Former Palo Alto council members blast firefighters' measure, launch 'Safe Palo Alto'

New group hopes to defeat union's 'dangerous' proposal to freeze staffing levels in Fire Department

Palo Alto's former elected leaders are joining the current City Council in opposing a ballot measure that would freeze staffing levels in the Fire Department.

The coalition of city leaders includes former Mayor Bern Beecham and former Councilman John Barton, both of whom attended Monday night's council meeting to announce the launching of their new campaign, which they call "Safe Palo Alto."

Former mayors Dena Mossar, Vic Ojakian and Lanie Wheeler are also in the new coalition, as is former Vice Mayor Jack Morton, one of the city's most vocal critics of compensation levels in the Fire Department.

Barton told the council this week that the campaign is not about opposing firefighters, but about enabling the city to manage its dwindling resources.

The ballot measure, spearheaded by Palo Alto Professional Firefighters, Local 1319, would require the City Council to call an election any time it wants to reduce staffing levels in the Fire Department or close fire stations.

"We think it's inappropriate that one particular group, whether firefighters or any group, should essentially except itself from participating in these difficult times," Barton told the council. "We want to let you know that we are going to vociferously, strongly and actively oppose this initiative."

Mossar said the group of former leaders has been meeting regularly since the firefighters' union proposed freezing the department's staffing levels. The group's website urges residents to oppose the firefighters' measure, which it calls "dangerous for Palo Alto and its residents."

"This measure, if passed, would remove the management of the city budget and decision-making authority over firefighter staffing and expenses from the City Council, and could cost the City of Palo Alto hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars," the group states on the website. "If this measure is successful, the Fire Department's budget cannot be cut, which will mean deeper cuts to all other city services including police, park and libraries -- and this is unfair."

The union's initiative received more than 6,100 signatures, more than enough to get it on the ballot. The City Council voted to place the measure on the ballot at its Monday night meeting, with several members blasting the measure.

Councilwoman Gail Price said she thinks the proposal "will continue to cause disruption and strain in our community," while Mayor Pat Burt called it a "misguided power play by the Fire Department." Burt also said he is confident the people of Palo Alto "will make their voices loud and clear on where they stand on this issue."

In April, the council passed a formal resolution opposing the firefighters' measure and urging voters not to sign the firefighters' petition.

The union has consistently claimed that its staffing levels are already at a "bare bones" level and that further cuts would jeopardize public safety. Its ballot measure would require the council to hold public hearings and an election before any staffing reductions are made.

The council also considered on Monday placing its own measure on the November ballot -- a measure that would repeal the binding-arbitration provision for public-safety unions from the City Charter. The council ultimately voted 5-4 not to place it on this year's ballot but agreed that the provision, which allows an arbitration panel to settle labor disputes between the city and its police and firefighter unions, should be further explored.

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Like this comment
Posted by Henry
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2010 at 10:32 am

I have no problem closing a fire station, but NOT the one next to my house.

Like this comment
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 4, 2010 at 11:47 am

What the article omitted is that the measure would require a TWO-THIRDS vote, not just any election.

Like this comment
Posted by anciana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 4, 2010 at 11:50 am

Such a ballot -- to freeze staffing -- would tie the hands of the council, and I am against doing that. I trust our council members to have some sense when it comes to safety, and I don't trust our firefighters' union to do anything except protect their own interests. No one knows exactly what the future holds, and the council must be free
to make decisions in unexpected situations

Like this comment
Posted by Al
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 4, 2010 at 11:51 am

There isn't one of these so-called "leaders" that didn't contribute to the problem of voting "Yes" on yearly increases for the Fire Department, and every other department, for that matter.

All one has to do is look at the supporters of the voter-rejected Business Tax (Measure A) and you'll see the same "leaders" who are now opposed to this Firefighters Forever Charter Amendment.

Guess there is a lot of truth in that adage -- "never let a crisis go to waste". These people will do anything to keep their names in the news.

Like this comment
Posted by James Hoosac
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Al says it so well. These so-called "leaders" sowed the seeds. They should at lease prefix everything they say now with "I'm so sorry".

Like this comment
Posted by Former PAFD Supporter
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Let's get down to business. Pointing fingers is wasted energy. This ballot measure MUST be defeated.

Join me in voting to keep control of the budget in the hands of elected officials. The firefighter union's proposed change would be VERY bad policy for the community...though it would serve the union very nicely.

There is nothing "bare bones" about PAFD staffing right now...There's absolutely nothing bare bones about their compensation package either. I have read the entire budget and all proposals for cuts. There is NO mention ANYWHERE in those documents of closing a fire station. That was fabricated by the firefighters to get people to sign their petition. I see red every time I hear them say it.

