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Palo Alto budget gap explodes -- tempers, too

Original post made on Apr 7, 2009

Tanking revenues have prompted Palo Alto city officials to increase the projected budget shortfall by $2 million, to about $7.8 million this fiscal year and $10 million next -- making an already doubtful fiscal environment even more precarious amd fraying tempers of some City Council members.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, April 7, 2009, 1:22 AM

Comments (103)

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Posted by SuperD
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 7, 2009 at 6:58 am

Good for Jack Morton! The other council members might not want to learn about the reality of Budgeting 101 and his approach may have been a bit coarse, but he speaks the truth. Hats off to Jack for laying it on the line. Klein and Pat Burt, you might learn a thing or two by listening to Morton!


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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 7, 2009 at 7:11 am

Our council has gotten themselves into this situation with profligate spending over the years. Also some members of the council still feel that the main role of the council is to play nice and not hurt feelings. The council is afraid of conflict and thinks "playing nice" is the only way things get done. Maybe they need to pass, once again, the rules against making faces. Our council is unable to make hard decisions and is more afraid of being unpopula than properly governing our city.
It also could be that Klein is planning a run for higher office and needs the support of unions considering his spirited attack on Morton and his words.
Interesting to see the co-defenders of Pat Briggs almost coming to blows!!!


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Posted by oldtimer
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2009 at 7:47 am

The City Council should look into the bottomless pit of information technology costs--over $13 million for a database that has taken other cities into bankruptcy.


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Posted by Jim
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 7, 2009 at 8:08 am

The Fire Dept has NOT increase minimal staffing since 1976. You could close certain Fire Stations each day, but would you want the Fire station close in your neighborhood?
Also, police and fire personnel have left Palo Alto to go to other bayarea cities who paid more and have better benifits.


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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 7, 2009 at 9:03 am

For years even employees have begged the city to look into the enormous costs of the SAP computer program ( a German firm with offices in theStanford Industrial Park). Go to Google and read about the problems it has had in other major companies - even legal action. It gets a contract then charges big fees to fix the problems ad nauseum. It just doesn't work for many functions and the city has known this for years. It is very costly. And it's competitor, Oracle, is right down the road.


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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 7, 2009 at 9:39 am

OH, and one other thing. What will be cut? The city says services and programs. Not one mention of bonuses and enormous salaries and benefits. The senior population is growing - and hurting financially. Lots of people in good paying jobs have been laid off. Residents have to go to other cities to frugally shop - Target, Walmart, Costco, Home Deport, and better stocked supermarkets. Affordable restaurants? Most have fled. City Hall is Never-Never-Land, out of touch with reality.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:10 am

Amen, Kate. We know the city will never reduce staff or cut salaries and benefits. Our council members need union support when they run for higher office.

I wouldn't cut police, fire, or any public safety services – but there are plenty of other jobs/services that could be cut.

Example of SAP costs:

CMR 129:09 February 9,2009 Contract with Axon Solutions, Inc. "in the Amount of $1,259,290 for a Total Not To Exceed Amount of $8,047,368 for Software System Integration Services to Effect the Implementation of SAP Industry-specific solution for Utilities: and Adoption of a Budget Amendment Ordinance for FY 2009 to Increase Appropriations of $1, 453,560 to CIP TE-07006, SAP Continuous Improvement Project."


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Posted by DaveV
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:21 am

Is this not the same City council that voted to spend city money on a [third] farmers market. This is totally beyond comprehension.


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Posted by RJ, Downtown North
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:30 am

keep up the good work, Mr. Morton. While we all appreciate the work done by PAPD and PAFD, their salaries AND BENEFITS


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Posted by RJ
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:32 am

(completion of prior comment) are excessive. The city cannot continue to fund these compensation plans.


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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:35 am

Also notice how there were no comments from Drekmeier quoted in the article. He is the mayor, correct? and he had no comments? I guess he was resting on his laurel's now that he got the city to subsidize a Yolo County farmer for his new farmer's market. I guess if it does not involve "green" themes our mayor does not care or is clueless


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Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:42 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Big Al
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:48 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:48 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:55 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Can't Afford the Unions
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:57 am


Some readers may have seen city salary rosters recently printed by the Daily Post. The top third of every peninsula city's salary expense, not just Palo Alto, is dominated by fire personnel salaries. Despite our public investment, the result of most residential and commercial fires is total replacement.

Fire services are important, but at what price? I don't think we are getting much value for our money. Why can't we set up our own non-union fire district just as we have with utilities?


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Posted by kay
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 7, 2009 at 11:01 am

Jack Morton remains one of the only sensible voices on this Council. He has genuine, intellectual and sensible concern for the City of Palo Alto and takes the time to research issues before engaging his mouth.

Could it be that we don't have sales tax revenue because PA chooses soccer fields on a prime Page Mill Rd. site rather than a revenue producing hotel or other venture, put in mega questionable properties on Rickey's rather than allow a revenue producing business in a commercial area and all the other sites where they choose low income or high income housing rather than a business that would produce tax revenue. To many people worried about cars rather than sustainable survival. To much feel good NIMBY by so many members of this Council. This is the same group who originally thought the High Speed Rail through Palo Alto was a good idea. The City Council needs to wake up and see the reality. Look in the mirror rather than blame everyone else. The 3rd Farmers market is a joke!


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2009 at 11:01 am

It sure would be helpful if the city council started getting alot friendlier toward businesses like grocery stores, and useful retail centers, particularly for the area of South El Camino, instead of cramming the city full of dense housing - which only bring tons more residents, which comes with more and more and still more stress and demand on the city services WE CANT AFFORD! We need sales tax revenue, we need more business. We need affordable places to shop in Palo Alto so we don't have to drive to Mt. View for our groceries and our other basics! We need accessible convenient useful affordable shopping for the dense housing they've already crammed in here. We need them to KNOCK IT OFF with the dense housing development!


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 7, 2009 at 11:06 am

Every elected local official needs to realize that our revenue streams are going to DECLINE over the next few years and we must make structural changes now or we will have unmanageable deficits in future years.

See the presentation titled "MPFD Revenue Information" at Web Link for my analysis of this situation


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Posted by Steve C.
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 7, 2009 at 11:09 am

As vital as police and fire protection are, municipal governments need to take a hard, professional look at the compensation situations involving these and other municipal departments. As far as overtime costs are concerned, these departments have absolutely no incentive whatsoever to alter the situation as it now stands. Who would? Look at the situation Vallejo found itself in, the salaries being paid for understaffed municipal department personnel because everyone has been milking the overtime cow. Of course these departments are not going to change course. People working in these departments are getting well on all the overtime. Union leaders and department heads need to pay attention to the executive fiascos unfolding across the county. The bright lights are heading your way.


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Posted by Mark
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Apr 7, 2009 at 11:38 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2009 at 11:46 am

Kat sayS:

"The senior population is growing - and hurting financially. Lots of people in good paying jobs have been laid off. Residents have to go to other cities to frugally shop - Target, Walmart, Costco, Home Deport, and better stocked supermarkets."

