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Palo Alto weighs police, fire staff cuts

Original post made on May 23, 2011

If Palo Alto's public-safety unions don't agree to millions of dollars in concessions, the city may have to cut 12 percent of its police force, eliminate a fire-engine company and consider instituting station "brownouts" to balance the annual budget, Interim Public Safety Director Dennis Burns wrote in a recent memo.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, May 23, 2011, 7:14 PM

Comments (63)

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Posted by RIF=Reduction-In-Force
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2011 at 9:07 pm

> "If we have to make public-safety cuts, I don't want the services in
> Palo Alto to change," Scharff said. "That's a bedrock principle
> that's really important."

The City has never provided a reasonable, or accurate, list of services it provides to the residents, taxpayers, and businesses. So, how would Greg Scharff know if there were a change in the level of "services"? Scharff is grandstanding. He isn't helping the situation at all.

Reducing the service levels for various services might be a little hard to model, but still, as each head comes off the roster, $100+K comes off the City's bottom line. What part of that doesn't Scharff get?

If Schraff wanted to be helpful, he would ask to see a list of services, and then take a crack at making his own little list of services that could be cut, and probably wouldn't be missed.

Scharff could also start asking questions about why there are so many civilians in the Palo Alto Police Department. He could begin to ask questions about the sworn officer to civilian headcount. He could press to either reorganize these police functions, to possibly outsource, look to upgrading the "technology" that these employees are using, or look at merging these functions with other police departments.

But Greg Scharff didn't do any of those things, unfortunately. Maybe one of the other Council Members will.



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Posted by jman
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Don't cut any of they services, when the big one comes and the ground is moving and we are all asking for help, who do we call or go to... a empty department. Think about our SAFETY!!! I don't care what it cost, wait till your in a bid situation.... Then ask why? Blame those who approve these cuts...


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Posted by Budget Reader
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 23, 2011 at 9:48 pm

If you want to see what the city is facing, you can find the relevant documents here: Web Link

The relevant material is in the operating budgets.


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Posted by Dave
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2011 at 10:30 pm

The police union sounds some what reasonable towards pension and pay concessionss, but the fire union continues to sound arrogant about any concessions. The fire union's approach to bargaining is nearly that of a caveman. The times have changed. The public still supports you, but not without causing a collapse or melt down of the entire city organization.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2011 at 4:39 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I would like to see equivalent overhead cuts. This is the typical cut off the services that directly affect the public while keeping the overhead in place.


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Posted by Budget Reader
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 24, 2011 at 5:53 am

There were really huge cuts in fire department overhead last year. The administrative cost for running the fire department dropped from 2.2 million in 2010 to 1.6 million in 2011. The proposed budget for 2012 involves cutting that slightly, by 60000/year. If we want to cut costs there, I'm having a hard time seeing how we can do it without reducing the number of firefighters at this point.

To the extent that we need additional emergency support in the event of an earthquake, maybe the city should look into training a volunteer company to use idled equipment in the event of a natural disaster.


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Posted by Be Prepared
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2011 at 6:55 am

"when the big one comes and the ground is moving and we are all asking for help..."

You should know when the big one comes, you are on your own for severval days. Be prepared for that. Palo Alto cant afford to staff to the levels required if we are the center of a large earthquake. The fire department will be overwhelmed. Take a CERT class, so you are prepared to help yourself and your neighbors. Surviving the big one will mean average citizens engaging.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by all for one....nah!
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 24, 2011 at 8:54 am

"If we want to cut costs there, I'm having a hard time seeing how we can do it without reducing the number of firefighters at this point."

We could start by cutting benefits to incoming employees. Oh, the FFs have already vetoed that one!
Then we could look at not having as many FFs on at 2:00am compared to 6:00pm. Oh, the FFs have already vetoed that one!
Yep, looks like the only option now is to simply reduce the number of FFs. At least the FFs can say they got what they wanted!


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2011 at 8:59 am

Safety and emergency services should all be merged for North Santa Clara County, sharing all the administration costs but not reducing staffing and service of those that actually are ready to do the work.

The call center merger is a good start, but think how much more efficiently it could be when and if duplicate administrators are whittled down.

When costs are reduced at the top we may see a reduction in the bottom line.


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Posted by Concerned
a resident of Addison School
on May 24, 2011 at 9:06 am

So there are five cops on duty at night and only a handfull more during the day and they are talking about cutting the police force? Meanwhile, there isn't a day that goes by that the newspapers aren't reporting on some significant crime that has taken place in PA. Trim the fat elswhere but please dont cut the police force.


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Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 24, 2011 at 9:06 am

<Safety and emergency services should all be merged for North Santa Clara County, sharing all the administration costs but not reducing staffing and service of those that actually are ready to do the work.>

+1

A merger here is a wise choice; it's been elsewhere with significant savings.


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Posted by danos
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 9:43 am

"Trim the fat elswhere but please dont cut the police force."

Amen. We can live without so many firefighters but cannot do with fewer officers on the street.


