Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 27, 2011

Palo Alto pursues 'optimistic' police and fire budgets

City Council committee recommends a budget that assumes $4.3 million in labor concessions rather than cuts

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's message to its public-safety unions during this budget season has been consistent and clear: Give the city more than $4 million in concessions or else.

City officials laid out exactly what "else" might look like Tuesday night fewer officers patrolling the streets, fewer firefighters working per shift and temporary closures of fire stations.

After considering these options, the City Council's Finance Committee followed staff's lead and recommended fire and police budgets based on optimism rather than staffing reductions.

"The best thing to do right now is, frankly, to remain optimistic," committee Chair Greg Scharff said at the meeting. "We have outlined what could happen."

By taking the "optimistic" route, the committee and city management is banking on $4.3 million in concessions from the city's two major public-safety unions, the Palo Alto Professional Fire Fighters, Local 1319, and the Palo Alto Police Officers' Association. Interim Public Safety Director Dennis Burns wrote in a memo to the committee that if these savings aren't achieved, the city would have to eliminate 11 police officers and up to 18 firefighters to balance the 2012 budget of $146 million ($463 million when including the city's enterprise and other funds).

Burns' memo also called for possible "brownouts" of fire stations if the number of firefighters on duty falls to 25 from its current level of 29. A brownout is the temporary closure of a fire station, with its personnel redistributed to other stations.

The proposals in Burns' memo would reduce the service levels in the two departments, particularly in the Police Department, where the city has eliminated 31 positions since 2003. Last year, the council considered making further cuts, including eliminating the five-officer "traffic team" and the school crossing-guard program. The council ultimately backed off these proposals after heavy lobbying from residents who argued that the cuts would put their children in danger.

Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd, much like the rest of the committee, said she would prefer labor concessions to service cuts. Shepherd, who serves as one of the council's liaisons to the Palo Alto Unified School District, said she has already encountered angst in the school community about the cuts on the table.

"I don't want to get back to last year, where we had a room full of parents worried about the crossing guard and the traffic team," Shepherd said.

The council, however, faces significant hurdles when it comes to both attaining labor concessions and making staffing cuts. The firefighters' union and city management have been negotiating on a new contract for the past year and remain at an impasse. The two sides are preparing to take their disagreements to binding arbitration in the fall. The firefighters' contract also includes a "minimum staffing" provision requiring at least 29 firefighters to be on duty at all times. The clause makes it impossible for the city to unilaterally cut positions in the Fire Department.

The city is also starting its negotiations with the police union, which will see its contract expire at the end of June.

Though the council hopes to get about $2.3 million from the fire union and $2 million from the police union, these numbers are subject to change. At Tuesday's hearing, the committee repeatedly questioned the staffing level in the Fire Department and wondered whether the city really needs to have so many more firefighters (108) than police officers (91). City Manager James Keene said other cities typically have more officers than firefighters.

"The truth is, if we were ultimately unsuccessful (in negotiations), there's nothing that would tie the council's hands that would say we have to stay with the same methodology," Keene said. "It may be a completely different ratio based on what the impacts of the cuts could be for the community."

In addition to assuming $4.3 million in union concessions, Keene's proposed budget also allocates about $1 million for a new Office of Emergency Services. The office would include a director, two managers and administrative assistants.

The committee unanimously endorsed the creation of a new office, which has long been championed by the city's robust community of emergency-preparedness volunteers.

"I see this as tremendous leverage to resources because there's a huge number of people in the community who have volunteered and who want to be engaged and active," Councilman Greg Schmid said. "What we're doing is making sure they can be active in a helpful, positive way."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Dan, a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2011 at 12:52 am

Come on firefighters and police...everyone in this city has taken a financial hit lately. Now it is your turn.


Posted by JA3+, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 25, 2011 at 8:56 am

"At Tuesday's hearing, the committee repeatedly questioned the staffing level in the Fire Department and wondered whether the city really needs to have so many more firefighters (108) than police officers (91). Keene said other cities typically have more officers than firefighters."

