News

Measure R debate: For safety or a 'power grab'?

Firefighters, former council members clash over measure to freeze staffing levels in the Fire Department

Supporters and opponents of Measure R clashed Wednesday night over whether the Palo Alto initiative would ensure adequate fire protection for local residents or give the firefighters union unfair powers over the city's budget.

Measure R, which was placed on the ballot by Palo Alto Professional Firefighters, Local 1319, would require the City Council to hold two public hearings and hold a citywide election before it could close any local fire stations or reduce staffing levels at the Fire Department.

At a debate Wednesday night, union officials claimed that the measure would empower residents to determine their level of fire protection, while former City Council members characterized the measure as a "power grab" that would protect the Fire Department from the type of cuts other departments are asked to implement.

Former council members Dena Mossar and John Barton, who formed a group "Safe Palo Alto" to fight Measure R, faced off Wednesday against Tony Spitaleri, president of the firefighters union, and Alan Davis, the union's attorney, at a debate co-sponsored by the Palo Alto Weekly and the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto.

Mossar and Barton argued throughout the debate that the firefighters' measure would diminish public safety by forcing other departments, including the Police Department, to take larger cuts.

"If we hold out one segment of the pie and say it really can't change, that means other pieces of the pie will get smaller," Barton said.

Davis rejected the pie analogy and said that the firefighters are only trying to protect existing staffing levels. He also asked the few dozen residents in attendance at the Palo Alto Art Center to imagine their local fire stations closing down. Measure R, he said, would give them the power to prevent such closures.

Spitaleri said the department has already suffered significant cuts in its command staff, which he said is now "at a very low level." The council and city officials are ignoring the firefighters' concerns about insufficient staffing, he said, and pressing the firefighters for further concessions.

Measure R, Spitaleri said, would give the citizens a greater voice in public safety.

"This is not a power grab by us," Spitaleri responded. "We are saying this is the power of citizens."

The council is in the midst of tense contract negotiations with the firefighters union, which was the only local labor group that refused to take pay cuts earlier this year to help close the city's budget deficit.

Mossar and Barton are part of a broad coalition of past and current elected officials who oppose Measure R. The City Council passed a resolution earlier this year encouraging citizens not to sign the firefighters' petition, which nevertheless received more than 6,000 signatures. The "Safe Palo Alto" campaign has raised $58,000 to fight the measure.

The group has argued that the firefighters' proposal constitutes "bad governance" by limiting the City Council's ability to pass a budget. Barton also rejected the firefighters' union's assertion that unless Palo Alto residents pass Measure R, they would not have a voice in public-safety decisions.

"The notion that you get three minutes (to speak to the City Council) and you're done simply doesn't hold water in Palo Alto," Barton said. "This is a community that likes to be involved and will be involved in every important safety issue."

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 7, 2010 at 10:49 am

Couldn't they find a citizen to support R for this panel?


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Posted by NotanElectedOfficial
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 7, 2010 at 11:02 am

The reason we elect officials is so that they will do the research and the work necessary to make a thoughtful decision about the budget (and other issues). The problem with Measure R (and many other citizens' initiatives) is that they put the responsibility of analyzing the data and evaluating the alternatives into the hands of ordinary citizens like me who are uninformed and unaware of all of the circumstances necessary to make a correct decision. I don't WANT to have to do all that work; that's why we have a representative government.

Now, one can disagree with the decisions that the City Council makes but still agree that they are the right body to make those decisions. Budget decisions cannot be made in a vacuum or on an emotional basis ("I don't want MY fire station shut down"). If it becomes necessary for the city to consider restaffing the fire department, then we, the citizens, will have the opportunity to voice our concerns at that time (both in person , in 3 minute clips, and by email and letter). We elect our City Council to make the hard decisions, so that WE don't have to.

BTW, I LOVE our firefighters and the work that they do both here and throughout the world. That's not the issue here. The issue is the budget and who should make budget decisions.


Like this comment
Posted by Against R
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2010 at 11:15 am

Power grab.


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 7, 2010 at 11:17 am

The matter of “safety” (relative to the Fire Department) is one that can be understood, more-or-less, from looking at the Palo Alto Auditor’s Service and Accomplishments report , last issued for FY.2009.

From the section on the Fire Department --

Fire Suppression

The SEA reports that for FY.2009, there were 239 “incidents”, of which only 20 were “residential structure fires”. The number of “residential structure” fires for the years 2005-2009 were: 58, 62, 68, 43, 20. During that time frame, there were 3 deaths reported under the topic of “Fire Suppression”, presumably meaning people who died in a fire associated with the approximately 1250 “incidents”, but not necessarily in “residential structure” fires.

This data reveals that the PA Fire Department has responded to 239 incidents for the 365-day year, or two “fire suppression” incidents every 3.5 days. With only 20 “residential structure” fires during the 365-day period, that comes to one every 18 days, or so. The report states that for the time frame, the percent of fires confined to the room, or area of origin, ranged from 79% to 63%.

The report does not seem to separate Palo Alto “fire suppression” activity from Stanford activity. Given the size of the campus, and the large number of buildings, it would seem appropriate to separate this data. The Auditor's Report claims that Palo Alto is billing Stanford over $7M a year for “services”, so it would seem mandatory to detail what exactly the PA Fire Department is doing for Stanford.

No one pushing Measure R seems to have provided this information to the public (which is already in the public domain), or has made any effort to explain how “lives will be lost” if Measure R is rejected by the voters. Given that less than one person is killed per year (over a five year reporting period), it’s difficult to see how many “lives are going to be lost” by reconfiguring the fire department, or even downsizing it somewhat—should the City Manager/Fire Chief see that as a reasonable thing to do.