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Posted by Budget Reader
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 24, 2011 at 10:22 am

We need to achieve a ~2 million dollar cost cut in the the fire budget this year. The the administrative cost is about 1.6 million, out of a total ~29 million dollar budget.

Merging with other departments isn't realistically going to get our administrative cost down to below 1.5 million or so. That's nowhere near enough of a savings to justify the loss of local control.


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Posted by RIF=Reduction-In-Force
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2011 at 11:24 am


> Merging with other departments isn't realistically going to
> get our administrative cost down to below 1.5 million or so.

Depends on how "Administration" is defined. The following is from the 2009-10 business year, from salary/position data provided to the public by the City:
---
BU Base Salary Cost @ %50 Benefits Number of Employees
FCA $106,781 $160,172 4
HRY $10,461 $15,692 21
SEIU $60,236 $90,354 4
IAFF $98,054 $147,080 108
MGMT $142,025 $213,037 5
---

Where:
BU=Bargaining Unit
IAFF=Fire Fighters Union
SIEU=Service Employees International Union
HRY=(Temporary/Part Time)
FCA=Fire Chiefs Association
--

(Sorry, but tabular data is not a specialty of this web-site.)

Now .. what do these people do?

Positions--

Deputy Fire Chief - EMT
Fire Cap Haz Mat EMT
Fire Chief
Battalion Chief - Shift/E
Deputy Fire Chief - EMT
Battalion Chief - Shift/E
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Appratus Op EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Ap Op Hz Mt EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Cap Haz Mat EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Inspector EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Inspector EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Haz Mat Spec EMT
Fire Appratus Op EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Appratus Op EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Cap Haz Mat EMT
Fire Captain EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Fghtr Hz Mt EMT
OES Coordinator
Fire Captain EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Captain EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Ap Op Hz Mt EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Ap Op Hz Mt EMT
Hazmat Inspector
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Inspector EMT
Fire Appratus Op EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Fghtr Hz Mt EMT
Fire Appratus Op EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Captain EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Hazmat Inspector
Emergency Medical Service
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Appratus Op EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Fire Appratus Op EMT
40-Hr Trg Capt EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Fire Appratus Op EMT
Fire Appratus Op EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Appratus Op EMT
Fire Appratus Op EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Fire Fghtr Hz Mt EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
Fire Fighter EMT
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Admin Assistant
Administrative Associate
Administrative Associate
Administrative Associate
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Administrative Associate
Management Spec
Management Spec
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT
Management Spec
Management Spec
Management Spec
Technician I
Technician I
Technician I
Technician I
Technician I
Technician I
Technician I
Technician I
Technician I
Technician I
Technician I
Battalion Chief - Shift/E
Technician I
Technician I
Technician I
Management Spec
Technician I
---

There seem to be a lot of "Fire Chiefs" and "Battalion Chiefs". Maybe that would be a good place to start looking for the rest of the $1.5M that the City Manager needs, after some downsizing, and merging.

> Loss of local control.

An interesting topic. Just how much "local control" do we have if we can't downsize an operating department?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by 3 cops
a resident of Southgate
on May 24, 2011 at 11:49 am

less cops? that means there wont be 3 cop cars surrounding you every day at any random location you are at. million people in the valley but you stil see at least 5 cop cars every day. just one person sees this. that shows there are too many cops . decriminalize marijuana ,save money from useless marijuana ''arrests''. of course , no one in this world is intelligent enough for different ideas.


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Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 24, 2011 at 12:15 pm

<Just how much "local control" do we have if we can't downsize an operating department?>

None; it's a great point.
_____

Numerous other cities and towns use merged fire entities; it's time for Palo Alto to do so.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on May 24, 2011 at 12:17 pm

The fd part of the budget is not that difficult to correct if the council is serious about solutions and not worried about the backlash from the union militants:

Option #1 - Outsource the entire operation and use CalFire wages/hours. You would save 40% (109 ff's x $200K x 40% = $8.7M). Problem solved. No more worrying about union ff's whining and threatening. No future pension increases. Lots more $'s for important items like parks, libraries, etc

Option #2 - We don't need 30+ ff's sleeping in the stations every night. There is a fire in PA approx every 3rd day. Terminate 30 ff's tomorrow. 30 ff's X $200K = $6M. We still need to fix the salary problem but the short term problem would be solved. Lots of $'s for parks, libraries, etc!

Option #3 - nationally ff's average $50K a year. PA ff's average over $125K. Eliminate all the overtime (no more pay for parades etc) and pay the ff's $60K. The savings (need to factor in savings from benefits etc) would be at least $50K per ff x 109 ff's = $5.5M. Again lots of $'s for valuable stuff and we would still have plenty of fire safety.

The reality is that if the city opened up 109 openings for ff's they would have thousands of qualified applicants. But instead we continue to wring our hands about dealing with a bunch of overpaid, underworked militants that tried to pass Measure R.


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Posted by al norte sm
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 12:30 pm

"Taxpayer" is on the privatization bandwagon again! At least he stopped bringing up wackenhut like the other threads he posts on.

You want a privatized, lowest-bidder company that doesn't give a hoot about protecting your family? By definition, the top goal of a private corporation is PROFIT.