It's high time FD staffing levels are rationalized; and it's high time FD salaries and benefits are brought back to a reasonable level. For too long now, the FD has put its interests first, before those of the PAPD, the City, and its residents.

Could the City reduce FD costs by $3 million, limiting the reduction in PD costs to $1.3 million or so?

How far along is staff in its study of FD consolidation?


Posted by tpar, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 25, 2011 at 10:54 am

How about Mr Keene and his 3 Assistant City Mngrs. Take a Pay cut . We pay one MILLION DOLLARS to HIS STAFF. GET REAL MR KEENE


Posted by taxpayer, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 25, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Take a look at consolidation of neighboring fire departments, take a look at Cal Fire. These multiple municipal governments need to consolidate in this political climate. Look at consolidating Portola Valley and Woodside, for example. Currently, Portola Valley is small enough to call itself a home owners association. Think smart, cut positions by cooperating with adjacent districts and towns.


Posted by Vox Populi, a resident of another community
on May 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Elect Diana Diamond to Palo Alto City Council! Sure, she may not have the qualifications for public office. And, yes, she is very negative in the way she looks at evertthing. All that said, she is against the City spending any money whatsoever!


Posted by Private Sector, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 25, 2011 at 1:33 pm

The firefighters union is a self-serving destroyer of taxpayer value. When private industry can accomplish the same job for millions less, it's time to stop the giveaway. Privatize it now.


Posted by Karen, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm

"Come on firefighters and police...everyone in this city has taken a financial hit lately. Now it is your turn."

This should not even be up to them to decide. Nobody gets to determine what economic reality is, not even our special class of government workers. I'm normally quite left, but I know for sure I will be voting against any revenue for government until they rectify all the waste. Removing binding arbitration is step 1. Privatizing the worst offenders: the fire service, is step 2.


Posted by Just the Facts, a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2011 at 8:24 pm

18 firefighters are deployed outside the City limits under the Stanford contract. There are 12 paramedic firefighters dedicated to operating the medic vans. There are no corresponding Police officer assignments, so comparing to other cities is illogical.

You can outsource the Fire Department if you want, but you won't save as much money as you think. You'll lose the paramedic transport program and lose the revenue from the Stanford contract. You also will get significantly longer paramedic transport response times, but hopefully you won't get seriously sick or hurt and need them.




Posted by Just the Facts, a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Dan,

I am sure that you can get a firefighter to go back to his 2001 wages if you'll sell him your house for it's 2001 value.


Posted by Michael, a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2011 at 11:13 pm

"I am sure that you can get a firefighter to go back to his 2001 wages if you'll sell him your house for it's 2001 value."

Nobody is entitled to be overpaid relative to the value the market dictates they provide, and certainly not by the taxpaying public. If we rolled back FF wages to 2001 levels, there will still be 100 people willing to take the job of any FF who quits over pay. The simple fact that the voluntary attrition is so much lower in the public sector tells the whole story.

I think Karen put it best: I'm tired of writing oversized checks to the "special class."


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on May 26, 2011 at 6:53 am

Wow, it seems not that long ago that present and past members of the City Council and the City Manager were telling the public that "nobody" is talking about closing fire halls, and or providing less service. The Fire Fighters and paramedics were being accused of alarming the public.
Looks like the Council is looking to do just that, close fire halls.


Posted by Robert, a resident of Barron Park
on May 26, 2011 at 7:12 am

What a great suggestion. Let's cut the PD and firefighters and create a "$1 million for a new Office of Emergency Services. The office would include a director, two managers and administrative assistants." More managers, more managers, more "management specialists". Less cops and firefighters, more "management specialists".

Maybe the managers and "management specialists" and administrative assistants can do the police and firefighters jobs. I think it is clear where the city's money is going. How many new positions has the city manager hired while cutting all of the union employees?