Emergency Medical Services

The Department responded to 4,509 “Medical/rescue incidents” during the FY2009 reporting period. This is a +24% increase over FY2005. There are no details provided beyond a “callout/incident”, so how many of these callouts were to residences, to businesses, vehicle accidents, residential care homes, etc. is not revealed by this report. The increase in EMS callouts can be attributed to the increase in the number of people over 65. If the over-65 percentage were to decrease, then it stands to reason that the number of EMS callouts will decrease.

What is most interesting is that the revenue billed by the EMS Unit has increased by 46%, while the number of callouts has only increased by 24%. Clearly, this “service” has become a “revenue source”, rather than something the City does to “save lives”.

There is no data provided by the Auditor's Report to understand the number of people who die during transports by the PA EMS ambulances to the hospital(s) receiving these patients. So, there is no way to understand the impact of reconfiguring the EMS sub-department, or having this activity performed by the private sector.

--
While the Measure R people are using the “scare tactics” used by the Fire Department in the past, the Auditor’s SEA offers real data to make sense out of any claims about “safety” or “loss of lives” that have been made without anything coming close to proof.

Source:
2009 SEA:
Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by danos
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2010 at 11:28 am

The fear mongering about fire station closures really isn't valid. In reality, it's very unlikely that reducing the Fire Dept budget would require station closures.

First, the city would likely shut down the Rescue Company at the Hanover St station. (Most cities in the area don't even have a dedicated rescue, as Trucks carry rescue tools too.) That would still leave an engine in the station.

Next, they would likely eliminate the Engine at the Stanford station. That would still leave Truck 6, which is actually a "quint" with capabilities of both a ladder truck and an engine, at Stanford.

In other words, the city could shut down two companies, and still have staffing of all stations.


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Posted by JerryL
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 7, 2010 at 11:54 am

Mr. Martin, My wife's cardiac arrest was one of the 4,509 emergency incidents you cite and I am absolutely convinced that she would not be alive and without brain damage today were it not for the quick action of both the Fire Station 4 first responders and the ambulance EMS team that arrived shortly later. Her case was critical, she was in cardiac arrest and had to be revived three times before even reaching the Stanford ER. The fire station was close, well staffed, and they were superbly trained. So many things had to go right to save my wife and thank God they did. I don't want anyone else in our city to have to accept anything less and so I urge everyone to support Measure R and not leave this one decision to the whims of whatever council we may have now or in the future.


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Posted by Anciana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 7, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I am 100% with Notanelectedofficial above. We elect people to do the research and make the decisions. We should not be letting various interest groups have their own private slice of the pie, no matter how much we need and admire them, as we do our firefighters. The budget should be considered as a whole, by the people we elected to do that job.

The people of Palo Alto should not have to go through two public meetings and a very expensive election to determine ONE budget item. We have better ways of spending our money than on one-issue elections!


Like this comment
Posted by No on R
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Measure R is bad policy. We have a strong Fire Department because City Councils have made well-considered decisions that prioritized public safety in the past. Requiring elections every time the city needs to make adjustments to a departmental budget will be enormously expensive and will not result in better decisions for our community.

Closing a station is a scare tactic that Mr. Spitaleri likes to use, but it is not something that Council is currently proposing. Even last year, when Council was struggling to balance the budget, there was no proposal to close a station.

Mr. Spitaleri is a City Council Member in Sunnyvale where they have one of the lowest emergency responder staffing levels anywhere on the peninsula.

Mr. Spitaleri is a Palo Alto Firefighters Union leader who has been unwilling to make any concessions at all in contract negotiations. I agree that this is a power grab. Not all of the firefighters agree with him.

I sincerely appreciate our firefighters. They do critically important work and they deserve to be supported by our Council. I believe that Council will make decisions that prioritize safety as they have in the past because the public demands it. Measure R is very bad policy and it absolutely must be defeated.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The Council is not a trustworthy protector of public safety any more than they are competent guardians of pubic infrastructure. The needs of their egos in their race to green goals even at the risk of understaffed fire houses and the deplorable shape of the plants we entrust them with. Vote for that troop in turnouts that has saved a few lives in my house. Their beauty to duty shines. Vote yes !!!


Like this comment
Posted by EcoMama
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 7, 2010 at 1:19 pm

I'm sad that I couldn't attend the meeting because I would have liked to hear more from folks who support Measure R; the coverage here is mostly on the "against" side. What I'd like to understand is how the firefighters wanting a checks-and-balances on cuts is a "power grab" -- isn't City Council having that power the same thing? Shouldn't the public have a direct vote (not indirectly through elected officials) in our own public safety? The towns in which I grew up required this, so it's not like the firemen are asking for something weird or novel. Personally, I want to see more information and more numbers -- and a commitment from City Council not to close stations. I feel the police are already spread too thin; let's not go there with the FD too. We pay a lot of money to live in this town, so I want a direct say in the protection of my home. Frankly, I think I trust the city's workers like the police and fire folks more than I trust politicians.


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Posted by between the lines
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 7, 2010 at 1:48 pm

EM, the public already have a direct vote in who they elect. Measure R is about removing that direct vote and costing the city millions if they ever want to changing staffing levels.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 7, 2010 at 1:54 pm

> What I'd like to understand is how the firefighters wanting a
> checks-and-balances on cuts is a "power grab" -- isn't
> City Council having that power the same thing?

Ah .. in the form of government we have, our elected representatives are conveyed our "power", as voters/property owners. This is how the system works, and should be no surprise to people.

> Shouldn't the public have a direct vote (not indirectly through
> elected officials) in our own public safety?

