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.