Posted by Geezer and Family, a resident of Barron Park
on May 26, 2011 at 9:51 am

Yes, let's reduce the size of our Fire Department; let's close the fire station downtown and in your neighborhood and not where I live. Yesterday it took 5 firefighters and paramedics to take care of my neighbor who has significant health problems.

That study the city manager and council keep pushing isn't based on science or our neighborhood interests. The council and city staffers keep pushing their personal hobbies and interests versus citizen surveys that support police and fire.

Sell all that steel being used for the Giant New Library at Mitchell Park! We have money to replace the children's library and Mitchell Park, yet we can't find the money to fix our infratructure including a new public safety building. Talk to you neighbors in surrounding cities. Let's draft Mountain View's City Manager.

I support high levels of police and fire support. I would like to keep our neighbor safe each day and be prepared for emergencies and disasters.


Posted by PA former union supporter, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 26, 2011 at 10:47 am

Every post in support of the status quo ends with something along the order of "lets hope your house doesn't catch fire." An overpaid firefighter isn't any better at putting out a fire than one who's paid market rate. The debate is about ridiculous salaries, gold plated pensions, and overpaying for what we as taxpayers are getting in return.

Supporting high levels of police and fire should not equate to supporting the existing structure as it is. We can have the same fire protection for cheaper (or more for the same price) if we privatize. Overpaying firefighters means less effective fire protection for everyone.

I support supporting the correct number of on-duty firefighters as the city requires -- whether that be more or less than we currently support now (I suspect it would be less due to the fact that current staffing levels have been influenced by a self-interested union). I do not, however, support overpaying any firefighter, or public servant for that matter, relative to what the market says they are worth. When the private sector can accomplish the same job for half the cost (when you factor in the gold-plated benefits, spiked pensions, abuse of sick-days/disability claims, etc.), we taxpayers are getting ripped off.


Posted by The market will prevail, one way or another, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I think the firefighters have been so insulated from this economy, they have no clue what they are asking of the people who pay their salaries.

As I look at my friends and family, I see a more than half of them have taken large cuts in pay and benefits in recent years. Several (talented, well-educated people) have been unemployed for multiple years. Firefighters are asking taxpayers who have been slammed by the economy to insulate them from the market forces that the rest of us live with.

This market is tough for everyone. THAT is why people are angry. I think the firefighters union should be very careful and more considerate of the situation that the rest of the community is living with. That anger could mobilize voters against them in droves.

I value the work our firefighters do, and I want them to be FAIRLY compensated, but union leadership's position reflects an attitude of stubborness and selfish entitlement to a level of compensation that is not sustainable.

Mr. Keene, I respectfully agree that you should also take a look at your managers compensation.


Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside
on May 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Make our neighborhoods safer. Reduce the pay and benefits of police and firemen by 50%, then hire 25% more of them.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm

> "We have money to replace the children's library and Mitchell Park, yet we can't find the money to fix our infrastructure including a new public safety building."

That's because a consultant determined that residents would vote for a library bond, but would NOT vote for a public safety building. And—amazingly—they were right!

Now the city has a $550M infrastructure deficit, largely because they're wasting money on consultants and management specialists and narrowing streets.

How long do you think it will be before they ask us to vote for a bond issue to raise money for a public safety building?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 26, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Many of us did not and do not want 5 libraries, but we did want the dilapidated library updated, not caring whether it be Main or Mitchell Park, but we were never given an option.

The library people put many Palo Altans on a guilt trip, particularly through the PTAs, which got the library bond passed. If there had been a choice I am not sure we would still have all libraries now.

The problem with a public safety building is that one of the library sites would have been a great option, but we were never given that choice.

We do not have bottomless pockets. We are forever being asked for bond money whether it be for schools, libraries or even parcel taxes.

It is about time this City took stock of its assets, planned for ongoing maintenance of its facilities, paid its bills, lived within its means and not kept running to its citizens for more money every time their bad money management shows through. This goes for PAUSD too.