It would be hard to find very many towns of any size where “direct democracy” can be shown to have been practiced successfully. Given the complexity of issues that face Palo Alto, the Silicon Valley, California and the US, it’s really difficult to believe that Palo Altans are going to read the budgets, dig into the various staff reports, master this information in a timely fashion to make meaningful votes to make self-government work.

Electing the best representatives is the only way this sort of government works.

> The towns in which I grew up required this, so it's not
> like the firemen are asking for something weird or novel.

Ah, yes they are. They are trying to force “jobs for life” for Fire Fighters into the Charter. They are effectively saying that they no longer work for the people of Palo Alto, but are now a "force unto their own".


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Posted by No on R
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2010 at 2:26 pm

So...let's apply the fundamental idea behind Measure R as a theoretical precedent more generally. Should the electorate have to vote on changes to the Police Department budget? or to the Transportation Dept budget? How about we put the entire 317-page Budget Adoption CMR on the ballot and ask voters to approve budget items line by line? Then try to hold your City Council accountable for the budget.

This is both expensive (elections cost a FORTUNE) and ridiculous because you can't hold Council accountable for a budget they don't have authority to control. We have a system of checks and balances. We elect Council. We do not elect the union leadership. (and THAT is who will get the power.)

While some may disagree with Council's choices, generally they make a better informed decision than voters are likely to.

Ask yourself...When was the last time you read the entire City Budget and the HUNDREDS of pages of Fire Dept. related reports? If you have never done that and you aren't interested in doing that critical work to inform your vote, you should vote NO on Measure R. If you vote Yes on Measure R, you should be willing to remove accountability for the budget from Council because you will have taken away their ability to control the budget.

Measure R is extremely bad policy. That is why most cities do not decide budgets this way.

Vote No on Measure R.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2010 at 4:43 pm

"Wayne Martin"

The statistics the City of Palo Alto gathers are questionable at best. Station 8 in 2009 had many more calls than the City says it had. Also problems with dispatch occur, Engine 8 many times was not even sent to emergencies in their area due to computer, CAD and dispatch problems.
The same thing happens in the flat lands to.
As for "structure fires" if the Engine gets there fast and contains of extinguish's the fire in a trash can, stove, pot on the stove, etc. It doesnt get listed as a "structure fire", but that detail doesnt tell you that it PROBABLY WOULD HAVE BEEN A LARGE STRUCTURE FIRE had not a quick response happened. Every single day there are fires in Palo Alto, some small some medium and some large.
Was there not enough deaths or damage that take place in your opinion to warrant current staffing levels?
What about lives SAVED because of fast respponse to fire related calls and more often ocuring, EMS calls. Lives are saved everyday due to fast emergency medical response calls by the PAFD.
If the City did not have it's own PAFD paramedics then AMR would respond into Palo Alto to transport patients. The bill would be larger to the patient or the patients insurance company. The money would not be available to be put into the general fund. The revinue AMR made in Palo Alto would not stay in Palo Alto or benefit Palo Alto. AMR is in EMS to make a profit. The PAFD generates revinue that stays in Palo Alto. In fact, instead of the money the PAFD collects for ambulance transport being used to offset program costs or improve service the City Of Palo Alto just puts the money in the general fund. The PAFD generates revinue in an amount more than any other FD I can think of.
The cost of the PAFD is actualy cheaper if you consider the money it takes in, that small detail if the City published it would tell anyone who looks at the numbers that the people of Palo Alto get fire and EMS service cheaper than anyone else in the area if not the Country.
The City has not once published anything telling the residents which programs and departments have grown or reduced the last 30-40 years.
Some departments have seen huge increases, ie City Managers office, City attorney's office. If the people actualy saw how some departments have grown they might start asking the tough questions.
The fact is that the City of Palo Alto cant even respond to the calls they get now, they often rely on the MPFD, MVFD, SCCFD, to respond (if they are even available) into Palo Alto. Because the PAFD units are already on incidents. Mutual Aid is not a replacement for proper staffing and Units, its supposed to help other other agencies, not be a replacement for a needed service.


Like this comment
Posted by danos
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2010 at 5:17 pm

"The fact is that the City of Palo Alto cant even respond to the calls they get now, they often rely on the MPFD, MVFD, SCCFD, to respond (if they are even available) into Palo Alto."

- Come on. How can Palo Alto, with 30 firefighters on duty, not handle all of its calls, but larger cities like Mountain View (20 firefighters on duty) somehow manage to deal? Is Palo Alto some sort of arson zone?

We could have 100 firefighters on duty per shift and you would still claim the PAFD is overwhelmed...


Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 7, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Maybe they can't respond because they are sleeping, or shopping, or bbq'ing. How ridiculous that with 30 firesleepers getting paid and one fire maybe every other day they can't respond.

PA should either outsource to an efficient non union organization or lay off the entire dept and start over with folks who have a work at least some work ethic.


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 7, 2010 at 5:59 pm


> The statistics the City of Palo Alto gathers are questionable
> at best. Station 8 in 2009 had many more calls than the City says
> it had.
> Also problems with dispatch occur, Engine 8 many times was not even
> sent to emergencies in their area due to computer, CAD and
> dispatch problems.
> The same thing happens in the flat lands to.

That’s nice to know—but is there anyone of the City Managers (or City Auditor) that has been informed of this information? And what are the real numbers? And how is it that you are telling me, but not the Managers of the Fire Department?

Telling me on an anonymous blog is not the same thing as telling the Fire Chief and the City Manager in a way that is documented, and leads to the correction of these problems.

