The union leadership claims Measure R is a simple matter of assuring that a basic level of public safety is maintained in the face of tight city budgets, and says it "gives residents a voice" in such decisions. It would require a citywide vote on any proposal to reduce staffing or close a fire station.
Opponents, which include every member of the City Council and a wide array of community leaders, frame it as a "power grab" by the union that would violate the principles of representative democracy and place one city department on a protectionist island, immune from budget-balancing by elected officials.
While we have nothing but respect for the work of our firefighters, they have regrettably been led down a self-destructive path by their union leadership. And the campaign being waged by the union — attempting to scare Palo Alto residents and make them believe that there is a secret plan to close fire stations and lay off firefighters — is insulting and disingenuous.
Firefighters are already protected through their labor contract with required minimum staffing, a mistake made by a past council when the city was flush (and which we hope will be eliminated in future contracts). Unlike with other unions, both in Palo Alto and other cities, the Palo Alto firefighters have chosen to fight against any budget, wage and benefit reductions. Their union is completely out of touch with today's economic environment and the dawning of a new age in compensation and benefits for government employees.
But more importantly, the firefighters have the same rights as any other citizen to referend any decision of the council and place it on the ballot. If a future council, after input from citizens, decides to reduce the budget of the fire department, the firefighters union has demonstrated it can generate the signatures needed to place it on the ballot.
Measure R inappropriately preempts that process by creating an automatic referendum, incurring both great expense and delay.
No one is currently advocating that any Palo Alto fire station be closed or that the number of firefighters be reduced, but those options should be on the table for debate if studies now underway show that we can deploy our firefighters more efficiently.
The firefighters union is looking for special treatment that puts the police, public works and other city departments with public-safety responsibilities at greater risk of cuts.
Measure R is bad policy and a cynical and self-serving attempt by the firefighters union to insulate and protect itself from economic realities. We urge a NO vote on Measure R.