Posted by fruit, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 26, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Those days,people are always on look out to pick lower-hanging fruit,meanly less smart people.Here,it is in silicon valley,go and dream your dream.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2011 at 9:41 pm

City council is funding pet projects, like the $1 million for a director of disaster prep, admins, $450 thousand for a consultant to promote kids to bike, $150K for an assistant city manager for environmental sustainabiity...

Yet they plead poverty when comes to funding police & fire fighters.

Next year they plan on pushing a bond to fix infrastructure. I say "NO" until the city council get's it priorities right


Posted by Not yes, a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 26, 2011 at 9:50 pm

No to next year and beyond.


Posted by Lupe, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 27, 2011 at 1:12 am

No new revenue for the city of ANY kind until the flagrant overpaying of public "servants" is corrected. Why should anyone support new revenue when the revenue we are providing is being wasted.

I'm in a private union and if we pulled the kind of self-serving agenda the firefighters have pulled on Palo Alto, we'd have bankrupted our employer and be out in the unemployment line right now. The police have been more reasonable, and their job is more demanding and dangerous. Privatize the fire services now. We'll see the same or better service for about half the cost. Use the savings to plug any infrastructure defecit before trying to go back to the taxpayers again.


Posted by gun, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 27, 2011 at 7:07 am

Live with it.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on May 27, 2011 at 9:37 am

"Live with it."

Not anymore. Not when our public sector is riding an out of market gravy train on our backs. The voting public is waking up to the excesses by the day, and not headed back anytime soon.

"Live with it" is the type of arrogance that develops when one enjoys a (public sector) career with little accountability.


Posted by doityourself, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 28, 2011 at 10:06 am

If you are jealous of those people,why do not you join them? You use magnifing glass when you see them,why can not you look at yourself with it first?


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 28, 2011 at 10:41 am

I am weary about all of this but wondering if what I thought I heard before is true about Palo Alto way of handling calls(or still true-) that when one calls for the police, BOTH the police AND a fire engine are required to respond (which seems like overkill). Just wondering. Haven't experienced any contact with either police or fire since we moved here (multiple years)


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on May 28, 2011 at 10:54 am

If the person reporting the emergency calls in a police emergency only then only the police will respond.
Traffic accident with injuries or if the reporting party is unsure about injuries than police, fire/paramedics will respond.
Bar fight with person injured, police and fire. etc.
Every 911 call does not have both PD and FD responding.


Posted by Mal, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2011 at 10:57 am

"If you are jealous of those people,why do not you join them? You use magnifing glass when you see them,why can not you look at yourself with it first?"

This is an arrogant and misplaced argument. The very people who write the checks to pay the bloated salaries of our public servants are those willing to take their chances, apply real ambition, and create real value in the private sector. If the Google guys took the easy public sector money, there would be a lot less public revenue to overpay our current 'crats.

The private sector, with its accountability to produce, creates the value that drives the country, and is magnitudes more productive than the public sector, which has been bloated by sweetheart deals with unions (90% of a spiked salary at age 55 and healthcare for life, for a firefighting job that is statistically safer than a farm worker and cushy due to union overstaffing rules). Anger over the inefficiency in government isn't jealousy, it's simple good business sense that we in the private sector take for granted.


Posted by antimal, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 28, 2011 at 11:05 am

If you are saying their jobs are safer than the farmers',why does not everyone join them to earn this money? When the fire is there and the thief is knocking on your door,where did you hide,you must hide under your bed.


Posted by Mal, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2011 at 11:13 am

Statistics don't lie. And to answer why doesn't everyone join them, I suspect if we cut compensation in half, people would still line up around the block to fill the openings. That's the market's way of saying "overpaid."


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2011 at 11:37 am

Mal,
I agree with you absolutely!

The problem is that you just can't convince anyone at City Hall (and believe me, I've tried!), that government can—and should—run like a business.