(In full disclosure, many years ago I was a line officer in the Army. I spent some time as a company commander—who spent most of that time inspecting/documenting/correcting problems in my company, and my battalion. The Army uses a very fixed approach to defining the serviceability of its units—all of which involves check sheets, inspections, reports, inspections, reports, inspections, reports .. until the cows come home. In those cases where failures are not corrected—generally the unit commander loses his/her job. This is particularly true in the Navy, where a ship’s captain is responsible for “the boat”, and if it is not serviceable, he/she will doubtless lose his/her command. I suspect that very few of these military techniques are used by the PA FD).

> As for "structure fires" if the Engine gets there fast and
> contains of extinguish's the fire in a trash can, stove, pot
> on the stove, etc. It doesnt get listed as a "structure fire",
> but that detail doesnt tell you that it PROBABLY WOULD HAVE BEEN
> A LARGE STRUCTURE FIRE had not a quick response happened. Every
> single day there are fires in Palo Alto, some small
> some medium and some large.

The purpose of “reports” is to report WHAT HAPPENED .. not WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED on some of timeline. If we accept your logic, a trash can fire could burn down the whole town, which will put an end to all other fires--since there will be nothing left to burn.

> What about lives SAVED because of fast respponse to fire related
> calls and more often ocuring, EMS calls. Lives are saved everyday
> due to fast emergency medical response calls by the PAFD.

This is almost unknowable, without detailed analysis of each call. In my opinion, these kinds of questions represent the kinds of “scare tactics” that are being used to push Measure R. I requested (via a Public Information Request) the number of people who died at callout locations before the EMS began a transport, or during the transport to the receiving care facility. The PA Fire Chief had failed to respond to this Information Request. Other requests for information have been delayed because of concern for “patient privacy”. So, with all due respect, this is simply not a number that anyone can know without some significant changes in the system.

> If the City did not have it's own PAFD paramedics then AMR
> would respond into Palo Alto to transport patients.

This statement assumes no other ambulance companies will appear to provide these services. Let's not be so quick to dismiss "competition".

> The bill would be larger to the patient or the patients insurance
> company.

If you say so .. but the cost of PA EMS is ungodly high, so how much higher can the private sector be. Perhaps you can provide some data to buttress your claim?

> The money would not be available to be put into the general fund.

And I thought we were saving lives here. That money in the GF wouldn’t be used to pay higher salaries and benefits for EMS employees, would it?

> The revinue AMR made in Palo Alto would not stay in Palo Alto
> or benefit Palo Alto.

Hmm .. so much for why we have an EMS under the City Services Umbrella.

> The cost of the PAFD is actualy cheaper if you consider the
> money it takes in, that small detail if the City published it
> would tell anyone who looks at the numbers that the people of
> Palo Alto get fire and EMS service cheaper than
> anyone else in the area if not the Country.

The true cost of the Fire Department is unknown, under the current accounting system. All of the capital costs, such as: rolling stock, fire stations, fire hydrants, maintenance, etc. are not to be found in the published budget of the PA FD. The same is probably true for other cities. By-in-large, this lack of visibility of government costs is appalling. The problem is not the FD’s, but any claims about the PA FD’s being cheaper than any fire department in the country is totally without merit.

> The City has not once published anything telling the residents which
> programs and departments have grown or reduced the last 30-40 years.

The yearly published budget provide this information, when the desired information is extracted and placed into spreadsheets. These budgets can be found in the Library’s on-demand storage area.

> The fact is that the City of Palo Alto cant even respond to the
> calls they get now,
> they often rely on the MPFD, MVFD, SCCFD, to respond (if they are
> even available)
> into Palo Alto. Because the PAFD units are already on incidents.
> Mutual Aid is not a replacement for proper staffing and Units,
> its supposed to help other other agencies,
> not be a replacement for a needed service.

An interesting point. The Auditor’s Report on the Fire Department does not track Mutual Aid calls. However, the view that all of the region’s fire departments need to think about merging/reconfiguring is reinforced by the current use of Mutual Aid. Having a fire response resource sitting idle in PA (or MV) when one of the two cities has a need makes no sense. Mutual Aid should be seen as a very effective cost control, as long as it is not abused by any of the parties in the Agreement.


> Was there not enough deaths or damage that take place in
> your opinion to warrant current staffing levels?

Actually, I have asked the FD to publish a yearly performance report so that all of the low-level details of the Departments's activities can be reviewed. It's unlikely that the PA FD will ever do this until we elect a slightly more "in charge" City Council--that demands these reports from every department. The Auditor's report does not provide enough information to make intelligent decisions about the Department.

I don't know enough about the deaths to comment any farther. I take the position that we (as a city) need to look at requiring retrofitting sprinklers and online fire detectors into all residences and businesses, to reduce the impact of fires at the point-of-origin. This would provide the reduction of fire damage to justify downsizing the department.


Like this comment
Posted by Don
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 7, 2010 at 9:33 pm

I note that Jake is from another community but still feels qualified to make unsubstantiated claims about the way Palo Alto is or should be run. Mr. Martin addressed Jake's, and other's, points in a reasonable manner which is refreshing considering how much ranting is often done on a blog.

Thank you Mr. Martin for pointing out how a resident can get information on what is and isn't available to make sound decisions.

Mr. Wallis thinks the council is not trustworthy to make public safety decisions. Would uninformed citizens be any better equipped to make such decisions as NotanElectedOfficial and No On R point out? Of course not.

He also notes that the fire dept. saved "a few lives in my house". Quite a feat when they apparently save less than one a year. Your house must be quite crowded have many of the reported fire incidents per year.

Measure R is a most deplorable effort to take decision making from an elected council and give it to an uninformed electorate.



Like this comment
Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2010 at 9:51 pm

If as Mr Martin points out all this information was not available to him, then the electorate does not even have the option of making an informed decision, even if they try to do the leg work. It only makes sense then to live the decision with the council.


Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2010 at 11:21 pm

To Wayne Martin… thanks for the refreshing voice of sanity in Palo Alto.

In my opinion, the firefighters have moved from community heroes to community parasites.


Like this comment
Posted by Oldbasse
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Measure R is an issue that is simple to decide for any reasonable and well-informed Palo Alto voter, who believes in the basic principles of popular democracy and social fairness.

The proponents of Measure R seem to me to be anarchists, perhaps even terrorists, in their claim to superiority of service to, and special status in, the community.

Factually, firefighters are nothing else but ordinary working "stiffs" -- like street sweepers, corporate executives, religious preachers, health care workers and so on and on. Each particular profession has its own up- and downsides, but seeks to promote its "invaluable" contributions to the health, safety and general happiness of the particular community it "serves." Generally, however, every individual and every group is pursuing her/his/its own interests. That is "the American Way."


Firefighters have chosen their career for whatever reason(s) each individual has. My guess is that common career attractions are a combination of: Relatively low skills requirements, extremely good pay, fantastic and lifelong retirement benefits (available at an incredibly young age), as well as an easy and rather low-risk job. Add to all those benefits, the ability to have a second job while you perform your duties as a firefighter -- and, simultaneously, pursue that other, post-firefighter-retirement career, risk-free.

Proclaiming "safety issues," the firefighters' union's spokespersons now have the temerity to demand insulation for their wards from the normal dynamics in a capitalistic society of an unfavorable economic environment. These "union leaders" propose anarchy on our democratic processes and further economic favoritism of their union members and, of course, themselves.

"Throw the bums out."

Oldbasse (Oct 7, 10)


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Posted by those who live by the sword
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 8, 2010 at 7:13 am

Be careful what you wish for, the hordes may not be sympathetic...
Web Link
"Attorneys for the two labor unions that sued the city June 22 contend the ballot measure is unconstitutional because elected bodies must decide public employees' compensation, not voters."


Like this comment
Posted by Lois
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2010 at 8:23 am

Definitely a power grab, or a grab on the city's budget. Vote "NO" on R.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2010 at 9:07 am

Measure R is bad for the obvious reason -- insulating firefighters from the budget discipline that everyone else has to go through -- but also, because it ties the city council's hands for years to come and prevents the council from doing the job it was elected to do. California's yearly budget stalemate is a direct result of all the "citizen" petitions put on the ballot over the years. Let's not do the same to Palo Alto. I plan to vote against *every* such initiative, even if it is for a cause I support. Let the city council make the budget decisions.


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Posted by those who live by the sword
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 8, 2010 at 9:50 am

"citizen" petitions"
This isn't a citizen petition. It's a *union* petition. Which makes it wrong to be on the ballot at so many levels.


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Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2010 at 9:52 am

Almost 8,000 emergency calls a year in Palo Alto that the PAFD responds to, and don't forget the MVFD, MPFD, SCCFD had to respond because the PAFD was already on other calls? and before the so called experts can accuse the PAFD of not responding due to "BBQing, sleeping, shopping,etc" THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN, IT DOESNT WORK THAT WAY. Your accusations are not based on fact and you only show your disrespect to emergency workers when you accuse them of letting a sick person suffer or property damage occur so they can supposedly BBQ or sleep!
Many people posting here have no idea what emergency workers do, they form their opinions by watching movies, tv or by a 5 min oberservation.
I'm guessing everyone who has a job spends every second at work doing exactly what their title implies they do. Never eat, take a break, make a personal phone call, check email, etc etc etc.
The PAFD is responding to more and more emergency calls every year! and that trend continues! more calls every year (often times other FD's have to handle because the PAFD is busy on a call) They downsized the PAFD in the 1970's and have continued to get smaller through the years.
Are all the calls life threatening? of course not. But the PAFD is not the one calling 911, the people in Palo Alto are. It's easy after the call is over to Monday morning QB the response of the PAFD. But the PAFD was not the one on the phone saying my house is "full of smoke", so the PAFD gets there fast with enough people and resources to handle a house fire. Only to find out that it was just the fireplace with a damper shut (resident sometimes never mention's that small detail) or my "baby is not breathing" when they actualy never stopped breathing but when dispatch took the 911 call by the panic stricken parent or nanny they responded quickly by being semi near the address to provide care if needed. The human body will not live after a short time without oxygen. Don't take my word for it, look it up. Min and Sec do matter! does not matter if it's a fire, medical call, gas leak, auto accident, etc.
Many of the posters here have already made up your mind, long before they studied the matter with any degree objectivity. If you really want your elected NINE MEMBER City Council to make your choices for you regarding Palo Alto and your health and property than why not just forward them your ballot from now on so they can complete it for you. Have them decide your home insurance policy, and have them decide what medical measure should be done in a emergency.
Because that is exactly what you are doing by letting them do whatever they want to without ANY RESIDENT IMPUT OR REVIEW before they eliminate Units or Firehalls. Units need workers and workers staff units in firehouses. Don't think it matters? insurance companies often look at distances to firehouses, hydrants, etc when writing policies. Cities are also studied by the insurance industry in regard to the level of emergency services they provide. That ISO rating has long reaching effects for Cities and companies that operate in Cities.


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Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2010 at 9:59 am

"Don" your comment apparentaly save less than one life a year"? what exactly does not mean?
The loss of life statistics count deaths by fire, they don't keep statistics on life NOT LOST. They also don't track deaths from medical calls, people who die at the scene, on the way to the hospital or at the hospital.


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Posted by those who live by the sword,
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 8, 2010 at 10:05 am

"Many people posting here have no idea what emergency workers do, they form their opinions by watching movies, tv or by a 5 min oberservation."
And you then expect them to vote on staffing levels? At least be consistent with your arguments.


