Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 5, 2010

City voters snuff firefighters' Measure R

Measure would have required an election to reduce fire staff

by Gennady Sheyner

A proposal by Palo Alto's firefighters union to freeze staffing levels in the Fire Department went up in flames Tuesday after local voters overwhelmingly defeated Measure R.

Seventy-four percent of the city's voters opposed Measure R, which would have required the city to hold a citywide election any time it wants to reduce staffing levels or close a fire station.

The measure was placed on the ballot by Palo Alto Firefighters Union, Local 1319, which is in the midst of negotiations with the city over a new contract.

Former Palo Alto Mayor Dena Mossar, who led the campaign opposing Measure R, said she wasn't surprised by the election result. Mossar had characterized the firefighters' proposal as a power grab that would give the firefighters' union unfair powers over other labor groups.

Her campaign, which was supported by a broad coalition of former mayors and civic activists, raised more than $60,000 to fight Measure R.

"Palo Alto voters are a pretty smart lot," Mossar told the Weekly Tuesday, after early results indicated the win. "Three to one is about as good as it gets."

Firefighters claimed the measure is needed to protect residents from reckless staff cuts by the City Council. The union gathered more than 6,000 signatures to place the measure on the ballot and had loaned $35,000 toward its campaign.

Tony Spitaleri, the union president, couldn't be reached for comment.

Mayor Pat Burt said the voters' overwhelming defeat of Measure R indicated the community is concerned about the larger issue of employee salaries and benefits. Tuesday's election suggests that the voters approve of the council's recent efforts to reduce spending on employee compensation, Burt said.

"The vote does not surprise me," Burt said. "The sentiment I heard from the community was strong opposition to Measure R and strong support for the reforms the City Council recently made to pensions and benefits.

"Voters know we have to control costs."

The topic of staffing levels is expected to resurface in the next month or two, when the city completes a study analyzing the Fire Department's staffing levels.

Comments

Posted by Gordon, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2010 at 12:15 am

Way to go, Palo Alto! Measure R was an outrageous power grab, and I'm glad the city saw through the firefighter union's scare tactics. Too bad that the union blew more than $200,000 in desperately needed tax dollars to put this absurdity on the ballot. Now let's hope that the council has the spine to get firefighter compensation under control--$175,000 average (including benefits and overtime) is ridiculous!


Posted by Wait a sec, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2010 at 12:43 am

One good thing could come from this: getting the city to focus on bloated employee salaries and gold-plated benefits.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Nov 3, 2010 at 12:45 am

All of these past and present Council Members quoted in this story are responsible for mandating that an ambulance and a engine be staffed using overtime.
They complain about about salaries but they are the ones who mandated the overtime staffing policy and they are the same ones who have approved every labor contract with the firefighters union.
These Council members get benefits, the same benefits as full time city employees, plus the $7500 a year.
The firefighters don't have a choice when it comes to overtime, somebody has to be on duty and work on the units the Council has mandated to be staffed with overtime. 20 plus years of this situation via the PA Council.
The Council approves labor contracts and salaries, not the Voters.
Measure R lost, it was about keeping stations open and properly staffed. Nothing to do with salaries or benefits. 100 or 65 firefighters in Palo Alto, it doesnt matter the number when your talking about salaries. They are going to get paid pretty much the average for those doing the same work in this area.
Stay tuned for the Staffing Study to be released soon, the rumor is the study is going to show PA is understaffed but of course this was not released prior to the election.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2010 at 4:26 am

I'm all for staffed fire stations and not paying overtime for needed regular staff hours. I respect and admire our firefighters and hope they are there if I need them. However, the way this was worded simply gave a blank check out against Palo Alto's funds, no matter the situation. It did not address the absurdities of the system that has been set up between our city and the firefighters. This was clearly an attempt to solve some hideous snarl by trying an end run around what is probably as absurd a process as we have when, say, replacing the trees on a commercial street, allowing a property owner to rebuild on the hideous site of a former grocery store, tackling the necessity for high speed rail, etc. etc.


Posted by Old Palo Altan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 5:36 am

The firefighters would be well served to find a new union president. Spitaleri has done his members a disservice with this divisive measure and his "leadership" of no give backs in hard times.


Posted by George, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2010 at 7:09 am

> Nothing to do with salaries or benefits. 100 or 65 firefighters in
> Palo Alto, it doesnt matter the number when your talking about
> salaries

Measure R had everything to do with costs of running the Fire Department/EMS Unit--which is heavily dominated by labor costs. The "fire fighters" have come to demand almost automatic 4+% yearly raises. It doesn't take that long before the cost of labor has doubled. And with pensions linked to salaries--the cost of pension contributions also goes through the roof. Palo Alto's pension contributions are about $30M this year. They will increase in future years. The City needs the flexibility to rethink how it delivers fire protection services, without having its hands tied.

Let's hope that the City Management actually does do the thinking that the voters have given them the freedom to do in the coming years--otherwise, this was another exercise in futility.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 3, 2010 at 7:17 am

This measure had NOTHING to do with salaries or pensions. This was STAFFING ONLY. People need to read the information that comes with the voting packet.


Posted by George, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2010 at 7:35 am

> This measure had NOTHING to do with salaries or pensions

This measure had EVERYTHING to do with salaries and pensions--with are the major component of costs of all government. The voting packet had nothing to do with the issues associated with running the Fire Department (or other departments which might have decided to attempt the same sort of move in the future).


