Fire union funds pour into 'No on D' race

More than $70,000 from firefighters makes it biggest spender on Palo Alto's fall ballot

More than $70,000 in contributions from public safety unions have poured into the "No on Measure D" campaign in the past month, making it by far the highest-spending campaign on this fall's Palo Alto ballot.

The figure comes from campaign committee statements required by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, disclosing campaign finances from Sept. 25 to Oct. 22.

Voters will decide Nov. 8 on Measure D, which calls for elimination of the current requirement that public safety employee disputes be resolved through binding arbitration.

Measure D supporters say repealing the mandate on binding arbitration will give the city more control over its finances. Opponents say binding arbitration is rarely used and provides an equitable way to settle disputes.

All the contributions reported by the "No on D" campaign came from the Palo Alto Professional Firefighters and the Palo Alto Peace Officers Association, the collective bargaining units for the firefighters and police officers.

The firefighters contributed $61,413 and the police $9,875 during the reporting period, for a total of $71,288, according to the campaign disclosure form.

In the same period, Sept. 25 to Oct. 22, the "Yes on D" campaign reported it raised $10,514 from 38 Palo Alto residents and one Los Altos resident.

The largest contributors to the "Yes on D" campaign were real estate developer Chop Keenan at $2,500; entrepreneur Asher Waldfogel at $1,000 and retired developer William Reller, Edie and Bob Kirkwood and Stephen Smith of Palo Alto and Peter Detkin of Los Altos at $500 each.

Also contributing to the "Yes on D" campaign were Palo Alto residents John Melton, Jeff Justice, Karen and Steve Ross, Robert Saldich, David Kennedy, Kevin Coleman, John Dawson, Bruce Heister, Ed Arnold, Tony Glaves, Grace Mah, Vicky Ching, Mitzi Henderson, Claude Ezran, Ralph Britton, HuiQing Wang, Mark Nadim, Bern Beecham, Ellen and Tom Wyman, Dick Rosenbaum, Lanie Wheeler, Timothy Tomlinson, David Noice, Robert Harrington, Terrance Counihan, Rebecca Counihan, Andrew Verhalen, David Van der Wilt, Douglas Spreng, Carolyn Tucher, Robert McIntyre, Joel Spolin and June and Clarke Schiller.

As of Oct. 22, the "Yes on D" campaign reported $7,483 in cash on hand and the "No on D" campaign reported $20,501.

Union spending in the "No on D" campaign dwarfed fundraising in Measure E, the other measure on Palo Alto's Nov. 8 ballot.

In that campaign, concerning the undedication of baylands parkland for the building of a compost facility, supporters reported raising $24,718 year-to-date and opponents $16,391.

Chris Kenrick

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Like this comment
Posted by Karen
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:54 pm

I was on the fence, mostly through lack of knowledge, but the more I read up on this issue, the angrier I get. The fire union is spending our own tax dollars to try to scare us into voting to preserve their privileged position in city politics and at the public trough. This has gone on long enough. Send a message that the public is not so naive that we will tolerate handing our children the pension bills for 200K a year, two day a week firefighters.

Like this comment
Posted by Vote-Yes-On-Measure-D
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2011 at 7:56 am

It's a real shame that the Palo Alto City Clerk does not put this information on-line, so that we can see who the contributors to the various campaigns are, and how much they contribute.

$70K is a lot of money. For "underpaid" firefighters, that comes to about $600/ff. Given that most of these guys are dragging down over $120K a year, maybe it's not that much. But very few people in Palo Alto tend to give that much for other causes.

By the way, money not spent can be transferred to other, similar campaigns in other towns and cities. So, it becomes something to watch after the campaign is over. The media, more often than not, is "union friendly", so they can not be depended up to "follow the money" after the election ends.

For the average "fire fighter" (who no longer actually fights very many fires), this is about "big money". With entry level salaries at/near $100K, and healthy yearly pay increases, the typical fire fighter being employed today will make around $4M during his (typical) 27 years of service, and then another $4-$6M in pension payouts over a (nominal) 30 years of retirement, with payouts for his surviving spouse continuing until her death.