Kate , give me a break. People are shopping in other cities because Palo Alto makes it so hard to open any kind of retail. Other cities have been "stealing" our tax base for years. I myself do almost all my shopping in other cities, not to save money or shop frugally, but because these stores are not in Palo Alto.
No we build playing fields on some of the most expensive land in the city. Time is up- off to the Menlo Park Safeway.


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Posted by Jim
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 7, 2009 at 11:52 am

I'm I missing something here? Police and Fire are pay by the HOUR. There are no bonuses or stock options for them.
If there putting in the time (regular and overtime hours), what is the problem?
I know I don't want to do their job. Remember Oakland a few weeks ago.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Morton continues the assault on American public safety officials that the hippies began 40 years ago. His mantra is more subtle -- salaries instead of pigs -- but the intent is the same: to cripple our law and order infrastructure.


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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2009 at 12:20 pm

The city should sell the fire department. Fire protection should be provided by a private companies. There's no doubt that the private sector would provide protection more efficiently.


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Posted by YouShouldKnow
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Bravo Parent and Tim, you are exactly correct! Not only are we not getting any NEW business, we are losing business. The only 'new' business we seem to get are coffee shops. We don't have a reasonably priced grocery store with bakery, deli, prescription services. We have high end, and not much there end. Very little in the middle. We too, go to the Menlo Park Safeway for our weekly shopping list. We use the local store like one would use a 7-11, in and out quickly for just a few items. We have lost Z Gallerie, which is upsetting because it was a fun store to browse when hanging downtown. Word is that the lease was up in November, and the rent was going to increase. There used to be an eclectic mix of shops downtown, now we have so few left. Stores like Shady Lane, the artist co-op, more boutiques would be cool. They don't all have to be high priced. In Santa Monica, Montana Avenue has become this lovely tree lined expanse of unique stores, small eateries and salons. It's become a destination point, like Santana Row has for San Jose. THAT'S how you bring revenue to a City!!! The last thing we need is more dense housing for more people to get into their cars to head North and South out of town for their shopping needs.

The more people you attract with retail and restaurants, the more people will make Palo Alto a destination spot. Play nicely with the Stanford Mall and that would make PA THE place between SF and SJ!

We have so many retail landlords in this area with $ for eyeballs, that only chain stores can afford to rent here, and of course, Palo Alto wants NONE of that. I remember the hue and cry over Ross downtown. People were aghast! It was SO below Palo Alto standards. Funny, because I saw those same people shopping at the Ross in Mountain View. The Palo Alto Ross was at least immaculate. The Mountain View store is like an obstacle course.

It's gonna be one or the other people, and at least with more (reasonable) retail, we don't put more demands on our schools and the other resident oriented services that are already overtaxed!


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Posted by jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 7, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Kate,
You complain about SAP as the root of all evil and urge the city to move to Oracle? Are you guaranteeing that Oracle is not only cheaper, but perfect? Any idea on the initial costs to convert the city from SAP to Oracle?

Walk down the street and see how often the sidewalks are being swept or the parks cleared of a stray leaf. Listen to the council approve money to be spent on ANOTHER farmers market, increase utility rates, buy open space, or approve those very contracts that they are now so upset over.

Trust me, the computer system is not the problem.


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Posted by God Bless America!
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2009 at 1:19 pm

R Wray:
"The city should sell the fire department. Fire protection should be provided by a private companies. There's no doubt that the private sector would provide protection more efficiently."

Ah, yes, should I go with Enron Fire Protection Services or AIG Services? What about GM Fire? Or maybe give Citigroup a try?

I guess you could always ask for a city-funded "bailout" when they "mistakenly" let your house burn down!

Ah, the American Way!


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Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 7, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Private companies have been paring down across the country for a year.
Bear Sterns gone.
GM on verge of Bankruptcy.
680,000 laid off last month alone.
Dow down 7000 points from '07 high.


And Palo Alto is only just beginning to notice we have to make cuts?


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Posted by Concerned
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 7, 2009 at 1:31 pm

I would like to know just how much firefighters and policemen and policewomen make and how it compares to others in their profession. I would rather pay them a good salary, they put their lives on the line when they protect ours. Remember, four of them were killed just a little while ago. . . I think that requires that they be paid accordingly. I'll give up some classes or pay more to take them. I'll pay more to swim and hike and park or do with less services, cancel a few arts and music festivals until we can afford them, and have a few less arts extravaganza like the recent Color of Palo Alto event, etc. I would rather give up some of the those services rather than properly compensating fire and police.


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Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Apr 7, 2009 at 1:38 pm

No matter how much firemen make, EVERYBODY should take a 10% salary cut in times like this (20% for senior managers)


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Posted by Perplexed
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Last week the Palo Alto City Council voted 6-2 (Yeh and Barton voted no, Espinosa absent) to spend $19,000 to open a third farmers market in Palo Alto by Earth Day April 22, when a delay of a few months might have saved this extra expense. Then, late at night, around 11 pm or so, the City Council voted 7 to 1 (Yeh voted no, Espinosa absent) to contribute $350,000 as a Gold-level sponsor to the Senior Games (about half in cash and half in in-kind services). (I have not seen any news coverage reporting the latter vote result in the local media, so I hope my recollection is accurate).

This week, City Council members who last week voted for those expenditures voiced concerns about needed budget cuts in order to deal with the ever growing projected deficit.


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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 7, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Let's not forget the money spent on the website last year, the Color of Palo Alto project and bonuses given to a large number of city workers last year--our council had no problem approving those expenditures.
It seems to me that for some council members, if it is not "green" related they are not interested (i.e. Drekmeier, Klein, Kishimoto) in the cost, as we can tell with the vote for the 3rd farmer's market as an example.
I would like to see the council come up with a list of budget cuts. I doubt they will do it, it may upset some people and it would go against the "play nice" model of governing in palo alto.
Also do not forget lost tax revenue from two derelict former neighborhood shopping centers and the lost tax revenue from the hotel that is now Arbor Real.


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Posted by Sun and Sand
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 7, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Wow...A few things:

We need stated Rules of Pubic Decorum, now.

Jack Morton is a good man, but the Fire Department didn't deserve his comment.

Wray said "The city should sell the fire department. Fire protection should be provided by a private companies." You mean WalMart Fire Protection? You can't be serious. How many $1--per hour fire "professionals" will risk their lives to enter a burning building. Wray, your fascination with Ayn Rand has warped any good judgment you might have hidden away since.

Also, there *are* structural problems coming down the pike, and it is going to take level-headed minds and innovation to deal with those constraints. Community engagement is going to become even more important going forward.


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Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 7, 2009 at 3:16 pm

I'm amazed that more people aren't blowing up at council meetings since it's unclear what planet many of our elected officials and city managers are living on.

Sales tax is down? What a surprise. It's all going to pay our outrageous utility bills. Duh.

In our few encounters with Palo Alto Police and Fire, they have been uncomfortable. A teenaged driver ran into one of our cars parked on the street at 10:30AM on clear day and two fire engines, one ambulance, two motorcycle cars and two cop cars showed up. The teenaged driver wasn't injured. Our car was totaled.

Can you say over-staffing? It looked like an invasion.

But none of our fine safety officers would even talk to us, the homeowners with a car that had been totaled. They were rude and unhelpful. Lose-lose all around.