Posted by Reality Check, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2010 at 8:12 am

Wow, So lets see.

Somehow???? they managed to get 6000 signatures to get this on the ballot, but they only got 4400 votes. So that begs some questions. Were the fire fighters pressuring people to sign the petitions? Were the voters afraid to say no in person, how pathetic.

Any way, we always knew this was going down in flames.

Having said that, all the other City employees have had their salary, benefits, health care, and retirement reduced in the past two years. I will make a prediction now that the fire fighters will at best take only minimum cuts compared to other city employees because the Council never takes on the fire department on any issue.

The Council now has the freedom to make cuts in the fire department just like every other department, but they won't. They can also tackle compensation like they did in the other departments, but that's unlikely also. Given the growth in the fire department this year, even cutting some stuff know will still mean they grew while everyone else shrank.

This will now turn in to fear of cuting as it could get a Council person voted out of office if they trim staffing or god for bid close one of the stations.


Posted by Trainspotting, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2010 at 8:19 am

When you compare Redwood City to Palo Alto, both cities have similar population size of 65,000 vs. 61,000 residents, respectively. Redwood City has 5 fire stations while Palo Alto has 8 fire stations (including Stanford).

Redwood City maintains a minimum staffing of 18 firefighters while Palo Alto maintains a minimum staffing of 34. That's a ratio of 3.6 staffing for Redwood City vs. 4.25 for Palo Alto. If this measure was to pass, it would have severely limited City Council's ability to negotiate a new contract reflecting current constraints.

This measure was important to defeat because the union leader needs to realize he is out of touch with the economic situation of the city that pays the firefighters' salaries and pensions.


Posted by Matthew, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2010 at 8:28 am

Good result, but our work isn't done. We citizens need to make clear to City Hall that we expect them to fight the unions (which they won't do without overwhelming community pressure) and complete a restructuring that saves money not by reducing service or staffing, but primarily by cutting salaries and benefits.

Believe me, I know the value of the work they do, and if they made 60k per year with modest benefits I'd be fighting on their side. But we're way out of balance here... we need to restore sanity.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Professorville
on Nov 3, 2010 at 8:39 am

I say Bravo!
At least for now, the tail does not wag the dog.
All public employee unions in CA need to wake up.
The current compensation system with absurd benefits and pensions for public employees needs to change.
Government employees DO NOT have the right to bankrupt our cities, counties and state with their never-ending demands.
This is just a start!
I would suggest public employees "get real" and realize they have a "sweetheart" deal not available to 95% of our population.
Instead of fighting attempts to bring budgets in balance, they need to do what is right!


Posted by Jennifer, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 3, 2010 at 9:05 am

Fire fighters tried an ill-conceived and selfish power play that blew up in their faces big time. Tony became Custer at Little Big Horn.

Once the smoke clears, the next union boss should quickly demonstrate that fire fighters are team players working cooperatively with City leadership on compensation and benefit reform.

The community demands it.

Overwhelming approval of Measure L by Menlo Park voters and the resounding defeat of Measure R in Palo Alto spotlights municipal compensation reform as an urgent political imperative for every city.


Posted by bill, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2010 at 9:12 am

I'm sorry that the firefighters, misled by Mr. Spitaleri, took this divisive tactic when the other Palo Alto unions offered to help reduce costs and share available resources. Unelected employees can not unilaterally dictate the terms of their contracts.

Let our City Council and City Manager know they must negotiate future employee contracts with the long term in mind. Salaries, pensions and working conditions must be made comparable to similar jobs in other public and private sectors.

Saying Measure R was about staffing and not costs is misleading. Staffing is cost. If Redwood City and Mr. View can have fewer firefighters to serve comparable populations, then Palo Alto is not understaffed as Jake said.


Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Nov 3, 2010 at 9:18 am

Tim and Jake, you miss the point as well as many others. The Palo Alto Fire Department has lacked leadership for many,many years, it's firefighters have also lacked any real leadership or support on real issues from it's union. Many of the Firefighters loved the overtime laughed all the way to the bank never asking their Union to get more Firefighters hired. Never went to the citizens asking them to help cut back overtime. Too many stuck to and wanted people to believe that overtime was cheaper than having the correct number of WORKING Firefighters, that argument only goes so far. The position of firefighter or Paramedic goes much father and deeper than dollars and cents. Just as the Work Climate Survey showed the huge issues and problems in the Palo Alto Fire Department, this Measure shows the huge problems is both the FD and the CPA. And most likely as with all CPA issues nothing will happen and things will get worse but, what you can count on is City Managers getting homes and loans. Corrupt and self centered greedy Employees(2% mostly upper managers) getting over on the system as being the Palo Alto way.

The Palo Alto Firefighters have done a huge amount of damage to the WHOLE Fire Service just as the did with their action following the deaths of 2 Contra Costa Firefighters (RIP), oh and their Union President did nothing about that only smoothed out poop after the fact.

This whole Measure R was just bad news for all. No winner and the citizens are the biggest losers again. When you never get the truth or the whole story it is hard to win at anything.


Posted by John, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 3, 2010 at 9:22 am

Just a clarification for the comments by "Trainspotting" when comparing PAFD to Redwood City. While the base population is comprable, you did not include the Stanford population.