They deserve to lose this one.

Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Let's also factor in the expense to the City that these mandatory elections would cause - this would defeat the purpose of trying to cut costs.

Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 4, 2010 at 1:21 pm

"This ballot measure MUST be defeated."


There's no doubt here: this measure is unwise and imprudent. Please vote 'No'.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 4, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Some of these former councilmembers may have been part of the council majority who 'gave away' the store....gave Benest a plush housing deal until his youngest graduated from Paly, sowed the seeds for "can't-say-no-spending"....and now they wake up. Praise be, and Halleluja. I do not remember some as being fiscally conservative.
How about wasting money - about $200K on the plan to reduce Embarcadero to one lane and taking out all the traffic lights except at Middelfield. There were other 'gems' like that one - e.g. Benest's ill-conceived unilateral plan for Edgewood Plaza. The 'tunnel to nowhere'. "Destination Palo Alto". The Senior Games. The Opportunity Center which continues to be a problem.
And all of those budgets of days gone by that THEY voted on. Come On. Time for them to do penance. But I'm glad for their help. We should be voting on the
Arbitration issue.

Like this comment
Posted by carlito ways
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 4, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Here have fun and be informed about how much we pay our public employees . Just go to the web link and look up for the city of Palo Alto, also you can see how they compare to other cities.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Too many firestations
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I have no problem closing firehouses and yes you can close the one near me because the response time from the next nearest fire station is almost the same.

Like this comment
Posted by Amused in Palo Alto
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 4, 2010 at 3:48 pm

What's with all the former council people speaking up? Is it that our existing council is so weak, former council people enjoy more clout in the community than do they?

Like this comment
Posted by Gordon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 4, 2010 at 3:57 pm

This is the most transparent attempt by an organization to fleece the public for their own self-interest since the recent failed PG&E measure to ban city councils from securing alternate electricity sources. No wonder every one of the 12 comments so far is against it!

Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 4, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Yes, this measure must be defeated. What outreach do we need to do to educate the voters?

The fact that it got 6,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot is depressing. Are there really so many un-informed voters in our community?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 4, 2010 at 4:46 pm

I'm not surprised to see so many past and current Palo Alto leaders coming out to oppose the ff union featherbedding initiative. This featherbedding initiative would be a terrible precedent for any city to have as part of the budgeting process. The good news is that the featherbedding initiative is putting the publicity where it belongs. Now it is clear to all PA citizens that the union boss and his non resident union employees are trying to make permanent their excessive staffing and obscenely high compensation. The union initiative will be crushed at the ballot.

The next step will be to repeal the binding arbitration requirement and vote out the pro-union council members (Price & Yeh at least). Then the council should reduce ff pay by 30% (minimum), staffing by 30%, reduce retirement compensation to max $50K per year, and increase the retirement are to 62.

Like this comment
Posted by John Dusterberry
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 4, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Items like how many firemen or how many firehouses have no place in the City Charter. To make detailed decisions like this is the job of the City Council. Otherwise we will have to have a citizen vote on every item in the city budget

Like this comment
Posted by Lois
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2010 at 5:23 pm

We cannot assume that this misguided amendment to our City Charter will be defeated. I was amazed that 6,000 Palo Alto voters could be so easily duped into signing the Petition. We have to assume they may vote for this Charter amendment and fight, fight, fight.

Like this comment
Posted by cieboy
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 4, 2010 at 9:05 pm

One logic as to why the petition was signed was so that when it is handily defeated at the polls the firemen then know exactly where they stand. And yes you can close the fire station nearest my house. The logic that was explained to me was pertaining to the homes that were built way up in the hills...

Like this comment
Posted by Too many firestations
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2010 at 7:58 am

cieboy says: "The logic that was explained to me was pertaining to the homes that were built way up in the hills."

The hills area now has two fire station in PA/Stanford one at the linear accelorator and one in Foothill Park. Los Altos and Los Altos Hills also has a fire station at Foothill College. How many more fire stations in the hills do you want?

Like this comment
Posted by The Petition Drive was Pure Pressure
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2010 at 10:04 am

They got the signatures because they preyed on people outside the Safeway where it was probably hard for some people to say NO.

I suspect once many of those same folks are in the privacy of the voting booth they will say exactly that, NO NO NO NO.

And I agree witht eh earlier posts, this really doesn't have anything to do with closing a fire station. There are plenty of ways to share some of the equipment and resources and look at call volumes at some fire stations to save millions of dollars.