The lost retail revenue is a pathetic. The city has systematically refused permits to small community businesses like Midtown Market. The old Hyatt site's a joke. Do we really need competing Long's and Walgreen's every 5 miles. Palo ALto's losing what's special and unique.

The Parks Department employees, many of them sweethearts, laugh at some of their wasted efforts like seeding the Mitchell Park dog park, fencing it off for months and then forgetting to irrigate it. It's been an annual occurence for years. How much does that cost?

The Palo Alto satisfaction survey this year should be interesting.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2009 at 3:30 pm

YouShouldKnow: Interesting that you mention Shady Lane, which has been one of the best spots to shop on University Ave. since at least the 70's. The landlord upped the rent late last year and the owner took a big risk and signed a one-year lease. Who knows if it will survive in this economy.

Remember Caffe Verona? The rent was raised, the owners couldn't afford it, and the space stood vacant for about 3 years. Voshan Gallery on University also got its rent raised and the owner went out of business.

Local "mom & pop" businesses have a tough enough time surviving without greedy landlords.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Almost exactly 4 years ago, in March 2005, a small group of PA residents – fed up with exactly the same issues we're facing now – formed a little group called El Palo Alto. We put together a flyer (below) and tried to get people interested. No one was. I wonder if we'd have more success today.

WHO WE ARE
ElPaloAlto is a group of Palo Alto residents concerned about the city's financial crisis, inadequate fiscal accountability, and a budget process lacking public input, direction from elected officials and transparency.

THE CATALYST FOR OUR INCEPTION
For many years the City of Palo Alto has been spending beyond its means. The staff-to-resident ratio exceeds most Bay Area cities by 50% and has ballooned well beyond the rate of population growth. The cost of services has greatly exceeded inflation. Spending is often double that of nearby cities offering services of similar or higher quality. As a result, the city is faced with significant problems:

* A projected budget deficit of $5.2 million for 2005-06
* Continued deterioration of core infrastructure
* Additional levies imposed for projects that should be financed from the General Fund
* Services moved from General Fund to Utilities, resulting in increased utility bills
* Vague priorities, without quantifiable objectives to measure success
* Council adoption of non-essential projects that are not given high priority by residents

OUR MISSION
ElPaloAlto's mission is to advocate for fiscally responsible city government, accountable to Palo Alto residents.

THE SOLUTION
ElPaloAlto will accomplish its mission by proposing significant and comprehensive fiscal reforms that will benefit the city and its residents as a whole. In particular, we will promote:

1. Clear priorities and measurable objectives that reflect the needs of the majority
2. A budget timeline that allows for citizen input and review plus full Council participation
3. A top-to-bottom review of the entire budget, particularly on staffing
4. Transparency in reporting
5. Accountability in measuring and rewarding results


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Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 7, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Pat, how do I join? What do I do? Do you have a contact? Thank you.


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Posted by ellieg
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 7, 2009 at 4:44 pm

I just wanted to make a correction about the soccer field on El Camino and Page Mill. The city did not buy expensive land; Stanford offered us a 50 year lease for a token payment of $1 per year,(as I recall; it might have been $5). The catch is that it is limited to 50 years.
At the time there was a huge demand for soccer fields and the kids did not have room to play so the city was quite grateful for the offer. I do not know the current situation but the Parks and Recreation Commission would probably know. Or the city staff.


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Posted by By tne Numbers
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2009 at 5:34 pm

By the numbersFire Dept. 25 Million dollar budget, Revenue brought in by the Fire Dept. 12 Million dollars. Cost to the City of Palo Alto for Fire Dept. 13 Million dollars. Divide that by 70,000 citizens of Palo Alto = $185.71 Per citizen per year, divide that by 365 days = .508 cents a day.I ask you Mr. Morton where can you get Paramedic and Fire Service for .50 cents a day.The Fire Department is the seconed largest revenue producer of the city departments behind Utllities.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Here are what some other cities spend on their fire department:

Palo Alto $25 million for a population of 63,000
Mountain View $18.8 million for a population of 74,000
Redwood City $17.3 million for a population of 79,000
Santa Clara $28.3 million for a population of 109,000

well I think you can see the pattern. Council member Morton didn't express it very well, but compared to other cities, Palo Alto's fire department budget does look expensive


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Posted by Bennie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Common sense's data is exactly on point. And it's also the tip of the iceberg. Three or four years ago, members of the group that pat references had data on all sorts of comparative expenditures between Palo Alto and neighboring cities. A lot was published in a series of op-eds in the Daily News.

As I recall, Palo Alto has twice as many employees per resident (and twice the expenditures) as any other similar-sized city. And only a small part of that is attributable to alleged superior service levels in Palo Alto. (I seem to recall that we had something like 18 lawyers compared to 3 or 4 at other cities, for example.)

A casual motorist driving in Mt. View and Palo Alto immediately sees that the streets are in much better repair in Mt. View. The reason? Mt. View actually has a reserve for street maintenance. Palo Alto does it ad hoc every year...and so we end up funding the Senior Games which few in town care about, while Mt. View does things that serve its residents.

We need a revolution.


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Posted by Hank
a resident of University South
on Apr 7, 2009 at 6:59 pm

To Common Sense,

Would like to know where you got those numbers. Also, Palo Alto is the only city in that group that has their own Paramedic TRANSPORT service.

Would you like to wait 10 to 30 minutes for a Paramedic transport or would like to have one at your doorstep in less than 10 minutes?

Also, like most of you, I have a very expensive home and I like having a fire truck within 5 minutes of my doorstep. I spend more than 50 cent a day on coffee.


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2009 at 7:05 pm

to ellieg,

I love soccer/playing fields too. But, to build them in the middle of a city on expensive land is crazy.
For next 50 years there should have been retail there. Did you notice that they just put up a net because the ball keeps getting kicked onto El Camino Real? CRAZY!


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Posted by Mark
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 7, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Hey Common Sense,

One difference between Palo Alto and the other fire departments that you quoted is that Palo Alto actually runs paramedic ambulances. The rest of those cities contract those services out to private companies. Presumably, considering that more than half the calls of Palo Alto involve medical services, this is rather important thing to factor in.


Incidentally, where are you getting your numbers from? The City report suggests that in FY 2003-2004 San Mateo, Redwood City, Milpitas, Mountain View and Santa Clara spent more money per capita than Palo Alto.

Web Link


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Hank,

I went to each city's website and looked up in their budget documents what they spent for their fire department, and I either looked up on each city's website their population or some other census website.

I think you should also realize that the $7+ million difference in cost when compared to Mt View or Redwood City is due to more than Paramedic transport or fire station proximity. Some of it is due to the work rules that were negotiated with the union, and who has first dibs on overtime (for example, who gets first dibs on overtime based on seniority).

A more nifty queston that you should ask - are your home fire insurance rates less than Mt View or Redwood City because of the Palo Alto Fire Department?


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Hank & Mark,

I drilled down in the Mt View budget, and the fire department organization is 88 people, while the Palo Alto fire department organization is at 126.

Your thoughts on this difference?


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Posted by Mark
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 7, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Could be a difference in the number of EMT-Firefighters vs. Paramedic-Firefighters. Paramedic-Firefighters are paid more for their work...and in comparison Mountain View Fire doesn't do paramedic ambulance transports.