Palo Alto City has 5 fire stations. Stanford has 2 (including SLAC). Stanford pays 1/3 of the Palo Alto Fire Department budget to staff their stations. The eighth station is in Foothills Park and is only open 3 months a year and only 12 hours per day.


Posted by FvTPE, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 3, 2010 at 9:25 am

Now Palo Alto needs to put forward its own "Measure L - Menlo Park
(Limitations/restrictions to city employees' retirement benefits)". Web Link

You can sense the mood already.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2010 at 9:34 am

No surprise that R was defeated. I am amazed it received any yes votes, with the exception of ff families.

It is up to the citizens to begin the work of restoring foscal responsibility to the city budget. We need to make our voices heard and remove from office politicians who pander to or are unable to stand up to the concentrated power of the unions.

We should demand:
1.) that PA ff's salaries and benefits are reduced so they are comparable to the national average (salary should be <$50K per Newsweek magazine national survey)
2.) Staffing should be reduced dramatically (we don't need 30+ ff's snaoring away every night in the stations)
3.) more efficient organizational work models should be considered including outsourcing.
4.) all city employees minimum retirement age should be changed to 62


Posted by Anon, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2010 at 10:47 am

I voted against the greedy measure. But, some of the comments here are misguided and clearly the products of jealous people who miss their big fat paychecks.

You can not, can not, can not compare bay area salaries to national averages. Not in any industry. Compare your salary to the national average for your position. You are making more too, it is a byproduct of living here. How else could we afford our 3 million dollar homes that would only cost 200,000 if we were willing to live in Utah?? It is not fair to hold public employees to standards you do not hold yourself to.

Educated, skilled private sector workers who are working in the jobs they are supposed to work in, as is the case with many public employees, have health care and retirement packages. I know I do. Seems most of the people who think public employees are getting too much are currently unemployed and a bit bitter about it. Sorry for you, but it isn't their fault you can't find a job.

I agree with the statements about this measure not being about salaries and pensions for the firefighters. But, I think that since they have refused pay cuts prior to trying to pass this measure it is a related conversation. They seem to want more, more, more, while giving nothing but what is required for their positions.

It does make sense to raise the retirement age to 62 to be more inline with the private sector. Outsourcing is a standard practice now, and should definately be considered for many city positions. Though laying people off generally hurts the economy rather than improves it - but most city workers can't afford to live in Palo Alto anyway, which would put the hurt in someone elses back yard making it a good option for us.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 3, 2010 at 10:59 am

Ya, I want a 62+ year old Firefighter pulling me out of my burning house!!


Posted by James, a resident of Professorville
on Nov 3, 2010 at 11:59 am

"Just a clarification for the comments by "Trainspotting" when comparing PAFD to Redwood City. While the base population is comparable, you did not include the Stanford population. "

Just to add to John's comments - the daytime population including Stanford swells the number to over 125,000 people.

Palo Alto has more land to cover than Redwood city as well...


Posted by Measure R, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2010 at 12:10 pm


Went down!!!!!!!!!! Good news - we're finally getting started!


Posted by Brian, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2010 at 12:27 pm

> Somehow???? they managed to get 6000 signatures to get this on the
> ballot, but they only got 4400 votes. So that begs some questions. Were
> the fire fighters pressuring people to sign the petitions?

Yes. This summer at Safeway I watched firefighters in the parking lot aggressively bullying people to sign the petition. They were being extraordinarily persistent. I watched one man follow an elderly woman to her car and knock on the drivers-side window to demand that she sign the petition. She looked genuinely afraid of him.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

So the fire fighters need to share the cuts with the Department of Silly Ego Trip Departments? How about the Department of Coordinator Coordinators? I know, establish a new Department of Era of Limits in honor of the New Old Governor.
For those who begrudge the earlier retirement of Public Safety workers, change the age to 62 and see the disability retirements jump back where they used to be. Just call me one of the 4400.


Posted by George, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2010 at 12:44 pm

> retirement age of 62 ..

I agree that this is too old for public safety employees. Health-related disabilities are fairly high in this group, particularly after 50 years of age. There are about 100 firefighters who die on-the-job yearly. About 40% of these come from heart attacks, which are generally attributed to age, and a sedentary life style.

Given the high dollar amounts that firefighters see in pensions, there is no reason that they should not see 20-25 year service periods before retirement.

What's important here is to expect that Cities rethink the fire suppression/response models--pushing for more fire suppression technologies in residential structures, and automation. This would ultimately reduce the number of employees, that would help keep the costs in line.

There are many issues to consider .. looking at just one, or two, makes any solution to this set of problems seem inadequate.


Posted by oldpares, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Do you all realized that the firefighters hired people to gather signatures? They looked like PA firemen, but they were not.


Posted by PAUSD Dad, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 12:58 pm

"It is not fair to hold public employees to standards you do not hold yourself to."

Public employees have generous pensions and overtime benefits that do not exist in the private sector. If there's a double standard, it's in the public employees' favor.