For people whose skill level base is just a high school education, this is obviously a job "to kill for". Is there any wonder that fire departments report that there are often 500 applications for only 1 opening?

Given the failure of self-government to prudently manage the public's money, having made promises for future compensation to current employees that is simply unsustainable--every community in the US is going to have to "fight the good fight" and work through the reforming of their local/county/state governments, or we will find that our generation has bankrupted the US for future generations.

Measure D's removal of "binding arbitration" from the City's Charter is a very small step in a very long march. But it's the right thing to do at the right time.

So .. let's Vote Yes on Measure D for our children, and our children's children ..

Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 28, 2011 at 8:15 am

Palo Alto voters have proven, time and time again, that you can't buy an election here. YES on D will send the message loud and clear again.

Disproportionate spending by the fire union, or anyone else, has a way of blowing up in the face of the spender.

Palo Altans have long memories. They remember last year's Measure R, the feather-bedding fire initiative Tony Spitaleri tried to sneak through. It went down in flames 3-1.

The YES on D vote is likely to beat that, 80-20 is my prediction.

Like this comment
Posted by CPG
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 28, 2011 at 8:58 am

The Firefighters just continue to dig the hole deeper and deeper.

Like this comment
Posted by Ernesto USMC
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 28, 2011 at 10:12 am

It's ludicrous to use tax dollars to pay so much above market rate for firefighting services (the comment about 500 applicants per job opening above might even be an understatement).

Why does a firefighter deserve to retire at 50 on a taxpayer funded six figure pension when private sector workers who pay their salaries, make less than they do on average, and are forced to save for themselves AND fund exorbitant retirements for firefighters?

Let's be realistic about what the job is. Most firefighters work 2 shifts per week and are paid whether they are working or sleeping in the station. Union backed overstaffing has led to a lot more of the latter than should be occurring. Most calls are routine medical calls that could and should be handled by ambulance services which are more cost-effective and better specialized and suited to the task. The job is statistically much safer than construction or most blue collar jobs. No PA firefighter has ever died in the line of duty, and nationwide more firefighters die each year of natural causes and car accidents than they do fighting fires.

The firefighters nonetheless play out the same arguments: the fear card ("if you try to pay me only market rate, your house could burn down with your family in it"), the hero card ("despite the statistics grossly to the contrary, our job is so dangerous that we deserve to be compensated at 4-5X what a frontline soldier is paid with combat pay"), and, most recently, the Wisconsin card ("anything that might pay us less will make PA the next Wisconsin.")

Flagrant government waste has made it impossible for me to support any new govt. revenue until they show they can spend our tax dollars with some common sense. Paying inflated pensions to well-connected union firefighters is certainly not one of them. Measure D is only a small step, but its one in the right direction.

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 28, 2011 at 10:15 am

Why are you naming individual contributors to the Yes side? Is that an effort to intimidate them? Why are individual contributors to the No side not named?

To all the contributors to the yes side, especially those publicly named, I give my thanks and admiration.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 28, 2011 at 10:20 am


To answer your question, the only contributors listed for the "No on D" campaign were the Palo Alto Professional Firefighters and the Palo Alto Peace Officers Association. There were no individual contributors listed in the "No on D' disclosure form, hence none in the story.

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Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 28, 2011 at 11:24 am

That's right, no individual contributors were named for the "no" side, but a whole list of individual contributors were names for the "yes" side. Why the disparity?

Temember Proposition 8? Remeber how the "No on 8" side targeted "yes on 8" contributors for personalized protests and intimidation? Is that the new Ametican way? Get a list of you opponents and publicy harrass them and, as I recall on the proposition 8 champaign, make personal threats? I am all for rational debate and airing of the issues, but I am not in agreement that we should threaten our opponents by identifying them openly for the kooks. It becomes a campaign of fear.

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Posted by Voting No on D
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 28, 2011 at 11:35 am

I don't think completely taking away the option for a binding arbitration is the way to go. I do feel people are very upset with the pay firefighters get and especially upset with the pensions they receive with possible retirement at age 50. I don't feel that voting yes on Measure D is going to correct these frustrations or even lower pay and reduce pension benefits.