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Posted by Sheldon
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 7, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Kudos to Morton for taking on the firefighters. I confess I don't know the numbers, but one has to ask just how many "real" hours firefighters work in a year, and just how much risk they take on. Although there is of course some danger involved in their work--though how much more than many other vocations in America?--my impression is that they exaggerate the dangers in order to perpetuate a myth that justifies their salaries and their out-sized perks and pensions. The reality, it seems to me, is that over 90% of the time they are laying back shining trucks in the house, not fighting fire or doing anything dangerous or strenuous. Again--of course there is some danger in their work, but look at the statistics on workplace injuries, etc. in the American workplace and see how many other less-perked and less-paid workers get hurt doing their jobs, from farmers to lumber workers to factory workers. The firefighters--bolstered by the tragedy of September 11, which never should have been a firefighting job--have created a mystique on the order of Bush-ian patriotism. To question them is to question the whole idea of "public safety" and civic loyalty, etc.


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Posted by Sheldon
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 7, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I would add here that the two or more comparisons to Oakland and their police deaths are almost laughable--sorry folks. How many Palo Alto police officers have died on the job in the last 20 years?


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Posted by Remember
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Sheldon: 1994 - Officer Theodore Brassinga

I can also think of one that was nearly killed just a couple months ago. I seem to remember a report of a wanted felon ramming the motorcycle officer with his stolen truck.


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Posted by Maria
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 7, 2009 at 8:52 pm

The fire department needs to quit responding to medical emergencies. The last time I checked, they should be fighting fires and not coronary attacks. How about that for saving some money?


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Posted by First amendment
a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 7, 2009 at 9:02 pm

The first amendment was designed not to protect favorable speech, favorable speech needs no protection. To censure Jack Morton as suggested by Pat Burt would be considered unconstitutional and UN-American.


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Posted by Mark
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 7, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Common Sense,

Another thing to consider is daytime population.

Apparently the daytime population swells by 81% during the day in Palo Alto. Data from this website states that while the Palo Alto population data is 58,246 this increases to 105,953 during the day (increase of 47,707 people).
Web Link

Mountain View in comparison has a population of 70,436 but increases only 27% during the day, for a total of 89,408.

Web Link

Also, your numbers on Santa Clara City Fire seems to be slightly underestimated. The operating budget in 2007-2008 was $31 million.


Web Link


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Posted by vern
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2009 at 9:45 pm

how many vacant police officer postions do we have??--we have not been fully staffed for many years----no wonder we pay a lot of overtime


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Hey Sheldon,

Your a very pathetic person to say-

"The firefighters--bolstered by the tragedy of September 11, which never should have been a firefighting job--have created a mystique on the order of Bush-ian patriotism. To question them is to question the whole idea of "public safety" and civic loyalty, etc."

Also this gem-

"I would add here that the two or more comparisons to Oakland and their police deaths are almost laughable--sorry folks. How many Palo Alto police officers have died on the job in the last 20 years?"

I believe we just had a shooting in Palo Alto last week. Keep laughing about police and firefighters that died in the line of duty no matter what city they work for.

Sheldon- you could never be a cop or firefighter. Thank god!


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Mark, if some firefighters are dual trained as paramedics, it wouldn't explain the higher staffing levels in Palo Alto, although it would help to explain the higher salary.

The numbers for Santa Clara I pulled from their 2008-2009 budget documents.

I do think there are savings to be had by the work rules, staffing rules & overtime rules that the union has.


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Posted by Need To Know
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 7, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Pat.

Is ElPaloAlto still in existence and what's the contact info? I tried looking it up online didn't find anything.

Thanks.


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Posted by RogueTrader
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 8, 2009 at 12:01 am

I agree with Sheldon, who said:

"Although there is of course some danger (to firefighters) involved in their work, my impression is that they exaggerate the dangers in order to perpetuate a myth that justifies their salaries and their out-sized perks and pensions... The reality, it seems to me, is that over 90% of the time they are laying back shining trucks in the house, not fighting fire or doing anything dangerous or strenuous."

It's a common misconception among the general public, but firefighting and even police work are NOT among the most dangerous jobs in America:

Web Link


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Posted by Jay Thorwaldson
editor emeritus
on Apr 8, 2009 at 12:13 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

For Perplexed: The story on the Senior Games funding is at www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=11757 . Your recollection is correct.


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Posted by Sorry no money
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 8, 2009 at 5:49 am

The hiring freeze is a joke. Our Mayor still wants and will probably get his Sustainability Coordinator with a six figure salary.

Meanwhile the City has already cut the number of Community Service Officers. If certain neighborhoods of the City still want Permit Parking the Police Department will have to hire personnel to monitor the permit parking program, where will the money.


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Posted by oldtimer
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2009 at 7:32 am

Santa Clara provides ambulance service through its fire department for substantially less than Palo Alto.


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Posted by oldtimer
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2009 at 7:34 am

Actually, in my humble opinion, it is the internal cost of government rather that the cost of people that is the villan here.


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Posted by Jean
a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 8, 2009 at 7:35 am

Firefighters are not just fighting fires, but do medical too. I ask a firefighter yesterday as I pass a station riding my bike. She said they "go on about 7200 calls in Palo Alto, per year, mostly medical".

She also said that when they are not "going on calls" they are doing training- (lots, 7 days a week), building inspections and prefire plans(not sure what these are), public education, cleaning the station and all the trucks and equipment.

They stay at the fire station for 24 hours, so they eat and sleep there when not going on calls.


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Posted by Ambulances
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 8, 2009 at 9:08 am

oldtimer, actually Santa Clara City have only "emergency backup" ambulances (called STAR cars). They are only used when the private company can't make it in for very serious calls or for disaster use. In a two month evaluation period Santa Clara City used these ambulances only 5 times...that's why it's cheaper for the city! Definitely not the same as Palo Alto.

Web Link


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Posted by Sheldon
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 8, 2009 at 9:35 am

One officer in twenty years---which is too many, I agree. But in my home county in Minnesota (population 16,000), there is probably about one farmer death each year. My point, as RogueTrader confirmed, is not that firefighters don't face danger, but that the danger they face, especially in a place like Palo Alto, is not as great as they would have most people think, relative to a lot of other vocations in the country.


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Posted by oldtimer
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2009 at 9:47 am

Hello Ambulances

Perhaps that's a strategy that Palo Alto could adopt.


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Posted by ME
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2009 at 10:01 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2009 at 10:12 am

Hey, why not just have Palo Alto declare bankruptcy? We could void ALL the legacy contracts/pensions that have so much fat in them and get back to some common sense type of budgeting for ALL gov't services. To have so many people pile-on whether the firefighters are offering up enough cuts or whose job is dangerous loses the perspective that there is enormous waste across the board.

Spending on superfluous farmers markets and senior games (and goodness knows what else!), while they are feel-good causes, is not addressing the bottom-line basic services residents should expect from city gov't. All this bickering is like a bunch of people arguing over their belly-button lint. Enough of the feel-good special interest group stuff and get back to managing the city, which means making tough decisions... and leave the charitable causes to charitable people who can choose how they want to spend their donations.