Posted by Moira, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Firefighters and other public employees have taken pay cuts and foregone raises in many cities. Palo Alto may have to do the same and public employees will see their portion of benefits go up. But people don't seem aware that new hire in many cities have lesser benefits and retirement plans than in the past. What I find interesting is that so many people have become fixated on the benefits and pension issue without seeming to ask the question why private sector workers don't have guaranteed healthcare and decent retirements plans from their employers? It's not the public unions fault, it's the fault collectively of US workers and our government for not legislating a system to protect workers. I know an SF firefighter, he works a minimum of 48 hours a week, (two 24 hour shifts) and he's out at fires and medical calls several times a night. It's physically tiring work, hard on the body. They retire after 30 years of doing this because beyond 30 years, the injury rate is too high. I suggest some of you try it for 30 years and see if you think they're overpaid.


Posted by Moira, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2010 at 1:07 pm

The SF firefighter makes about $125,000-$130,000 salary after 20 years working, plus some mandatory overtime (overtime is cheaper since training new firefighters is very expensive) and yes, good benefits and pension. That is with a minimum 48 hour work week. I would argue the utility of a firefighter/paramedic to be of much greater benefit to society than any number of much higher paying jobs and the risk involved is infinitely higher than say a mortgage banker at a desk.


Posted by PA Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2010 at 1:12 pm

I am proud to say I worked full time 'till age 70. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask firefighters to works to age 62. A 62 year old is just as fit as a 50 year old if they discipline themselves with regular exercise, proper eating habits that keep the weight off, cut out the alcohol and have a good mental attitude.

We are all living much longer than when the present pension structure was formulated. We can't afford endless pensions for people living into their 90s. That means they receive a pension for more years than they worked.

Firefighters remind me of the French who wouldn't raise the retirement age from 60 to 62!!


Posted by George, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2010 at 1:32 pm

> What I find interesting is that so many people have become
> fixated on the benefits and pension issue without seeming to
> ask the question why private sector workers don't have
> guaranteed healthcare and decent retirements plans from
> their employers?

The cost of public pensions is in the trillions of dollars, with the underfunding of city/state pensions thought to be somewhere between $3T and $5T dollars--
----
Battle Looms Over Huge Costs of Public Pensions:
Web Link

There's a class war coming to the world of government pensions.

The haves are retirees who were once state or municipal workers. Their seemingly guaranteed and ever-escalating monthly pension benefits are breaking budgets nationwide.

The have-nots are taxpayers who don't have generous pensions. Their 401(k)s or individual retirement accounts have taken a real beating in recent years and are not guaranteed. And soon, many of those people will be paying higher taxes or getting fewer state services as their states put more money aside to cover those pension checks.
---

Most people are not aware of this vast public liability of funding the pensions of tens of millions of state/federal/local workers. Most City governments are unaware of their own underfunding. This issue has only emerged on the horization of public awareness, and it has made much of a dent on the general public, yet. To suggest that these gold-plated benefits sould be provided everyone--meaning a complete bankrupting of the US by a generation, or two, or employees--is beyond belief.

Pensions (under the guise of "defined benefits") have become two little words that have disasterous consequences, when adopted by the management of an organization as a part of its compensation package. That's why it's time for everyone to "fixate" on pensions--just like you might fixate on mines when walking through a mine-field.


Posted by Bertie, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Shouldn't the headline be: City voters hose down firefighters' Measure R? Or, City voters douse firefighters' Measure R?


Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, editor emeritus
on Nov 3, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Bertie: Thought seriously about hosing and dousing but heroically resisted the temptation -- one should always avoid middle-of-the-night puns, I've learned over the years. :-)>


Posted by Mauro, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 5:07 pm

"I am proud to say I worked full time 'till age 70. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask firefighters to works to age 62. A 62 year old is just as fit as a 50 year old if they discipline themselves with regular exercise, proper eating habits that keep the weight off, cut out the alcohol and have a good mental attitude."

Firefighters value regular exercise, most eat properly, they train constantly, but they also get constant adrenaline rushes (which affects longevity) smoke inhalation, needle sticks, exposures (as they are the first in!) and hard physical activity such as pulling hose and laders, which explains why their life expectancy is not near as long as most professions. Many of these firefighters also work on FEMA heavy rescue teams risking their lives in places like the Oklahoma Bombing incident, 911, Katrina, etc. They cover accidents on the bay, on the bridge, and in town. They have to try to sleep each night after seeing all the saddest or most horrific accidents/incidents. They are amazing individuals who have chosen a life of service, brave service, and they also have to support their families. Did I vote for Measure R....no I didn't. I believe their union leader led them down a very unpopular path at a very difficult time in our history. This was an ill advised effort.
However....to the gentleman who was fortunate to retire at 70 in good health...you might compare your risk factors in your profession to those of our dedicated firefighters!
Thank You to our Palo Alto Firefighters! Hopefully, this ballot measure behind us, the firefighters can continue to serve our community with the distinction they are due!


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Unfortunately, it is exactly this demanding of pensions and other benefits by unions that helps create the demise of so much that is good about this country. The 'outsourcing' of jobs, for which Meg Whitman has been excoriated, is a reality of a business climate where, in order to be competitive, even to stay in business at all, companies have to send jobs overseas to where cheap non union labor is to be found. The idea of unions is a good one, but it has not turned out to be good over the long haul, because the union leaders are too often power grabbing greedy crooks. I'm no fan of Meg, but anyone who takes a look at the numbers can see that, although it would be great if we could afford generous pensions for government employees, our economy, having lost much manufacturing due to this problem, is no longer producing the extra income necessary to finance it. Firefighters, although worthy of good compensation and benefits, can not demand a blank check. There isn't enough money for that.


