Palo Alto, other cities explore merging services

City managers of Mountain View, Los Altos and Sunnyvale also want to study consolidating public safety communication, fire prevention and other services

Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and Sunnyvale city managers are considering merging their emergency-dispatch centers, record-management facilities and fire-prevention services to save money during lean times.

But possible consolidations are of specific services, not a wholesale merger of fire, police or other departments.

The Palo Alto City Council Tuesday night will consider a resolution instructing City Manager James Keene to explore sharing equipment and emergency services with Palo Alto's Peninsula neighbors. The other three cities are expected to consider similar resolutions, Keene said Wednesday in an interview with the Weekly.

The push toward consolidation of some services gathered steam last year as Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos all began to upgrade their respective dispatch systems, Keene said. He said the city managers agreed to purchase the same communication systems, use the same kind of software and broadcast on the same megahertz cycle.

Once the upgrades are completed, a communication center from each city will have the ability to coordinate dispatch across city lines. Keene said the effort could also reduce overtime costs by enabling cities to help each other cope with particularly busy periods.

"We'll have the opportunity to potentially back each other up," Keene said. "We're all on the same system, even if not on the same space."

Then the city managers decided to take it one step further. Keene said he began to have regular conversations with Kevin Duggan and Doug Schmitz, the city managers of Mountain View and Los Altos, respectively. Sunnyvale City Manager Gary Luebbers later joined the discussions.

"Once we had that, what I thought and what the other city managers thought was that in these times we've got to be exploring any opportunities we have for shared services," Keene said. "Should we take it to the next level and at least potentially start to look at bricks-and-mortar consolidation?"

Talk of merged emergency operations isn't new to Palo Alto. In the last two years, as the city's tax revenues plunged, Keene and the council have occasionally talked about regionalization as a possible way to cut costs.

The proposed resolution, Keene said, is a way to "publicly announce" that consolidation of services is an option that is now being seriously explored.

The resolution states that each of the four cities currently has its own public safety communications center and that the cities "wish to further explore the possibility and feasibility" of consolidating these centers.

The resolution also states that the city managers had also discussed consolidating centralized records management, evidence facilities, office or field equipment, emergency planning, arson investigation and fire prevention. The council resolution would endorse this exploration of coordination opportunities.

The resolution also directs Keene to include in next year's budget funds for an "independent study of a joint public safety communications center."

Keene's report also notes that the cities already cooperate on a variety of services, including SWAT teams, solid-waste facilities and animal services. Keene said the managers' decision to pursue more consolidation came "partly because we're in the same geographical area and partly because we have experience sharing different services."

He also emphasized that the proposed resolution is not binding.

"We just wanted to start the conversation," Keene said.

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Like this comment
Posted by High-Time
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2011 at 10:35 am

Well .. it's high time that this sort of resource utilization be considered .. let's hope that all of the city governments concerned will be looking at this opportunity as more than a "photo op".

The Weekly should add "like" buttons to these postings .. it might be easier to hit a button that have to write a bunch of stuff most people don't want to read anyway.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2011 at 11:43 am

1. Eliminate fluff -- no new fountains or beautification projects, ax the children's theatre, etc.

2. Attack the high commercial vacancy rates -- Attract new commercial users to the downtown areas with favorable incentives.

3. Stick to the Basics. Hold Police/Fire steady. The city's JOB is to provide health and safety for its citizens.

Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 1:45 pm

"'s high time that this sort of resource utilization be considered."


I agree in full; this is absolutely, positively fantastic news.

In particular, the PA Fire Department is in great need of rationalization. The benefits of consolidating fire services with another local jurisdiction are likely significant and substantial. Quite a few other municipalities have gone this route with very positive results.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Can't understand why it has taken so long to do this. Duplication of service admin must be costing all the local cities a great deal of money. The more consolidation the better.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 13, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Excellent, reasonable idea. But what will the unions say?

Like this comment
Posted by Good lord!
a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Please don't bring Palo Alto's dysfunction to healthy communities- Isolate it. Isolate it. SOS - Isolate it!!!

Or how about Palo Alto merging with Bell, California? Now that's the ticket!

Like this comment
Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm


WHY would three relatively well-run cities EVER consider this? Palo Alto will be an albatross in this arrangement!

Like this comment
Posted by homegirl
a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2011 at 4:54 pm

I think Palo Alto is the ONLY City of the 3 "exploring" this...

Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Jan 13, 2011 at 7:07 pm

who would want palo alto on their team? city manager keene continues to promote his incompetence in running a funtional city government with absurd ramblings to hire more consultant studies to mask his inability as a manager. how much more money do his berkeley consultant buddies intend on soaking local taxpayers?

Like this comment
Posted by buifty
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 14, 2011 at 1:36 am

Keene is not a leader, but then, he was hired mostly by a bunch of followers - with one or two exceptions.

Like this comment
Posted by Good idea
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 14, 2011 at 11:18 am

I'm glad to hear that staff is exploring these possibilities with neighboring cities.

The incivility of responses on this site saddens me...personal attacks, rudeness, misinformation. We can do better...that goes for the writers from other communities, as well. There is no excuse for adults to behave this way.

If you disagree, find a way to address the issues more thoughtfully and productively. If you just want to complain and aren't going to help find a solution, please get out of the way.

Like this comment
Posted by Good lord!
a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2011 at 11:42 am

Do you read your own community news? We do! What has come out of Palo Alto for the past 5 years is shocking - please keep that to yourselves! The mentality is like the result of inbreeding.

This is not an attack - it's just the truth. So isolate yourselves, please! Don't contaminate other communities.

Eric is correct, Palo Alto will be an albatross to another healthy community. Thoughts of a merger makes me shiver, from fright!

Like this comment
Posted by barron park
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm

This is a horrible idea. Palo Alto's level of service for police, fire, ems, public works, animal services and utilities is so superior than any other city. All of these services can be obtained by one phone call in Palo Alto. It would be interesting to see how Palo Alto residents would like the level of service diminished while a dispatcher is talking to a resident of Sunnyvale.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 14, 2011 at 6:21 pm

"Good idea" - I agree with you and suggest we ignore the negative posters. Some folks have a hard time with their jealousy and realize they will never be able to live in Palo Alto. The fact that Palo Alta has amazing city services, parks, schools etc frustrates these folks. Now that our high schools have produced two state athletic championships in one season, their jealousy is out of control. We need to let them deal with their petty frustrations on their own and hope they eventally grow up.

The cities should absolutely collaborate and merge safety services. The fire unions will scream but the recent Palo Alto defeat of the union feather bedding initiative made it clear that the taxpayers are tired of the ridiculous over staffing. Each city does not need 30+ employees sleeping away every night in the event that a once in every 30 year emergency occurs. Eventually all the regional cities should work together to develop an efficient safety delivery system. The savings to each city on just efficiency will be a 50% cost reduction. Then we can work on bringing the inflated salaries in line with job demand and national safety wage averages. That should get the cost down to about 40% of the current budget. Once we fix the pension problems and align the safety personnel retirement age with the rest of the job sector, the budgets should be in good shape.

Like this comment
Posted by saejin
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm

You people that do not like what Palo Alto City government is doing, are going to be made even less happy when you learn that reducing land allocated to car parking, and travel lanes, adding people in the form of high density housing, eliminating lawns, removing trees and landscapes from parking lots and covering them with solar panels (that could go on buildings where trees can not) is all part of what consultants hired by the city, and carefully selected committee and commission members are recommending to make our city more "SUSTAINABLE."
If YOU do not want people that believe things different than most of the citizens of Palo Alto, most of the Peninsula, most of California, and for that matter, most people in the USA believe, then YOU are going to have to displace them out of their positions. YOU are going to have to defend what you have and are taking for granted by giving your time to staff these organizations, stem the consultant money, and remove the power to make changes to your city plan, your Climate Action Plan, and your Land Use Transportation Element, away from special interest groups like cyclist, and fascist environmentalist, who believe we must make all cities more dense, grow our populations, trim per capita water consumption to allow for the growth, and cause congestion until car travel is no longer practical.

If YOU are not willing to put your time into being part of City Government, the YOU should get out of the way and shut up, because by standing on the sidelines YOU are empowering them to do what ever they choose, and YOU will have no one to blame but yourselves.

Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Jan 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm

"Good Idea" So whats your ideas or are you just a critic who supports city management in whatever they support or just a good team player?

Like this comment
Posted by Gem Humel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2011 at 9:32 am

Do not merge. Let keep our city our city. This has not been a good idea for any city that has done this. All merging will do is slow things down. Palo Alto has one of the best Public Safety Dispatching services and now you want to merge with other cities. Just check out San Mateo County and their mess. We do not want this from our City. Keep Palo Alto independent!!!

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

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