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Posted by Mark
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2009 at 10:46 am

I believe in freedom of speech. However, to speak about matters you know little to nothing about is irresponsible and potentially harmful. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Some real facts: The PAFD Paramedic Program more than pays for itself, but you never hear that because the revenue goes into the General Fund to be shared by all city departments. The PAFD has cut its staff by 25% in recent years, and is not at levels from years ago as Mr. Morton erroneously claims; there is little if anything left to cut without jeopordizing public safety. Most firefighters do not make anything close to $39,000 in overtime, as Mr. Morton erroneously claims; only a very few have ever made that amount in any given year. PD squad cars are not overstaffed with two officers, as Mr. Morton erroneously claims; they have just one each.

And lastly, PD & FD personnel not only risk their lives at any given moment while on-duty protecting the citizens of Palo Alto, but their everyday, regular routine is to respond to all of the tough calls; saving lives everyday, truly helping people, changing lives and mitigating disaster. Why do people call 9-1-1? They are having their worst day and there is no one else who can help them -- that's what the FD & PD do. What price do you put on that? They are the true-life heroes and friends of the community (who actually produce daily good deeds and life-saving actions).


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Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 8, 2009 at 10:57 am

Can someone please provide contact info for El Palo Alto if this is for real? Thank you.


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Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 8, 2009 at 11:04 am

The Fire Dept is one issue. However, suggesting that we cut the Police Dept budget is moronic. What good are these services that Jack Morton is whining about if you aren't safe in your own house? The crime rates in Palo Alto are climbing thanks to a poor economy, Meth addicts, and gang activity. We want overwhelming police response when something happens. That's the reputation we want amongst the criminal community. The Police force is too small for a city of our size in square miles.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2009 at 12:33 pm

ElPaloAlto WAS real -- in 2005. It died for lack of interest.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 8, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Pat, obviously people are expressing interest NOW. So, are you going to get it going again? Thanks.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2009 at 2:35 pm

On the cost side, the unions completely dominate the city council every time a negotiation comes up. The council members for years have wanted to 'play nice' as someone already commented. Their belief is that these are more than deserving people like you and me or maybe really better, and deserve high salaries, lush pensions, early retirement and annual bonuses. The council members are not expert in negotiating, but the unions are. And they ratchet pay levels by contractually pegging them to other cities in the area, so when one salary rung goes up, so do others, ad infinitum.

The council members serve their time, and move on to other things. They are not accountable for the ever growing obligation for salaries and pensions.

Stanford is a good example of how to deal in negotiations. Anyone who has dealt with them knows they are tough, and usually get their way. Including with our city. The park at Page Mill is an example. As I recall, we had to agree to an expensive toxic clean up of the site, and the lease is up in 50 years. Stanford avoided the clean up liability (its ours now) and banked the land. Good for them to be smart enough to get what is good for Stanford.

Our city is overstaffed, and over compensated. The outrage should be that we are all working to pay for average performance at well over top performance compensation. Your utility bills are part of how they meet the obligations.

Next time you hear from a city official how special our workers are, ask them for proof that it is so, and how they are better than Mountain View, or Sunnyvale or Los Gatos.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2009 at 2:48 pm

On police and fire I largely agree with Sheldon above.

Sure our public safety is important. But the folks that took these jobs choose to do so, they were not drafted. Like any business in this valley, it is good marketing for police and fire to emphasize the dangers in the job, and to make the most of tragedies.It is in their best interest to do so. Just like the teachers constantly make the case that more money is always needed, for the children. good marketing, and a distraction from the numbers.

If police and fire were so terrible an occupation, there would not be such incredibly vast numbers of applicants every time there is a hiring notice.

When you take pensions into account, the real annual compensation obligation for a fireman or policeman is approximately 30% greater than published annual comp-given expected lifespan and retirement age. That is what they are really making compared to other workers in the valley, most of whom have no pensions. We are paying for it.


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Wow Mike,

When the dot com was doing very well all those years, people like you laugh at public employees salaries. Cities made good money off their pension funds with investing the money.
Now that the tables are turn, you can't stand to see a blue collar worker do better than you. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Doug
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2009 at 6:34 pm

You people all make sense to a certain point. But I think that the point that needs to be made is; Do you require these Firefighters and Police Officers that work in your city to live in your city limits? If so you have to compare the cost of living based on were individuals live. With that said, pay has to be competitive to attract the right people to do the job, or else they will go somewhere else. As far as the pension part of the post above, everyone needs to remember how much these Firefighters give to the communities that they protect on a daily basis and research how long they are expected to live after retirement. I think it would surprise people how many of these people die of heart disease and various types of cancers. In this day and age of inflated paychecks these people are underpaid for what they give to their communities. They may not go to a fire everyday, but when they do, they make up for and then some of all the down time that they may have had since their last fire. Let's see how many of you will run into a burning building with out a seconds thought to rescue that daughter, mother, or grandfather that is inside.


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Posted by Heart Disease
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Working in the Fire Services increases the risk of heart disease by 300% according to a FEMA study.

Web Link

The "silent deaths" involving the fire service are not well known by the general public as deaths not involving fire calls are not generally reported.

The issue of firefighter deaths are so significant that CDC/NIOSH even has an investigation program for firefighter fatalities.

Web Link


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Posted by fireman #6
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2009 at 7:12 am

Firefighters at station #6. Die from cancer.

At least 4-5 of them. They are the only ones who sleep there??


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Posted by Brian Wilson
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2009 at 10:36 am

It is always interesting when council members blame employees and others about situations that they claim are out of their control. Perhaps review of the City Charter by current council members may provide an educational path of who should be in charge of city matters. While it is interesting that the public can easily be worked into a frenzy over what they perceive is of vital importance at the moment, the fact is that current council has been in charge for a few years now and has shown no viable direction for Palo Alto. Stating problems and flashing financial numbers is not leadership. Each year a new mayor is appointed by council but no direction is given as to what council expects from their leader. Continuing rants and pointing fingers online by the public only distracts from providing solutions. I guarantee that working employees have not created the perceived problem, management and council are ultimately responsible and should be held accountable.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 9, 2009 at 11:39 am

City Council Members,

The fire and police departments are the last places you ought to look for cuts due to budget shortfalls. You have no one else to blame but yourselves and I, as a voter, am watching very carefully your actions.

You have recklessly approved thousands of dollars spent on needless consultants, voted to approve a new farmers market, which we do not need, and the senior games. These are all superfluous to a well functioning city. These superfluous entertainment related activities ought to be first cut, not the necessary life saving departments such as the fire department!!!

Unbelieveable. I am dismayed and deeply concerned that this council has no clue as to what we residents need. In addition to the recent hidden tax increase in your utilities rate increases on electricity and water.

I see a lot of corruption and incompetence.






----
If you want to see a change, make your voice heard. city.council@cityofpaloalto.org


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2009 at 11:58 am

Well, it's clear that a lot of folks have bought the story from police and fire hook, line and sinker. They can say 'mission accomplished' for their continuing campaign to keep wages and benefits high.

Why do you think some California cities have already gone bankrupt from such excessive compensation and pensions, others have come close and financial experts warn many more will be in trouble?

Eventually you will have to decide to give everything else up in order to fund these groups.

That is not to say that our own city has not wasted untold millions on every other conceivable thing, but this is a big one, and will eventually take down the whole budget.