Posted by James Hoosac, a resident of another community
on Nov 3, 2010 at 6:23 pm

It's so obvious.

The City announce the fire safety budget for private sectors to bid. A private company will have no problem to hire enough number of fire fighters for e.g. $90K a year, with 401K but without pension, and still makes a handsome profit. I would not be surprised some retired fire chiefs would be interested to form a company and bid on this business.


Posted by bill Kelly, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2010 at 6:59 pm

I agree that firefighters are valuable members of the community, I'm just having trouble dealing with my anger about this measure. I think it was irresponsible in a recession to put this measure on the ballot and I hope the firefighters think about that when they elect their union representatives. My father was a union electrician his whole life and I have a deep respect for unions who fight for the rights of their workers; however, their is a limit to 'fighting for your members' and I think the firefighters were WAY over the line. Perverting representative democracy to preserve your work rules was WAY over the top.

My $.02


Posted by bweber, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 3, 2010 at 7:40 pm

reality check: you're right. i myself was tricked into signing it, and later realized what a huge mistake it was! i think its humorous that the firefighters would stand outside polling places to try and get a few last votes, what a mess.... they didnt deserve the ridiculous power that this measure would have given them AND they tricked people into signing it without explaining what it ACTUALLY meant. too bad so many (including myself) signed on the dotted line...... in the future make sure to read ALL the small print thats for sure!


Posted by so, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2010 at 8:07 pm

bweber,

"that the firefighters would stand outside polling places to try ..."

right outside? or at least 100 feet away?

Right outside is illegal.


Posted by WilliamR, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 3, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Comments on these forums notwithstanding, I would bet that if the City Council actually had an agenda item to cut Fire Department staffing or close a fire station, the line of people waiting to speak AGAINST the plan would stretch around the block, all of them chanting "You're putting our lives at risk!", after which the Council would vote the item down.


Posted by John, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Enough with the salary speculation. Here is a link to the City's website of Fire Department salaries: Web Link (Only the top half of the page applies for "Shift" personnel).

A top step Firefighter/EMT earns $67,984 or $32.68 an hour and pays 9% into his/her retirement.

A top step Captain/EMT earns $86,249 per year or $41.47 an hour and pays 9% into his/her retirement.

Salaries obtained above these amounts were done by working overtime hour for hour. Overtime is only earned after working 56 hours in a week. Much of the overtime is to fill positions the City has chosen not to fill with full time employees such as the downtown Medic Unit (which is a revenue earner) and Station #8 during the summer months. Other contributing factors to overtime are injuries, sick leave, and vacation.
Web Link


Posted by Matt, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Nov 3, 2010 at 8:40 pm

We are a liberal community that votes for democrats and we complain about unions!?!

We are hypocrites! But at least we are standing up to the union drama.

Pay a private ambulance to run calls and save the city a lot of money. Maybe then we will have more women and minorities serving our community. Get volunteer firefighters to help out and supplant paid staff. Firefighters do a good job but they make a lot of money to sleep. Get CalFire to serve the community. They don't have the inflated salaries we pay our public servants.


Posted by justice is served, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 8:46 pm

I feel so good and relieved that the vast majority of Plao Altan have seen through the dirty tricks by the leaders of firefighter union. It is unbelieveable there are such shameless and greedy people in that union that put out such a ballot measure. Why are they special? How can they think that everyone else can suffer while they cannot in this economy? Maybe not all firefighters in PA are this shameless, but those who put out Measure R is definitely shameless and greedy.

A big Thank You to Dena Mossar and all those who had the courage to openly lead the opposition. I hope the union leaders do not secretly revenge on you, that they do not respond to a fire in your houses. Stay safe and well, THANK YOU!

I have to admit this, while I felt so strongly against measure R, I dared not put the "no on R" sign in front of my residence, fearing that the union would revenge on me. I admit I am not a hero, I am just a common person. I saw some "no on R" signs around the neighborhood, and I admire their courage. I here also want to thank all those who displayed the "no on R" sign in front of their residence.

To the union leaders: if you still have any sense of shame or honor left in you, you should quit your job and leave Palo Alto. You are not welcome here. We would rather give the jobs to those who deserve, who are willing to share the pain and responsibility, and are thankful for having a job in this economy.

A voter and Palo Alta resident


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2010 at 6:02 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Governments, when forced to cut budgets, traditionally make the first cuts in those services most directly of concern to the people; public safety, schools, library hours. Almost never touched are junkets, reserved parking slots, private elevators, or ego projects. Voters, they suckered you again.


Posted by PA Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2010 at 9:40 am

Matthew says: "We citizens need to make clear to City Hall that we expect them to fight the unions"

Won't ever happen. Most of the members of our City Council received election contributions from the Unions, particularly Gayle Price. They will continue to give union members everything they want so long as the system of financial donation for elections continues.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2010 at 9:43 am

"justice is served"

I dared not put the "No on R sign in my front yard fearing the Union
would revenge on me"??

Your comment is cowardly and insulting. You honestly think any professional firefighter paramedic/union member would "revenge" against you?? The headlines were just full of examples of that happening. There was not one documented incident of any type in regard taken against the No On R signs or it's supporters. Not One!