I suspect they won't accept the concept because that would mean they'd have to be accountable. They'd have to prioritize spending and operate on a real budget. They'd have to fire people who don't perform. They couldn't raise fees or put bond issues on the ballot when they needed more money. Unfortunately for taxpayers, they just don't have a clue on how to do any of this.


Posted by antimal, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 28, 2011 at 11:42 am

Just answer my question,when the thief is at your door,did you hide,where?


Posted by Jeff, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Agree with Pat and Mal. I hope the great recession leaves the private sector angry enough to really demand accountability and productivity from the public sector in the future.

And this hiding from thieves question doesn't make any sense. Nobody is advocating getting rid of police or fire services, just paying them market rate instead of overpaying them. If anything, the savings could be used to have more and better public safety (or the same level with the saved money free for roads, education, etc.)

Soldiers get 50% base pay upon full retirement, and the job carries unimaginable risk. I think no taxpayer funded pension deserves to exceed what the troops get under any circumstance. Better yet, go to 401K's and social security just like everyone else.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Community Center
on May 28, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I agree with Jeff, Pat & Mai. Time to go defined contribution, not defined benefit. Would also like to see:
1. end to binding arbitration
2.) retirement age increased to 67 (brought in to line with rest of working folks). the ff's who are capable can do other jobs (painters, weed pullers, janitors, etc). ff's like to tell you that statistically they have shorter lives but per CalPers and other studies their longetivity is the same as the general population. Just another way the union has learned to fool the public.b2G3e
3.) clean up all the phony disability injuries (need to have an independent board that does not have any ff's included)


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on May 28, 2011 at 4:15 pm

"Mal"
You write "statistics don't lie"? anyone who has taken a basic statistics class knows one can use statistics to make their point.
Yes farming, commercial fishing, logging, etc have higher death rates than fire fighting. Whats your point? do fire fighters not killed often enough for you to be satisfied with their salary for their 60-72 hour weeks?
The statistics do show that fire fighting still has one of the highest injury rates of any profession. Last time I checked most people try to not get killed at work so they can perform their job and not make the incident more involved or take away from emergency operations.
Also logging, farming, commercial fishing, etc are demanding tough jobs. Long hours driven by profit margins. Worker safety and proper staffing only take away from the bottom line.
Those jobs are also perfomed out at sea, rural areas or out in the woods. IE, a long long way from help, ambulance, hospital etc. So when you do suffer a serious injury or are trapped it's going to be a long long time before you get to a emergency room/trauma center. Getting caught in a combine out in a corn field when working by themself does not have the best odds for a good outcome.
Nursing homes for example have a very high rate of worker injuries. Again, industry driven by profits most times. Low ratio of workers to patients. Try lifting and moving invalids all day long while attending to their basic needs sometime? lifting people in and out of bed does not lend itself to good body mechanics.
You can keep your cheap crab legs, cheap produce etc. I'd prefer the captain of the fishing boat not press his luck and the lives of his crew by going out in bad weather do to owner of boat putting pressure on him. I'd rather see the farmer not work 18 hours days by himself during wheat season and hire help. instead they push it to make ends meet because of profit margins.
Most people take everything in their life for granted. They simply go out and buy the most products they can for the cheapest possible price or obtain services for the cheapest possible price. They don't give a fleeting thought about how that crab actualy got on their plate or the working conditions of the kitchen help who just cooked their $80.00 dinner.
I actualy have more respect for the fisherman, firefighter, farmer, nursing home worker, etc than I do for the 2 year out of college $$$$$$$$$$$ who "risked" so much by using start up money provided by a venture capital firms. What has the next high tech giant really "risked" most times? Money? usualy someone elses. Time? the above workers put in many many hours. How many Facebook, Google, Yahoo workers get injured or killed every year at work?
I give them much credit for being bright to say the least, having an idea and seeing it through, advancing technology, etc etc etc. Do I think those traits make them worthy of earning more money in a year than they could ever dream about? in my opinion no. Does the rest of us really have a choice about those CEO's pay? really? do I really have market choice when buying gasoline? I really don't have a choice when it comes to Microsoft and which software I use or buy.
I am pretty sure there is somebody out there who could provide me the same type of software for a much cheaper price.
You simply sound like another PA resident who feels those who don't have an advanced degree from a Ivy college or who did not spend a few years in law school, are not worthy of anything close to a middle class living. Last time I checked the current economic crash was not caused by a firefighter, teacher, cop, utility worker, etc. No, lets give full credit where it is due. Those same Ivy league types who felt entitled to their lavish lifestyle, Aspen Xmas vacations and or their $300,000 a year job at Yahoo doing marketing. Of course in their minds, their long hours are worthy of anything they can get their hands on but the rest of the workforce can have some crumbs if they ask nicely.
Risking your life and or everything you ever had in life is taking a risk.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Professorville
on May 28, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Agree with Resident, Jeff, Pat, Mal, and the others..