Don't forget they also have tons of resources from Cal Fire in the more rural areas just like other communities.

Vote it down.

Like this comment
Posted by Member
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 5, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I too hope that the petition fails. How were the firemen able to obtain over 6,000 signatures? I am glad to see the organized support to defeat the proposed ballot.

Like this comment
Posted by Jack
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 5, 2010 at 7:05 pm

So many people are so quick to say "I have no problem closing a Firehouse", until you're the person who requires their services. It's proven theory that time is of the essance. Look at a new scientific study performed at the National Institute for Standards and Technology. The study is compelling in stating that reduced Firefighter staffing will indeed affect the outcome of house fires.

Fire doubles in size every minute... For a person in Cardiac Arrest, a person's chance of survival decreases 10% for every minute without defibrilation.

So go ahead and not worry about closing a Firehouse or reducing staffing. When it's your house or loved one, I hope I'm the one that will say "I told you so"!

If it was up to me, I would close every park and library before cutting staffing for something I may have to rely on to save my family's life.

But like most hypocrits on here.... It wont happen to me!

Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 5, 2010 at 9:49 pm

If I remember correctly - and a dozen readers on this blog will correct me if I'm wrong --- once this gets on the ballot, it is against the law for a elected body i.e. our own city council or a sitting council member to advocate for or against a ballot measure - let alone one that directly affects his/her juridiction. Former council members may advocate for or against. Is this true?

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Kate - currnt council members can advocate for or against a ballot issue. The council members did with the recently failed "Business License Tax" ballot measure.

City staff is a differnt matter however.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 6, 2010 at 8:28 am

I think Jack is right. We need to hire more ff's and increase their salaries. To make sure we are all safe we probably should have a ff truck parked on every block ready to go. There have been so many fires recently in Palo Alto so we have to prepare to keep our families and neighbors safe. It is going to expensive but it will be worth every penny. And we only have to raise taxes 30%. The trick is to get rid of all those other silly services that are eating up the budget. We'll start by closing all the libraries. They are filled with books and other flammable materials so by closing them we will be safer. We'll close all the parks except Mitchell (Mitchell has an ff sleeping house on site so the ff's can watch over the park between sleeping and shopping). Oops ... just was informed that is against union rules for ff's to help out other depts. We'll have to close Mitchell also. We'll reduce PAPD by 50% (that type of safety service is not as valuable as the work done by ff's).

That ought to do it. I am starting to feel safer already.

Like this comment
Posted by Fear Monger
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 6, 2010 at 1:35 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Yes every decision is risk versus reward but we simply can't afford to continue to have more fire staff than everone else in the world.

No one is even talking about closing a fire station any way, that is a red herring. There are plenty of ways to save millions without closing a station. Move some quipment around and share more resources with surrounding cities.

None of this would even be an issue if the simply gave up some savings like all other city employees and made some true cuts in their budget like all other city departments.

They are in this boat because they think they are more impartant than everyone else and they think they can scare everyone into believing they are.

If response time was so important why don't they actually patrol the streets and be ready to respond. Thats what the police do. Response times are delayed because they are either sleeping, eating, or watching TV when the calls come in.

How about we have a few of the engines on out the street at any given time to speed up the response time.

Like this comment
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Aug 6, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Nice to see that some of the Former City Council Members are now paying attention - they gave away too much and now complain about the beneficiaries. These people should Blast themselves for making dumb decisions.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 7, 2010 at 10:56 am

Objectives and desired outcomes. It is perfectly appropriate to evalaute if any City resource, including the fire department, is staffed according to what is aligned with it Mission.

The problem with the proposal is that the union representing the firefighters are not working with City Management to determine just what the right level of staffing should be. The union is just trying to preserve jobs and benefits for existing firefighters.

For all I know, we may need more firefighters and other emergency personnel. That is not the issue. The issue is whether this item on the ballot is the right way to go about making local policy decisions that we have an elected City Council to make.

This reeks of the State proposition system that has been over the top for years, and has led to the serious financial trouble California has been facing, for all too many years.

Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 7, 2010 at 12:55 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Reddy Kilowatt
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 7, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Volunteer Fire Department = End of Gravy Train.
at least 1/3 "so called professionals" and balance volunteer.

Ready Kilowatt

Like this comment
Posted by establishment-phobe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 7, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I was pre-disposed not to support the firefighter's initiative, but after seeing the list of names of "Safe Palo Alto" supporters, I'm going to be looking at the initiative more closely and will seriously consider supporting it. I'm thinking that if these folks are so against it, there must be something good about it.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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