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 9, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Mike is right. The wage and especially the benefit packages of our employees - particularly police and fire - are starting to hit harder at our budget than anyone ever thought they would or could.

There is a very scary article in the SJ Mercury News today about San Jose's escalating problems with keeping up with pensions that have been promised but are now becoming unaffordable. Web Link

"the staggering figures drew cries from some City Council members to cut benefits, which now allow career police officers and firefighters to retire in their 50s with pensions that pay 90 percent of their salaries.

"We can no longer persist in the delusion that our taxpayers can afford the current level of employee benefits," said Councilman Sam Liccardo, who was appointed this year to serve as a trustee on the public safety retirement plan. ...

The new report suggests the city's contribution rate for police and firefighter pensions will increase from the current 22.5 percent of payroll to as much as 57.8 percent in the 2010 budget year.

By 2013, that rate could hit 70.1 percent. And those rates do not include the additional costs of retiree health care benefits...."

We're heading down the same path here. If we don't do something, employee costs will eat up virtually ALL of Palo Alto's budget. (They're currently around 80-85%, depending on how you do the accounting.)

The SEIU (municipal union) contracts are coming up for renewal soon. Now is the time to start making the changes we need to make Palo Alto' finances sustainable. We will need tougher people on the City Council to make this happen.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 9, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Has anyone noticed that the crime rate in Palo Alto is up, and you want to cut the police department? Anyone notice that we had major brush fires last summer, record fires across California due to drought conditions? California is still in a drought despite our recent rain. And these are the departments you want to cut?
I'd complain about the consultants, paying for "civic" involvement consultant fees, all the "green" related tax hikes, farmer's market, and senior games first. And if city council wants to cut pensions, they ought to look across the board, across the city in all departments, not just focus on one area. It's not fair to target the police and fire departments, especially when the crime rate is up. If anything we need to boost the police department.


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Posted by Brian Wilson
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2009 at 3:47 pm

I have plenty of suggestions, but I thought that is why Palo Alto residents voted in the current city council. If your asking for "concrete answers" from a voice online then the whole concept of a voting democracy is in trouble. Maybe asking council members voted into office or city management hired by council for "concrete answers" would prove to be beneficial or at least educational.


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Posted by Thomas
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 10, 2009 at 12:23 am

I'm an old fellow; anybody else remember the cartoon "Pogo"? I still remember reading one of the captions as a child; "I have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us!"

We elected the current City Council, over the years, we have chased away and turned away millions and millions of dollars of tax dollars... I've been in Palo Alto most of my adult life. There used to be a "Stanford Industrial Park." This town used to produce lots of high dollar products that in turn created revenue that was used to fund our city services. We approved a beautiful new Jewish Community Center on land where in the past companies like Ford built communications satelites. The Jewish Community Center will impact our city services; companies like Ford and Space Systems Loral produced high quality high tech equipment that generated lots tax revenue for our city services. I'm going to guess that over the last thirty years, by our choices, we have easiily turned away tens and tens of millions of dollars of revenue for our city {I wouldn't be surprised if it's actually hundreds of millions of dollars}. Like you, I drive to Mountain View, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, and Los Altos to do shopping that I would prefer to do in Palo Alto - people, look at the stores that have located themselves just across the border from our town. Mountain View's tax revenue is down much less than Palo Alto's. I Wonder why; perhaps it's because they chose wiser and made better choices than we have.

Why are we picking on the police officers and firefighters. My kids wave at the firefighters when we drive by their fire station on Embarcadero. One of my neighbors is building a house that is going to cost him more than the annual budget than either the police department or the fire station. We are complaining about firefighters and police officers who make 100 to 200k a year? In this town? I thought charity begins at home? Drive by a fire station in Los Altos, Mountain View or Menlo Park; even better walk inside when they have an open house. Then walk in the fire station on Embarcadero Road like I did for a PANDA meeting last year - there is no way that fire station can with stand strong lateral forces in the next earthquake. Our fire department needs more money not less; our task, should be to create additional funds for our city services.

Right now, things are not sustainable... That means we have to change. We can also rise up together and figure out how to grow our revenues. Isn't that what people in our town like Steve Jobs has done at Apple. Apple has redesigned itself so well, we are all walking around with ipods and iphones. Why don't we do the same with this city?

Do you honestly want some company like Fry's, Walmart, etc to take over our fire department or police department? How about Stanford? Seriously? One of my friend's was recently laid off from Stanford, they came to her office, gave her less than an hour to clean out her desk and her office and their was a deputy sheriff standing in the hallway. Gosh, that makes me stand up and smile, even more so when I look at all the tens of millions of dollars that Stanford is continuing to spend on new buildings.

The value of this community is in it's people. The value in a company is in it's people; IT"S HUMAN RESOURCES. Why are we antagonizing the men and women who protect us? Police Officers and Firefighters have a challenging enough job without us picking on them. We are smart enough to come up with ways to sustain ourselves , our community, and the city employees.

I miss the Palo Alto that used to have lots of revenue; because of our choices.

I've lived here a long time. I remember helping my friend's sandbag their homes when our streets were flooding. I remember last summer the hills burning in the foothills and the baylands burning for a day or two. Gosh, the Loma Prieta earthquake frightened the crap out of my wife. In addition, to trains, planes and all kinds of trucks that come through or over this town every day, we have all sorts of things to be concerned about. Do you remember when a Gunn High School student set off a bomb at Gunn? My friends children go to Gunn and Paly? You want to cut the police department or fire department?

What kind of house insurance do you have? What kind of car insurance do you have? Me, mine is pretty good AND I NEVER WANT to use my insurance, but it's there. Me, I would like high quality sustainable services in this town. We are smart enough, there are ways, let's come together and create them.

I respect Jack Morton. I appreciate his efforts. Graciously, I am asking Jack Morton and all of us to raise the quality of our thinking and the quality of our decision making. Otherwise, I have met the enemy and he is us.

Last month the police officers and firefighters came and helped me when my father was close to dying. He's alive today, in part to the care and support he received from the firefighters, paramedics and police officers we support. Thank you. Bless you. In the future, my we be able to provide you with the same levels of kindness and support you gave him and my family when we could not care for ourselves.


Let's grow this city together. Together, let's become a sustainable vital healthy model. Like, our president challenges us, "Yes, we can!"


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Posted by Morton for development
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2009 at 10:13 pm

For those who have suddenly developed a crush on Jack Morton, you probably haven't been paying attention for long. Morton votes for major housing development EVERY time.
When another councilman tried to make minor changes to the Alma Plaza plan, to make it a little less crowded and underparked, Morton groused MICROMANAGING! and that ended it.
Morton votes for the developers 100% of the time.


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Posted by rr
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 10, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Thomas-
Thank you.
I know the story of how we got here. Unfortunately, until now, nobody really said much about the rotten legacy of this saga.
You are correct, we need to take care of our Police and Fire people. When was the last time you heard of someone's relative who died at 80, that was a Cop or Firefighter? Like never. And, it's just a fact that they have shorter life spans. Same with all my Dad's K-12 teachers. All these government buildings from the 40's through 70's contain all sorts of toxic substances. Check it. Even if they 'removed' certain areas, it's still there in vents, cracks and areas they never eradicated.
We all know future contracts and expectations need some adjustments, but let's not forget WHO these people actually work for and who's going to save our buts when the the big one hits...