Jake, lumping firefighters in with fisherman, farmers, nursing home workers, etc. doesn't make sense. Only the firefighters get out of market wages and gold-plated retirement benefits on the backs of taxpayers. I think trying to paint anyone who has an issue with firefighter compensation as an elitist is likewise incorrect. We have a systemic budget shortfall. We the taxpaying public are entitled to examine the causes of this before blindly agreeing to foot the bill. When we see inefficiency that would not be tolerated by a rational business, then we, the owners of Government, Inc. are being taken for a ride.

Jeff, salient point on the military pension scale. Those men and women should define the top of the scale. Agree defined benefit is better though (for all except military). That solves the problem of politicians bartering away the future to the unions in the form of bills that don't come due until they are out of office.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 28, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

1 - The pilot of Air Force One is a USAF Colonel usually with 20-25 years of service.

His base pay is $11,007.30/month or $132,087 /year

He also receives about $500/month or $6000/year of flight pay

He supervises a crew of approximately 26 (not including the Secret Service agents accompanying the President).

He can retire with 2.5% of the average of his last three years base pay for each year of service but capped at 75%.

2 - a US Forest Service Smokejumper ( a firefighter who parachutes from airplanes to put out forest fires) are in GS-5 to GS-9 pay grades and start as $27,026/year and top out at $53,234/year at the top step level for non- supervisory ( includes crew chiefs but not management level) smokejumpers

MEDICAL AND PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS: Smokejumper duties present unusual hazards and require that personnel be in excellent physical condition and possess a high degree of emotional stability and mental alertness. The health of individuals must be such that they have the capacity to meet demands for performance in the position and for human reliability. Before entrance on duty, and periodically during employment, smokejumpers must undergo a medical exam, physical conditioning, and an adeptness test. Failure to meet any of the required standards will be considered disqualifying for employment or a basis of termination. The adeptness test will be given in one time period and consists of performing 25 push-ups, 45 sit-ups, 7 chin-ups, and a 1.5-mile run which must be completed in 11 minutes or less. In addition to the work capacity test at the arduous level (as referenced under Other Significant Facts), a smokejumper pack-out test is required and consists of completing a 3-mile hike over level ground carrying a 110 pound pack in 90 minutes or less. The health of individuals must be such that they have the capacity to meet the demands for human reliability and performance in the position.

3 -Maj. Jennifer Grieves is the first female helicopter aircraft commander in the history of Marine One, the HMX-1 helicopter the president of the United States flies on. She makes about $84,000 and she can retire with 2.5% of the average of her last three years base pay for each year of service but capped at 75%.

4 - NASA's civilian astronauts are in the GS-11 through GS-14 pay grades, based on academic achievements and experience. Currently, a GS-11 astronaut starts at $59,493 per year; a GS-14 astronaut can earn up to $130,257 per year. To date 13 out of 321 who have flown in space have died in the line of duty or a fatality rate of about 4%.


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