A proposal by Palo Alto's firefighters union to freeze staffing levels in the Fire Department went up in flames Tuesday after local voters overwhelmingly defeated Measure R.
Early results showed 75 percent of the city's voters opposing Measure R, which would have required the city to hold a citywide election any time it wants to reduce staffing levels or close a fire station.
The measure was placed on the ballot by Palo Alto Firefighters Union, Local 1319, which is the midst of negotiations with the city over a new contract.
Former Palo Alto Mayor Dena Mossar, who led the campaign opposing Measure R, said she wasn't surprised by the election result. Mossar had characterized the firefighters' proposal as a power grab that would give the firefighters' union unfair powers over other labor groups.
Her campaign, which was supported by a broad coalition of former mayors and civic activists, raised more than $60,000 to fight Measure R.
"Palo Alto voters are a pretty smart lot," Mossar told the Weekly after the early results were released. "Three to one is about as good as it gets."
Firefighters claimed the measure is needed to protect residents from reckless staff cuts by the City Council. The union gathered more than 6,000 signatures to place the measure on the ballot and had loaned $35,000 toward its campaign in support of the measure.
Tony Spitaleri, the union president, couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
Mayor Pat Burt said the voters' overwhelming defeat of Measure R indicated that the community is concerned about the larger issue of employee salaries and benefits. Tuesday's election suggests that the voters approve of the council's recent efforts to reduce spending on employee compensation, Burt said.
"The vote does not surprise me," Burt said. "The sentiment I heard from the community was strong opposition to Measure R and strong support for the reforms the City Council recently made to pensions and benefits.
"Voters know we have to control costs."
The topic of staffing levels is expected to resurface in the next month or two, when the city completes a study analyzing the Fire Department's staffing levels.