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Posted by YouShouldKnow
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 11, 2009 at 7:07 pm

Mississauga, Canada. A debt free City, same Mayor for 30 years. Her focus? Developing the waterfront, low taxation, bringing in jobs.

DEBT FREE. SEVEN HUNDRED MILLION IN RESERVE. SIXTH LARGEST CITY IN CANADA.

Web Link

Maybe our City Council should give this a gander!


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Posted by Sun and Sand
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2009 at 12:04 am

someone said: " The wage and especially the benefit packages of our employees - particularly police and fire - are starting to hit harder at our budget than anyone ever thought they would or could."

Nonsense. Please do a computation on the other side of the ledger, and tell us - in dollars and cents - how much it would cost our citizens to buy private protection from fire and crime. Once you've finished that analysis, then I'll consider what you currently say as anything else buy whining out of ignorance.


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Posted by Flash Sheridan
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2009 at 9:11 am

It's troubling that the Weekly decided not to cover what to me (and the Daily Post) was one of the most interesting points that Councilman Morton suggested, and which Councilmen Burt and Klein wanted suppressed: Allowing taxpayers to vote on the city's union contracts.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2009 at 10:53 am

San Jose pension costs soar as stock market withers

Web Link

"We can no longer persist in the delusion that our taxpayers can afford the current level of employee benefits," said Councilman Sam Liccardo, who was appointed this year to serve as a trustee on the public safety retirement plan.


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2009 at 11:25 am

pat's post is the conclusive rejoinder to Sun and Sand's post. The issue is not whether the police and firefighters do a good job, that they are not essential, or that we couldn't find equivalent providers of these valuable services in the private sector. The issue is at what cost these services come, and how much the city can afford to pay for them. I'm sure S and S wouldn't advocate paying these employees $1,000,000 per year and allowing them to retire at 40 at full salary. It wouldn't be reasonable, and the city couldn't afford it.

No one would advocate paying them $5,000 per year with no retirement (other than Social Security, which most of the rest of us have to count on) either.

The question is where in between the extremes lies the proper compensation package.

Right now, as the link in pat's post documents, we pay these public servants a lot and let them retire at 90% of salary with full health benefits in their 50's. San Jose, and soon Palo Alto, won't be able to afford this. The path we are on will crowd out virtually all other spending.

That's what this thread is all about: not whether we value the people who protect our homes and property. This is not an attack on police and firefighters: it's an attack on irresponsible fiscal policies of our local governments. Don't try to make it anti-firefighter or even anti-union.

(As an aside, there are several jurisdictions which use private services for fire protection - including in socialist Denmark, and an increasing number of cities in Arizona. The general conclusion is that private provision of fire services yields safety levels equivalent to public firefighting at between 1/3 and 1/2 the cost. (Web Link). I don't think it would work for police as there are legal issues there that don't pertain to firefighters. But it's an interesting thought - and gives doubt to S and S's point.)

Deciding how to deal with city employee compensation is a difficult issue. You may recall how the City Council were excoriated at the time of the last union contract for caving in to unreasonable, unaffordable demands - including by a former Palo Alto Mayor. I like Morton's idea of letting residents vote on the contract. I imagine voters would be less susceptible to union pressure tactics than the council.


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Anna,

Dream on. It will NEVER happen, unless you want a Walmart police and fire!


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Posted by City Employee From Another City
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Very few people complained about city pensions when the stock market was doing well, and PERS was covering the majority of the costs. Now that these pensions are a victim of a generally bad economy (like everything else) suddenly we should get rid of them. Yet when people are laid off or lose their pensions in the private sector these same people are at the very minimum compassionate in their reactions.

Historically, there has always been this perception that government employees don't earn the money they make. My city job requires a master's degree. If I worked in the private sector I would easily make 50-75% more money. I have no stock options, no bonuses, and no other perks.

I chose the public sector because I get the opportunity to work with the public, something I love doing. I also have the security of a job that is unlikely to away and an excellent retirement pension in my not too distant future.

I gladly traded away money today for money tomorrow for over 25 years. And now everyone is screaming to take it away. It took me ten years to get my degree while I worked full time and went to school full time. I work nights and weekends for my city. I'm not a police or a fireman but I've been threatened on the job (including physically assaulted) more than once simply because I am a civil servant. I earn my salary each and every day.

I don't regret my choices. They were my choices. You all made choices too. City employees work very hard for the money they make. We are entitled to a decent living like every other hard working joe out there. It'd be nice if more people showed more respect for us and if they would stop acting like we are leeches sucking the lifeblood from our society.


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 13, 2009 at 1:07 pm

City Employee makes a sympathetic case for him/herself. Anyone nearing retirement naturally feels anxiety about threats to financial security, as apparently City Employee does. Most in the private sector have much more than mere threats to a secure retirement to contend with: anyone with much money in a 401k likely has the reality of a poorer old-age existence than a few months ago.

City Employee's worries are mostly groundless. A deal is a deal, and no court is likely to take away pension benefits already earned - no matter how ridiculously large, unfair, and unearned they seem to us with benefit of hindsight. (Blame the elected representatives who didn't have the courage to stand up to municipal union pressure tactics who've been going along with this irresponsibility for decades! The chickens of this chicken-heartedness have now come home to roost.)

The real question is whether Palo Alto and other cities can afford this kind of largess going forward. As the article linked to by pat above (Web Link) explains, the answer seems to be clearly "no". We need to move all municipal finances to a more sustainable model.

I don't know City Employee's particulars, but the idea that city workers are undercompensated compared to private sector workers is not supported by the data. Government workers once were relatively poorly paid. This is no longer true - at least in California. The median income of city workers in Palo Alto actually exceeds the median income of all Santa Clara County workers. And this is BEFORE the generous pension terms that allow city workers to retire in their 50's at high percentages of pre-retirement income with full health benefits.

And while I'm sure City Employee, along with most of his/her coworkers is responsible and diligent on the job, anyone familiar with government workers knows that any claim of overwork is laughable. Here in Palo Alto, city employees get a lot of Fridays off, for example. And most data show that many jobs performed by city employees could be done at much less expense by contracting with private companies - which is why the unions fight against it so hard every time it's proposed.

If City Employee wants respect, he/she should quit poormouthing, and feel fortunate about his/her situation. Most city workers I know in Palo Alto are decent people, but they know they have a very very good deal, and that they are very fortunate. The realistic among them know that this gravy train can't be continued for future workers. Our cities cannot afford to be creating a privileged class of people who retire early on our increasing taxes while those of us making much less money struggle to save for our own retirements. It's not meanness and it's not demeaning of city workers to say this: it's just reality.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 13, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Anna, I agree with you. In retrospect, I agree this is not about anti-government employee value. I value the work city employees do for us.

However, when it comes to how much I can afford to pay via increased taxes, increased utility fees, increase in fines, etc, and also when in the private sector my own household is seeing cuts in salaries, I think the city employees need to sacrifice something. We all are suffering in this downturn, not just the city employees.