I think a better approach is to reform Article V and not just remove it. It was rarely used (only 6 times) and second it seems to be a fair approach to settling disputes.

And if Measure D removed the union behind the firefighters, then I would vote YES. :)

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Posted by Alison
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm

I agree D is only a small step but it's a step in the right direction. We next have to vote out Gail Price and the other members of the council who wave been bought by te fire union.

After that, the fire service contract should be put out to bid. If the PA firefighters are as much of a value add as they seem to think they are at six figures and full pensions at 50, they should have no problem retaining their position. If a more efficient, more fairly conpensated force can do the job, then the public wins.

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Posted by the nerve
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2011 at 6:27 pm

another attempt by city management to privatize public funds while presenting convultued information to council to fit their plan for lack of transparency. public funds MUST remain just that. Transparency transparency transparency. KUDOS for those who challenge this no matter what it takes. im sure its all legal. cannot wait to vote :)

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Posted by Question
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2011 at 11:00 pm

No on D.

D is about removing labor rights to negotiate - SO THE CITY CAN IMPOSE a contract on safety unions like the city manager and council did in 2009 to SEIU employees.

The blaming of labor by citizens and media over the past 5 years has grown to ridiculous and hysterical proportions.

The blind uninformed anger of the people who post -
is led by half truth press releases from the city and the lack of critical news coverage. -
It is sad.

Didn't the firemen and women just give up 9%?

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Posted by Rob
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 29, 2011 at 11:22 pm

If the firefighters find the job intolerable in a post D world, they can leave and get a better job. There will be hundreds waiting to take their place even at much lower, market rate compensation.

Giving back 9% of a salary that is above market rate by about 50% doesn't make the fire union suddenly poor. They found 70K of taxpayer funded $ to pour into the measure d fight after all.

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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 30, 2011 at 11:25 pm

I am still no on D. Good to see Professor Bill Gould speaking out against it.

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Posted by R
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2011 at 12:14 am

The competition for a firefighting career isn't over the salary and pension. When a position opens and 500 to 2000 people apply you think its because of the starting salary? At half of that pay and pension you would still have the same turnouts. The reason why they DESERVE a higher than average salary is because Palo Alto residents, who they serve, make a higher than average salary as well. Is it fair that a palo alto fire fighter would like to make enough money to live and retire in the city it serves?

And yeah, try calling ambulances with 21 year old EMT's out to car accidents, infant trauma, or cardiac arrest and then see why we strategically place highly skilled, mainly paramedic, firefighters around this wealthy city. There isn't a single person who has had their life saved by a firefighter ever complaining about how much they make.

How much is your life worth?

Like this comment
Posted by Voting Yes
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 31, 2011 at 10:11 am

R, why do you assume EMT's are 21 years old and imply they are not up to performing their full time specialized job better than the "mainly paremedic" PA firefighters? EMTs have better more specialized medical training than firefighters. If you are really concerned with safety, adding EMT specialists is the right thing to do. The fact that they are displacing overpaid firefighters means that you can add more than 1 real paramedic on duty for every "mostly paramedic" firefighter offset.

Like this comment
Posted by R
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2011 at 12:13 pm

No disrespect to EMT'S regardless of age but there is a huge difference in a EMT and a paramedic. Do a little reaearch and find out before you think "EMT specialists" can perform everything necessary. Either, way, salary and pensions should equate to the area we are in.

Like this comment
Posted by Lupe
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Overpaying firefighters hurts the whole city. Our roads and parks and schools and police could all use more money. Paying 150 thousand and pensions over 100 thousand at 50 for two shift per week of work that is far easier and safer than police work is ridiculous no matter where you live.

The fire union has succeeded in making the city less safe and lowering the quality of life overall by fighting for bloated pay and inefficient work rules. If we want city sponsored welfare, upper middle class bureaucrats are not the moat deserving recipients.

I'm done with any new form of government revenue period until the city shows it can manage costs responsibly and that it serves the public interest and not the interests of those living large on the publics dime.

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

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