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Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2010 at 10:49 am

"sword"
I said "many", not all for starters. I also believe that most of the residents of Palo Alto don't post or read this board. They also in most cases are quite capable of making informed decisions if given the factual information to do so. Which so far the City of Palo Alto has not done. Does anyone really think the City Mangers Office is going to show how much they really cost or how much they have grown?
The City Council wants to make reductions in the level of service, they don't say thay now before this election issue. They don't even have the real statistics because they killed the study the City wanted and paid for.
The City Council was invited more than once to participate in demonstrations involving emergency response so they could see first hand what takes place and what equipment responds, who does what and they types of tasks needed to be accomplished. They refused to attend. Does not sound like they wanted any idea at all what the emergency workers do?
Maybe they want to be ill-informed on the subject so they can claim ignorance later? i don't know.
I do know that many a night the firehall in downtown PA is empty, nobody there and the fire engine is not staffed. That is because they cross staff the most active Engine in the PAFD with a half day ambulance. That unit could be at El Camino Hospital, Kaiser Santa Clara, etc.
The City Council and the City Manager know about it and actualy put that "trial" program into effect over 20 years ago. Who in their right mind would leave the most populated and built up area of their City with the least protection? makes ZERO sense and is leaving people and property un-protected. Most Cities don't operate in such a foolish way.
Most people would have the downtown populated areas of their City protected, especialy the area that has the most emergency calls. But the City Council and City Manager are the Great Oz it seems, nobody should even question the Great Oz.


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Posted by danos
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2010 at 11:15 am

Jake (east coast slang for 'fireman'),

Why don't you and the union brothers just admit that this has nothing to do with public safety, and is solely about guaranteeing firefighters lifetime employment with incredibly generous pay and pensions?

As you know, San Jose recently laid off 75 firefighters because the fire union refused to accept pay cuts. Clearly the firefighters were more concerned about their pay packages than about 'public safety', otherwise they would have taken the cuts.

Just come clean on what this initiative is really about.


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Posted by those that live by the sword
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Jake, there's never been an issue with the downtown area. Two recently reported major fires on University Avenue (one to an apartment building) were well attended with fast response times. You can even review the response calls on-line.
Sounds like the downtown staffing level is working fine.
Your argument is to increase the downtown staffing level is...what?


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Posted by What a life
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2010 at 10:13 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 9:02 am

"those who live by the sword" writes:

""citizen" petitions""

"This isn't a citizen petition. It's a *union* petition. Which makes it wrong to be on the ballot at so many levels."

Hey, unions have just as much right to free speech as Standard Oil or Bank of America. They have as much right to participate politically as any Monopoly Megacorp, Inc.

As it happens, measure R is extremely misguided, and I plan to vote against it. It was extremely stupid of the union to push for this. But, they are legally entitled to try. We voters would just be stupid to vote yes, that's all.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 9:12 am

Jake writes:

"Many people posting here have no idea what emergency workers do, they form their opinions by watching movies, tv or by a 5 min oberservation."

For some reason, "emergency workers" and "public safety workers" tend to be used in this conversations. We aren't talking about policemen. It is difficult and expensive to hire good policemen. In some locales, even in a recession, when a lot of police have been laid off. Not everyone wants to be a policeman, and, a lot of people who do want to, mix up a Taser with service revolver when they get overly excited.

Firefighters are a different story. Every time a few job openings are announced, people line up around the block. Yes, being a firefighter requires more training now than in the past, when all you had to do was hold a hose. But, judging by how easy it is to find firefighters and how hard it is to get a job as a firefighter, apparently the market thinks that firefighters are getting overly compensated in pay and benefits.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2010 at 11:46 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Fire fighters are in constant radio contact with dispatch and more than once I have seen them bounce out of Safeway to answer a call. If you want to hire enough extra firefighters to cover during a non working lunch or dinner period, run the numbers.
We are not setting salaries by vote, we are setting staffing. We DO NOT TRUST the Council with safety issues. Like the kid sent to the store with permission to spend the change for candy, our Council hits the candy counter first and comes short on the meat and potatoes.


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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2010 at 11:46 am

Re: Increase in costs of other City departments:

Examine the cost of the Information Technology Department before and after the purchase of SAP. Don't forget to include support people who are paid by other departments in order to hide the true cost of SAP.


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Walter,

You trust the firefighters union to set staffing levels? I think they have an obvious conflict of interest here.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2010 at 4:10 pm

So, if the Firefighters win this one, the Police Union will have the same measure on next year’s ballot, then the SEIU, then the management organization and soon voters will be responsible for determining how many people work at City Hall. Don’t think the numbers would go down!

In 2009, there were 121 FTEs in the Fire Department plus 21 hourly. Average FTE salary was $98,909. With overtime and cashouts, that average increased to $119,982. 63 FTEs earned over $100K base pay. Total salary $15,106,433


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 9, 2010 at 4:38 pm

I think Spitaleri and the union realize they made a major stratgegic mistake by taking this issue public. It has become clear to most citizens that the ff's are way over compensated and underworked. I am sure R will be crushed at the polls. But I hope it doesn't stop there. The city council should:
1.) begin the process of repealing binding arbitration
2.) reduce ff salaries by at least 50%
3.) reduce staffing by about 50%
4.) begin planning for a future fire department that is efficient and cost effective. That probably means outsourcing the operation.

At one time I respected ff's as decent fokks who had a fun job with a lot of perks. Now I look at them as parasites and can't wait till we no longer have to put up wuth their selfishness and self-centered whining.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Taxpayer, go volunteer like 70% of the US goes, double your insurance and triple your prayers. How does a 34 minute run to Skyline fit if your kid is in the wreck up there? AS Ayn Randy as I am, I would like to see the specifications of the RFP for protection equal to what we get today on a good day.