City Employee,
I work hard as does my spouse, however, we have taken pay cuts in order to keep our jobs. We made the choice to work in the private sector. It's not that I don't value your work, or the work our police and firefighters do, I believe that we all need to make sacrifices. I don't see why you shouldn't also be willing to take a pay cut. My spouse and I work just as hard. BTW, I also have 2 master's degrees.


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Posted by City Employee From Another City
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2009 at 3:05 pm

for Anna-

I do not feel that I'm poormouthing (one of my mother's favorite phrases!)at all. As I said I made my choices, and I have no regrets. People in my field who work in the private sector are making $140k+ and that's without counting stock options, etc. I make $80K. It's good money and I'm not complaining. I live a decent life in a very expensive valley. My point is that I have made the sacrifice in exchange for something else. And you're right, I doubt I'll lose it.

City employees who get Fridays off use their vacation hours to have them. Don't people in the private sector get vacation? Why are we privileged because we do the same? I reached the maximum award of vacation five years ago.

I haven't had a merit increase in over ten years because I'm at the top step. Prices go up but unless we get a cost of living raise (2-3% in the last few years) our salary doesn't. Again, not complaints, just an observation of what it is like to be a city employee. My friends in the private sector thought I was crazy to do the work I do....until the economy took this terrible nosedive.

But while you expressed sympathy, your final statement of calling our jobs 'a gravy train' and describing us as 'privileged' speaks volumes. I truly do not understand how that isn't "anti-government employee value."

For resident-

You are completely right in what you say. I have absolutely no problem with taking a pay cut. I've suggested it several times myself including to the City Manager of my city. I'm quite willing because I see the state of the economy, and I recognize that things cannot go on as normal. We should be all doing our part including public sector employees.

While I am pro-union, I will be honest and tell you that I have been told that we cannot volunteer to take pay cuts as individuals or divisions or departments to do so. It appears to be an all or nothing proposition. I heard about the San Jose managers who are doing just this thing so I don't understand it.






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Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 13, 2009 at 6:42 pm

City Employee,

A couple of points: You ought to speak to your union reps about negotiating a better deal than you have now - more in line with Palo Alto. Palo Alto employees don't take vacation days when they have Fridays off: Palo Alto is on a so called 4/10 workweek, where employees are supposed to work 10 hours Monday through Thursday and then take Friday's off. From what I hear, you don't get quality work for the whole 10 hours, but the theory is that we still get a 40 hour week from them. It's quite inconvenient when most of the city doesn't interface with the rest of the world in a normal workweek as well. It's quite popular among city workers for obvious reasons. Also, in Palo Alto, workers get several more paid holidays than do private sector workers, and generous vacation as well...like most government workers do. I don't know how it is where you work.

If you read my post, you'll see that I described the current pension system as a gravy train. No other workers in our economy are so sheltered from economic reality. It's especially irksome to those of us who are asked to pay more taxes to fund people retiring in their 50's, when we're trying desperately to save enough to retire ourselves before we're too old to work anymore. If you don't think that workers on the receiving end of this system cannot reasonably be described as privileged, I guess we have different understandings of that term.

Finally, I hope you will read the link in my original post, which lays out in stark terms the kinds of budgetary time bomb current municipal pensions are creating in California. You might also peruse the links here: Web Link which has even more detail about the coming problems with public sector pensions.

This whole discussion is not about privilege or gravy trains or whether city workers perform well or poorly. It's really not about whether you deserve the pay and benefits your receive at all. It's about whether Palo Alto and other cities can continue to provide this level of benefit for future workers. The answer is that we cannot without spending virtually all of our budget to pay salaries and pensions and health care for retirees.

I'm sure you agree with me that a city exists for more than providing compensation and secure retirements for its employees. We're not a welfare or employment agency. We're a city. Whether the people coming up behind you in your city (and ours) deserve the kind of benefits you get or not, we can't afford them. We need a better model of sustainable budgeting. And that's the sad truth. We can't wish it away. We have to deal with it.




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Posted by YouShouldKnow
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2009 at 10:44 am

As to police and fire, they get to retire in their 50'd at 90% if they are not killed on duty. These people are about 90% more likely to be grievously injured or killed while performing their duties protecting us.


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 14, 2009 at 10:54 am

"As to police and fire, they get to retire in their 50'd at 90% if they are not killed on duty. These people are about 90% more likely to be grievously injured or killed while performing their duties protecting us."

This might be true, or it might not. Does anyone have data on the death incidence of Palo Alto Police and Firefighters? I don't recall the last time I heard of one, but maybe there are some. What does 90% more likely to be killed mean?

But again, this kind of post really beside the point. We simply cannot afford to keep paying the kinds of benefits to employees we currently are paying. And the overwhelming majority of California cities are in the same position. San Jose's pension costs soon will reach over 70% of payroll. Palo Alto's can't be far behind.

We have to deal with this in some other way than emotional appeals based on how hard city workers supposedly have it. I doubt that there is room for doubling the revenues received by the city, but that is what it will take to stay on the present course. So we'll have to cut the number of employees, trim their benefits or something similar.


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Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Councilman Morton is making scapegoats out of City employees. The City Council are the people who have driven most of the tax generating companies out of the City. Replacing the loss of tax revenue with more housing which only creates more demand for City services.
The Council also seems all too happy with the fact that the vast majority of residents do the majority of the shopping in surrounding Cities. Palo Alto residents spend their money in other Cities because the PA Council has for many years limited who and what can be sold or provided in the City of Palo Alto.
Morton fails to point out he and other Council members are responsible for seeing many stores and employers leave the City.

They have also reduced the size of the Fire Department starting way back in the 1970's. Even though the Fire Department responds to thousands of more emergencies per year now. The Fire Department is Palo Alto is smaller than it was in 1975.
The downtown area of Palo Alto has the least amount of fire and medical protection than any other City on the Peninsula. Many times at night there are no firefighters/paramedics in Station One.
The fire halls firefighters are often in another area of the City or outside the City all together.
But Morton could care less about that. How about the lives and property that are at risk because nobody at Station 1 is there to respond. When somebody dies because the City Council is gambling with residents lives ask Morton why?
The City Council has known for years that the Fire Department is smaller due to their cutbacks. The Fire Department has seen the number of emergencies go up every year. Again thousands of more emergency calls nor than in the 1970's and a smaller fire department
now.
If anything is going to be reduced they should start with the City Council. And ask Morton about how the City Council gets benefits as well? last time I checked I have not seen the City Council question their benefits but they sure like to throw City employee's under the bus.
If the City of Palo Alto was a pond it would be dead by now due to the Councils action or lack of. They would rather spend money on consultants and studies. How many MILLION'S of dollars have been flushed down the drain in the last 5 years for those?

After 30-40 years of 60+ hour weeks during every kind of weather, hollidays, conditions, missed family life, weekends, birthdays, kids plays, sporting events, etc, I think Councilman Morton needs to really question if the Fire Fighters/Police Officers are the ones responsible for the Cities current condition?
Considering Morton has never walked a day in their shoes, let alone 30-40 shows he is clearly grandstanding.
How many City employees live in Atherton, Los Alto's Hills, Hillsborough, Woodside, etc? The sad truth is that to live in this area and have a middle class lifestyle it cost's money.


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