It seems like you were unable to truly take a stand and openly support your view and feelings, which is your right. But please, take responsibility for your lack of conviction! don't make accusations against those sworn to protect YOUR life and property.
You have dishonored them and those who wear the badge and have taken the oath. I saw plenty of No on R signs in Palo Alto, someones political views are not aeven a consideration when providing aide.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2010 at 9:49 am

For those making the comments about the firefighters being near the polling stations?

Did it ever occur to these people that some Polling Places were actualy located AT FIREHOUSES!!
It's slightly difficult to not be near the polling place when they are one in the same.
Maybe the City and Santa Clara County should have considered not using Firehouses as polling places if there was a measure on the ballot dealing with the fire dept?
Maybe that would have eliminated comments by people questioning why firefighters were near polling places.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2010 at 10:09 am

"fireman"

The PAFD firefighters union has and continues to ask the City Of Palo Alto to hire the proper number of firefighters/paramedics needed to staff units, units that the City Council mandated be in service. This has taken place year after year. The City of Palo Alto continues to use overtime instead because they then use the overtime budget numbers against the firefighters. It drives up their average salary which make their gross income higher. Which we all know by reading posts on this board, are used by many in arguments against the firefighters.
I know 25-30 year career firefighters/paramedics who are ordered to work sometimes 72 hours straight because the CITY won't hire the correct number of firefighters needed on a daily basis. We are talking about being forced to work Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, their kids birthdays, family reunions, kids sporting events, etc.
The Union can't demand the City hire the correct number of employees, they can only suggest or request, as the have and do.
The ambulance staffed for over 20 years by the City is still being called a "trial period program" to see "if it is actualy needed".
The CPA likes overtime I guess, the City Manager and City Council use the overtime numbers all the time to demonize the firefighters and their union.
You would think the City Council and City Manager would have the integrity at least to take responsibility for their own actions and mandates regarding overtime. Overtime numbers make for great headlines and give people like Diana Diamond hot air for her horn.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2010 at 10:20 am

"justice is served"

You write about "honor"? and you make comments telling others to "quit their job"??
At least the firefighters and those against the measure like Dena Mossar were willing to argue a position, take a stand. Walk neighborhoods, gather signitures, contribute money, attend debates etc. In addition to knowing they would be fighting a uphill battle on this issue.
You make accusations instead and were not even willing put a No on R sign in your yard or window. You also seem to imply the firefighters/paramedics would take "revenge" against those who were on the NO on R side? Again you know nothing about the men and women who protect your life and property, you just spit on them with your accusations.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 4, 2010 at 10:34 am

The city has "sat" on the new fire department study that they pay for (second report this year) that is going to say that the fire department needs to INCREASE their staffing levels to about 15-17 more firefighters.

So what happens next?

Remember this is the second fire department study they have pay for. The city stopped the first report because it was being done by retired fire chiefs and they were not happy with the early results.

So what happens next?




Posted by so, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2010 at 11:02 am

Jake,

bweber implied firefighters were electioneering, not just being at a polling place. I am ready to believe he misunderstood what he saw.


Posted by 4YXFP, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 4, 2010 at 11:12 am

Tim, the city has "sat" on the new fire department study that they pay for (second report this year) that is going to recommend closure of a station and a reduction in staff.

So what happens next?

Remember this is the second fire department study they have pay for. The city stopped the first report because it was being done by retired fire chiefs who had *never* recommended any reductions.

So what happens next?


Posted by George, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2010 at 11:17 am

> There was not one documented incident of any type in regard
> taken against the No On R signs or it's supporters. Not One!

And your point is? Signs that oppose taxes, and increased government spending, are often knocked down in this town. It happens at night, most often. And even if it happens in the day .. is there a City ordinance that outlaws stealing of political signs? And even if there were .. who in this town is going to call the police about somebody knocking over a sign?

Some people have had their cars keyed in this town, because they put signs up that blew against the prevailing political winds. If you don't know that .. then maybe you might want to stop insulting people who do!


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 4, 2010 at 11:45 am

I voted no. Simply put - we elect our city council, who also hires staff, to work out staffing and other hiring decisions. To pass R would have been a by-pass on our democratic process.

I support our firefighters. I support their current staffing model. However "R" was a bad business proposition - plain and simple.

As for the comparisons to Redwood City, Mountain View or Santa Cruz. You can't just use residential population alone. You have to look at land-area, industrial sites, shopping centers, daily work-force, Stanford University, etc. Those 3 cities do not compare to Palo Alto under those circumstances.


Posted by So...how can we get past this?, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2010 at 12:07 pm

I hope we can stop this ugly, venomous thread. I have had the pleasure of working (on a volunteer basis) with many of our firefighters. Those I have worked with are honorable public servants who chose this line of work because they want to help people in trouble. I can't imagine any one of them "taking revenge." They are professionals who do their job when there is an emergency in our community, and they do it well. I respect and appreciate their good work.

That said, though I honor and have always supported their good work, I voted NO on Measure R because it was bad budgeting policy. A clear majority of thoughtful Palo Altons who dug into the details of the issue agreed on that point.

The current union leadership made grave errors in judgment, and their behavior created a problem for their membership.

Mr. Spitleri and his union leadership group have behaved reprehensibly in this process, misrepresenting the contents and potential effects of the measure. I hope the union membership will make sure that their leaders' unprofessional behavior earns them proper repurcussions for the damage they have done both to the public image of the firefighters and to our community. The cost of this election can be counted in dollars and (to my mind) an unfortunate tide of negative feelings toward our firefighters.