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 8:26 pm

walter,

PAFD does not respond to wrecks on skyline. What are you talking about?


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Posted by I support walter
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 9, 2010 at 9:28 pm

But if we have a say in staffing they could respond to wrecks on skyline.


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 9:53 pm

we dont have a say increasing staffing.
given most of the calls are mdical and not fire, perhaps we need more paramedics


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Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2010 at 12:46 am

"taxpayer"
You keep saying the same thing over and over and over,
Reduce staffing by 50%
Cut salaries by 50%
Outsourcing
blah blah blah
I have a suggestion, start a grass roots effort. Put your own money and time into your expert and obvious solutions. It sounds like a no brainer for sure.
I can't imagine why nobody who actualy deals with emergency services protection levels of service has never come to your conclusions.
They must not have the same in-depth detailed data you have, otherwise all of the budget issues for Cities across the Nation would be solved.
I guess the depts that already make the "national average" in wages in Cities that also are having budget problems must have some other "parasite" to blame.
How you came to any of your conclusions is clearly groundbreaking thought for any modern day urban planner. Are you going to donate your Nobel winnings to charity? or fund your "parasite" reduction think tank?


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 10, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Jake, I appreciate your frustration. I would be frustrated also if I was a member of a group that was overpaid and underworked, but made the mistake of being too greedy and trying to soak the taxpayers for more. Your measure R is going to be defeated by at least a 5-1 margin.


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Posted by Other Taxpayer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 10, 2010 at 8:47 pm

To taxpayer,

Hope you never have to use 911. I did and the fire dept save my wife's life.
To call them parasites shows how immature you really are. Or maybe you wanted to be a firefighter...but now you just sit at your computer and throw insults.


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 10, 2010 at 10:32 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Socrates
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 11, 2010 at 8:48 am

If there is a fire, which would you call first? a.) a politician or b.) a firefighter?


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2010 at 9:15 am

I would like to see the city council members asked the following question:

Prioritize which will be cut first:

a) Fire fighters
b) Police
c) "Green" positions (e.g. Assistant to city manager for sustainability, zero waste coordinator, etc.)
d) Children's Theater ($1 million dollar subsidy)
e) Library Consolidation (new library being built is going to cost an additional $1 million to operate)


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Posted by Old Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 11, 2010 at 9:25 am

I am strongly opposed to measure R.
Given that most of the calls to the "fire department" are for medical assistance, perhaps the basic hiring qualifications should include not only fire fighting skills, but paramedic training, as well.
Let's not pay extra for something that is fundamental to the department, as it is constituted today.


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Posted by get real
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 11, 2010 at 9:52 am

Arguments for Measure R are:
- Hope you never have to use 911.
- If there is a fire, which would you call first? a.) a politician or b.) a firefighter?

Get real! This is a measure proposed by the union for the union. Measure R cannot stand on its own. It has no merit.
The union can only use non-sequiturs to try to finesse it through!


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2010 at 11:36 am

Has anyone seen an analysis of the real need?
All that is done is comparisons. The justifications I have seen have been "we need more firefighters than we had more before", Did we know then what the right number was then?
or
"We need more equipment of personel because another fire district has more". How do we know they are right and we are wrong?


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2010 at 1:48 pm

It's possible measure R could have two consequences. We could prevent cost savings by the City Council at the expense of our safety. This is a City Council that continues to approve large developments knowing that the state faces water shortages Web Link . The City Council would finally have to complete the list of money saving recommendations by our previous City Auditor instead of saving money in order to empty land for new housing. Also, we want to keep salary and benefits for people who risk their lives and health (back injuries and respiratory illness are common) at a level that will allow fireman to save for a rainy day (if they are killed or disabled and are married with children (or not).


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Posted by SOcrates
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 11, 2010 at 1:50 pm

When a fire breaks out and you call a politician, this is what you'll hear:

"I am concerned about this issue and am glad that you contacted me. We will study this matter thoroughly."

If you call a firefighter, this is what you'll get:

"We're on our way!"

The choice is your, Palo Alto.


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Posted by Ehayes
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 11, 2010 at 3:17 pm

You do realize each citizen pays about $12 per month for a group of 115 people that are professionally trained to save life and property within 5 minutes notice. That is a steal if you ask me. I'd give up 3 Lattes a month for that


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Posted by Ehayes
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 11, 2010 at 3:34 pm

New hires often have thousands of hours of paramedic training prior to employment. Paramedicine is a subspecialty of emergency medicine. They are highly trained.


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Posted by benefits
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Heck, that's a bargain! I'd happily double their salaries since it would only cost me $24 a month.
Why, let's get another parcel tax to cover all their pensions & medical since that's not covered in the $24 a month. Another $1000 parcel tax should work and stop the city going bankrupt, at least for the next 5 years. We can keep these dedicated professionals happy who are only interested in looking after you.


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Ehayes,

I dont drink lattes, if measure R is not passed, there is nothing that says we are laying off the next day. This is about who is the best to decide staff reduction levels.

So answer this? Why 2/3s, why not majority? Why only staff reductions, why not staff increases? Why are we not allowed to determine compensation? Since the electorate is more qualified, it seems to me the firefighter's union would want all these important decisions in the hands of the voters as well.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Ehayes writes:

"You do realize each citizen pays about $12 per month for a group of 115 people that are professionally trained to save life and property within 5 minutes notice. That is a steal if you ask me. I'd give up 3 Lattes a month for that"

I don't know what the origins of this number are. In any case, the real issue is what happens in a few years given the projected cost of pensions and *health care benefits*.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2010 at 9:16 pm

> “You do realize each citizen pays about $12 per month for a group of 115 people that are professionally trained to save life and property…”

FT firefighters pay was $14,517,810 in 2009. Population of Palo Alto is 63,367 as of the latest figures I could find. So that’s about $19/month.

