire department be unique and special that they can not be touched at all? while they think that every other department can be cut. To me, it is simple shamelessness by the union leaders of the fire department.

I previously had respect for firefighters. When I saw measure R, I can no longer respect the PA firefighters. Maybe not all PA firefighters are this greedy, but those who put measure R on ballot are certainly greedy and shameless. We do not need the greedy ones in Palo Alto, I will be happy they quit their job or be fired, so that the jobs can be given to those who need a job and feel thankful for having a job.


Posted by Cardinal, a resident of University South
on Nov 2, 2010 at 9:24 pm

And measure R is going down in flames this election night ... Palo Alto voters sending a clarion call that they will not be bamboozled by this union and its intentions.


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