I hope we can get past this.


Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Nov 4, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Well I guess just about every disgruntled city resident has registered their two cent opinion/complaint on this subject. What a happy place Palo Alto has become. Please move on to the next subject so that we may all register our expert opinion/complaints and so that all can take solace in letting everyone know that we don't like anything and therefore everyone should be miserable.


Posted by Kk3ct, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 4, 2010 at 12:43 pm

So...how can we get past this?, this is coming from both sides. As far as the ff's are concerned anyone who disagreed with them are against them. If they can get their union to admit they were wrong in trying to push this through, everyone can have a group hug.

As you can see, anyone who didn't agree with them...
"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 chris, a resident of University South
on Nov 4, 2010 at 3:50 pm

The city should request bids for oursourcing the Fire Department.

We can discover whether we are getting good value for our money or whether better oversight and management could give us the same service for lower cost.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Nov 4, 2010 at 4:25 pm

PA Resident states:"Most of the members of our City Council received election contributions from the Unions, particularly Gayle Price. They will continue to give union members everything they want so long as the system of financial donation for elections continues."

There is a way to force these issues out from behind closed doors - adopt the same policy that the Menlo Park Fire Protection Board did:

RESOLUTION OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE MENLO PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT ADOPTING A POLICY REGARDING DISTRIBUTION
OF PROPOSED COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS


WHEREAS, in accordance with the policy of promoting prompt public access to government records, the California Public Records Act broadly defines public records (Gov. Code Section 6252, subdivision (3)) and the exceptions to disclosing public records under the California Public Records Act are narrow; and

WHEREAS, the Ralph M. Brown Act, Government Code Sections 54950 through 54963, enacted into law in 1953, requires open meetings of local agencies "to curb misuse of the democratic process by secret legislation of public bodies"; and

WHEREAS, the Ralph M. Brown Act "…reflects a legislative determination that 'public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business,' and an intent 'that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly' (Gov. Code Section 54950); and

WHEREAS, the Ralph M. Brown Act and the California Public Records Act require the District to conduct its business in a transparent manner; and

WHEREAS, the Board, as duly elected representatives of the citizens within the District, in conformance with the Ralph M. Brown Act and the California Public Records Act, is committed to providing the District's citizens with information considered by the Board in making its decisions; and

WHEREAS, the Board believes due to the importance of proposed collective bargaining agreements with the District employee labor representatives, that these proposed agreements should be made available to the citizens of the District in sufficient time prior to the Board's adoption of the proposed agreements so as to allow for adequate review and comment by the public prior to final Board action.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Directors of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District does hereby move that any proposed collectively bargained labor agreement between the District and designated District employee representatives shall be made publicly available at least fifteen (15) calendar days before the meeting at which the agreement will be acted on by the Board.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2010 at 5:02 pm

"George"

"and your point is?"

The point I was trying to make to "justice is served" is that they wrote they were against Measure R (their right and option and supported) however. They went on to write that though they were against R they did not want to put a yard sign up (again their right) because they feared "revenge" by the firefighters. Thats what I take issue with. Really? does anyone honestly think firefighters would not respond or take action during an emergency at a residence that had a No on R sign? They are professionals and render aid everyday regardless of who or what the person involved does or says.
There was not any cases of firefighters taking "revenge" against anyone or taking or damaging No on R signs.
I don't think anyone would risk losing their job or giving their profession and dept a black eye by stooping so low as to damage or destroy No on R signs or the houses they were posted at.
Many many people just did not agree with the Yes on R measure for their own reasons, I don't think few if any of the No on R supporters enacting "revenge" on, hate or dislike firefighters beyond not agreeing with their measure.
It troubles me that "justice is served", a resident of Palo Alto would actualy write they feared "revenge" by PAFD firefighters period, let alone over a political views or a sign. The firefighters are sworn to protect life and property, they took an oath. They have, do and will render aid to anyone who needs it. They have treated and extricated people hit by suspected drunk drivers and ALSO GIVEN THE SAME CARE to the suspected drunk driver. Criminals,
rich, homeless, civil, not civil, combative, etc. It doesnt matter they are there to provide the best care or do the best job they can.
The firefighters are not going to lower their integrity or dishonor their oath or profession over a No on R yard sign.
You should hear some of the things that the firefighters were verbaly subjected to by people while out in public, on and off duty.
At the end of the day nothing was going to change in regard to Measure R unless a majority of the voters cast a ballot in favor of Measure R. Six or Sixty thousand signitures, it did not matter. A voter was still required to take action. Any rational aware person should have been able to see that. If anyone does not agree with any measure or item on a ballot then they have the right to cast their vote for or against it, verbaly abusing people over a measure isnt going to change that.
I was surprised at how few people actualy voted, in Palo Alto and other places around the Bay Area. People seem to not care enough about anything enough to even vote these days.


Posted by coqg8, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 4, 2010 at 7:06 pm

"Really? does anyone honestly think firefighters would not respond or take action during an emergency at a residence that had a No on R sign?"

I'm afraid so. That's what happens when you get the sort of union that the firefighters have. You lose the public's trust and they start to fear you.


Posted by danos, a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2010 at 7:23 pm

The example of the firefighters letting a house burn in Tenn because the homeowner forgot to pay his dues are proof positive that firefighters are not above neglecting their duties to prove a point. So yes, people have good reason to be concerned about disgruntled union members not doing their jobs.