BUT -- this does not include the FFs who retired at 50 or 55 and whose pensions and lifetime health benefits (for them and their families) we will be paying for many years.

How about answering the questions posed here, e.g.,

- The justifications I have seen have been "we need more firefighters than we had more before", Did we know then what the right number was then?

- "We need more equipment of personel because another fire district has more". How do we know they are right and we are wrong?

- Why 2/3s, why not majority? Why only staff reductions, why not staff increases? Why are we not allowed to determine compensation? Since the electorate is more qualified, it seems to me the firefighter's union would want all these important decisions in the hands of the voters as well.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 11, 2010 at 9:45 pm

It has been public domain for years (1976) when Stanford and SLAC merged with our City and began paying the city for its services. Therefore the budget is subsidized (49%) by Stanford, SLAC, Ambulance transport Revenue and building fees etc, take a look at the auditor report.
24 Million dollar budget, 13 Million Net Budget, 65,000-75,000 people depending on who you ask is about $12 per person.
What should staffing levels be? The City has hired a company to find that out. They are doing a Study as we speak. The trouble is, this has been tried before and the companies the city hired were recommending to add units so they fired the Company. An EMS study is being done also. Look forward to the results around this month. That should decide staffing and equipment needs.
I don't know about determining compensation.....I do know my son also makes about $100,000 a year a few years out of college. That qualifies him for a $330,000 loan. That does not buy much in the bay area these days. I don't know what is fair. I'd hope they could raise a family comfortably. I think they deduct about 10% of pay per check for their retirement. And the budget definitely includes ALL benefits.


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2010 at 10:14 pm

"and the companies the city hired were recommending to add units so they fired the Company"

I think the city killed a study by Joe Parrot when it was found he was not independent and had never reccommended a reduction in staff, but he did not present a completed study. So who did the city fire that reccommended units be added? You implied there were at least two such incidents?


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Cost of retirement benefits:

From 2011 city budget at Web Link

The Retiree Health Benefit Fund manages the payments associated with and reserves dedicated to medical benefits granted to retired employees of the City. In Fiscal Year 2011, retiree health benefit expense is estimated to be $9.8 million.

For 2011, the annual required contribution to cover the cost of retiree medical premiums for current and future retirees was included in the proposed budgets for both the General Fund and the Enterprise Funds. This contribution includes an amortization payment of the un-funded medical premium liabilities in an amount of approximately $6 million in addition to the current cost of medical benefit payments of approximately $3.8 million.


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Posted by stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 12, 2010 at 7:35 pm

It would be helpful if "Jake" would own up (or not) to being a PA firefighter.


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Posted by danos
a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2010 at 8:26 pm

"Jake" is East Coast slang for "firefighter".

It's pretty much a given that "Jake" is indeed a card-carrying PAFD union member.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2010 at 5:06 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Pat et al, I DO NOT TRUST the council to decide in favor of health and safety based on their past record. They drift afield.


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2010 at 8:01 am

walter,

Now why is this soultion, the answer?
Where has anyone demostrated that the current number is equal to or lower than the "right" number? Not even the fire department has produced that and they apparently tried for years unsuccessfully.


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Posted by I support walter
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 14, 2010 at 9:04 am

"By so", don't you realize that we could do a much better job of running the city than the council? Just look at the taxes. If we had direct input into how much tax we want to pay, everyone's lives would be a lot better. You really trust the council with your money with its track record?


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2010 at 9:55 am

"don't you realize that we could do a much better job of running the city than the council?"

True democracy does not scale. Thats why we vote in representatives, so things get done. If the wrong things are getting done elect different representatives. If we cant succeed in voting in the represention we need, we arent going to succeed at deciding who to hire for dog catcher.

"You really trust the council with your money with its track record?"

And the voters track record is pristine? ;-)

If you think someone has the answers, encourage him/her to run for council. Its the way the system works and should work, if the majority or voters agree that person will get elected and make sure no stations get closed or reopen any that the current council abandons.


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Posted by I support walter
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 14, 2010 at 10:02 am

"True democracy does not scale."

Government by the people!


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2010 at 10:38 am

Not clear that quoting Lincoln's description of a representative form of goverentment applies in a discussion or measure R. But hey, have fun.


Like this comment
Posted by I support walter,
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 14, 2010 at 2:36 pm

When you no longer trust the "representative" government...


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2010 at 10:31 pm

"If we had direct input into how much tax we want to pay, everyone's lives would be a lot better"

Do you realize that R does not give you control over what you spend, it just insures you continue spending and if the council wants to spend even more, they can.


Like this comment
Posted by I support walter,
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 15, 2010 at 9:54 am

The spending problem, read "pension & benefits" was caused by the council NOT the unions.
You haven't provided an alternative.


Like this comment
Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2010 at 12:19 pm

THis is about passing R or not passing R.
There are no other alternatives to consider.

Passing R does not allow the voters to decide pensions and benefits.


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Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 15, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Maybe we should have a referendum on rejecting any PAFD union contracts period, and begin to impose phased pay cuts to get salaries in line with similar positions in the area and around the country. We all feel our job is important, but most of us are remunerated by the law of supply and demand. I get paid what I do to be an engineer (less than a FF) because some other engineer would take my job if I demanded more. I'm sure, in this economy, there would be a line around the block for any vacated FF positions in PA paying substantially less than $105k + $15k overtime + $60k benefits.


Like this comment
Posted by I support walter,
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 15, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Of course there are. Measure R is a symptom not the cause.


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

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