Posted by George, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2010 at 9:32 pm

> does anyone honestly think firefighters would not respond or take
> action during an emergency at a residence that had a No on R sign?
> They are professionals and render aid everyday regardless of who or
> what the person involved does or says.

People have every reason to be afraid of unionized public safety employees. While not everyday occurrences, both "professional" and "volunteer" firemen are caught (and convicted) of setting fires from time-to-time:

Firefighters Start Fire For Extra Pay:
Web Link

Firefighter Arrested For Attempted Arson:
Web Link

> The firefighters are not going to lower their integrity or dishonor
> their oath or profession over a No on R yard sign.

And you are speaking for every firefighter in the Department? Oh, and what "oath" are you talking about?

And then there was the outrageous case of a lady whose house was allowed to burn down recently because she hadn't paid her "fire fee"--

No Pay, No Spray: Firefighters Let House Burn:
Web Link

> I was surprised at how few people actualy voted,

The turnout for non-presidential/non-bond elections tends to be about 30% here in Palo Alto. This is a well-known fact, and of much concern to people who fear for the future of "democracy".


Posted by Tough Love, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 5, 2010 at 8:42 am

Outsource the fire department ..... that ENDS all further pension growth.

And, you can then pay realistic salaries .... competent workers will apply by the thousands !


Posted by Please..., a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Funny how a few years ago when the dot-com boom was happening no one ever raised an eyebrow.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Give me a break, the percentage of firefighters volunteer or career who set fires is very very small to say the least.
I was also talking about members of the PAFD, not some rural volunteer dept in Tenn who ran a subscription yearly fee for service dept.
I am sure nobody in any of your professions has never committed a crime? or not served their profession in the best light.

Am I not supposed to send a meal back while out for dinner now because a waiter in BLANK BLANK attacked a customer? or get furniture delivered to my house because a worker later came back and committed a crime?
What a joke, some PA resident claims they wouldnt put a No on R sign in their yard fearing "revenge" and you all come to their aid with a rare example.
As I said, there was not ONE case in PA of any firefighter holding back service or taking "revenge" on anyone, NOT ONE!
Instead of standing up for their views and taking a side certain people take the easy way out and throw out the "fearing revenge" card. The "revenge" comment would almost be funny if it was not more telling of how people can't even take responsibility for their own actions or in this case lack of action.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2010 at 1:30 pm

"Georeg"

You mention "being afraid of UNION public safety employees"??

Then why was your first web link a link to French Volunteer FFs?

So are people only to fear UNION firefighters? does your view include other professions as well? Should I fear UNION grocery checkers but not NON UNION ones? be ok with non union nurses but be afraid of UNION NURSES?
You and others want to paint UNIONS in a bad light and many people like blaming UNIONS for every ill, but the truth is UNION membership is getting smaller every year, decade by decade. The ever shrinking number of UNION workers are somehow responsible for the all things bad I guess. Funny the ranks of the very rich keep getting bigger and the pay and comp for executives keeps running away from the average worker, union member or not. And the majority of the public it seems keeps taking their spoon fed meals from those at the top blaming labor for all the problems.
Show me any profession or job and I can dig up examples of their ranks committing crimes or not doing their jobs, it's not just your few and far between examples of firefighters as you brought up.
I don't walk around not living my life or taking a political side because somebody somewhere in the ranks of some profession did something bad. I guess I should fear the doctor and fear going to church because professionals in those two examples have done things bad in the past?


Posted by z84qt, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 5, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Jake, when your union members accost me and brow-beat me in public, leaving me uncomfortable and, yes, even fearful because I don't wish to sign their petition...then, again, yes, I do fear the UNION firefighters.
I would also fear other UNION and non-UNION organizations whose members behaved the same. It was really appalling.
The firefigher's UNION is in a very bad place at the moment. Hopefully you will be able to pull back and recover but the denial in your posts aren't making that look likely.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2010 at 3:28 pm

"z84qt"

I find it interesting that NOBODY filed one complaint with the City, PAPD or PAFD in regard to any firefighter supposedly "brow beating" anyone. Not a One. The firefighters got over six thousand signitures, if they got six thousand than they must have asked at least double that amount if you consider the results from the election I'm guessing.
I find it hard to believe and there is not one documented example of a complaint filed with anyone. NOT ONE.
Nobody seems to like getting asked to sign a petiton outside stores it seems, but not one compalint speaks volumes to you claim.


Posted by George, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2010 at 6:02 pm

> I find it interesting that NOBODY filed one complaint with the
> City, PAPD or PAFD in regard to any firefighter supposedly
> "brow beating" anyone

How disingenuous! "Brow beating" by a City employee collecting signatures for a ballot item is a "free speech" issue. No one at the City Hall would have the authority to do anything about the behavior of these men, who were at times acting rudely, when they were on their own time, and on private property.

One of them got "in my face" more than I thought was appropriate at the Midtown Safeway. So, I made my dissatisfaction known to the manager, who promptly told the men in front of the store that he was getting complaints. When I exited the store, they were gone.

If this were to happen again, it would pay for a group of citizens to get together and begin to video the signature collectors to keep a record of their behavior.


Posted by George, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2010 at 6:13 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by 9ToF4, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 5, 2010 at 6:18 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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