Contractors. First priority is shareholders and profit, that's corporate law. You want to count on a for-profit to save your grandchild in the middle of the night?

re: cutting firefighters, apparently you haven't read that going below minimum staffing levels is a safety issue, not just for your family, but for the firefighters themselves.

Rather cavalier of you, taxpayer, to risk someone else's life, especially the one running into the burning building while you run out.

But let's go with your austerity measure: let's close a firestation!

The one closest to YOUR home.


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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on May 24, 2011 at 12:40 pm

What does the city get out of negotiating with the unions? They should cut the compensation by 50%, and anyone who wants to can resign. I guarantee there will still be a line out the door a mile long for any open positions.


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Posted by danos
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 12:59 pm

"let's close a firestation! The one closest to YOUR home."

- Give it a rest will ya. That scare-tactic line is beyond stale.


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Posted by Budget Reader
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 24, 2011 at 1:13 pm

The reality is that both wages and the cost of living are higher than the national mean around here. Our firefighters and police can't live in Chicago and commute to Palo Alto. If you want to compare wages, the right thing to do is to compare them to regional wages.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes average wage data for the Santa Clara and San Benito counties at Web Link
From there, we can see that the mean annual wage for "First-Line Supervisors of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers" in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area is $111,140, and the mean annual wage for firefighters is $73,900. I don't think we can realistically get away with paying less than that.


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Posted by al norte sm
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 1:15 pm

How is that a scare tactic? It's what these fine folks are asking for: "Terminate 30 ff's tomorrow. "

How do you staff safely (for the employees; this scenario already hoses the town) with those kind of numbers? A station would have to close.

Since you're not "scared" you're okay with the one nearest you then.


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Posted by Jon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2011 at 1:20 pm

The police have been a lot easier to deal with than firefighters plus we need a lot more police than we do FF. Thus I'd allocate the cuts mainly to FF. Who knows it might get them to negotiate a little more seriously in future...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by danos
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 1:35 pm

A city can only provide as much services as it can realistically afford. So yes, if the fire station closest to my house needs to close, so be it.



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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 24, 2011 at 1:40 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

The easiest and the best way to BOTH cut costs and improve the level of fire and emergency services is by consolidation. Palo Alto's longest border is with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District which serves East Paolo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton and portions of the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County. Consolidating these two fire and emergency service entities would save MILLIONS and provide significantly BETTER service - why not???. The major obstacle is the short sighted view that the creek/county boundary is an bridge too far.

Citizens should demand that our elected representatives think outside the county box.

I post these comments as an individual and not as a spokesperson for the MPFPD Board on which I serve.


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Posted by al norte sm
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Danos: Fair response about station closures, thanks...

re: "A city can only provide as much services as it can realistically afford."

I'd add a comma: unless it wants to temporarily raise revenue (during the economic downturn) in order to safely protect it's citizens.

That oughta go over quite well on this board!

Have at it... ;-)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Budget Reader
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 24, 2011 at 1:44 pm

peter carpenter: Would you mind telling us exactly where those savings would come from? I don't see any way to do it without cutting wages or cutting the number of firefighters...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 24, 2011 at 2:00 pm

<The easiest and the best way to BOTH cut costs and improve the level of fire and emergency services is by consolidation.>

+1

Quite a few other cities and towns have done so; there is an ample track record of success here. I hope City of Palo Alto staff actively explore such possibility.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on May 24, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Hey "norte sm",

"You want a privatized, lowest-bidder company that doesn't give a hoot about protecting your family? By definition, the top goal of a private corporation is PROFIT".

The way you twist the subject makes me think you write union propaganda. I never mentioned lowest bidder. Just let the market determine the price, not union payoffs to politicians and scare tactics to senior citizens. Right now we are overpaying ff's and building the union war chest thru exorbitant salaries.

"Contractors. First priority is shareholders and profit, that's corporate law. You want to count on a for-profit to save your grandchild in the middle of the night?"

Corporate law?? What are you trying to say? You have no evidence that a ff working on an outsourced contract will be any more or less competent than a union ff. After watching the union pa ff's chasing senior citizens around the Safeway parking lot with scare stories, I have lost faith in the character of pa ff's.

"re: cutting firefighters, apparently you haven't read that going below minimum staffing levels is a safety issue, not just for your family, but for the firefighters themselves."

I want reasonable staffing. Having 30+ ff's sleeping every night and many ff's rarely getting any action is overstaffed. Having an ambulance and a truck pull up to every fender bender is overstaffing.

"Rather cavalier of you, taxpayer, to risk someone else's life, especially the one running into the burning building while you run out."

So cavalier & hypocritical the way you want to continue to waste the citizen's $'s so the union can continue to ensure the fd is overstaffed and the ff's are overpaid. PA has too many ff's and not enough work to keep them busy. I am so tired of seeing ff's at Safeway, and Costco, and T&C.

"But let's go with your austerity measure: let's close a firestation!
The one closest to YOUR home."

More scare tactics huh? My guess is that you are at the station right now. Nothing to do except send out more union propaganda.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 24, 2011 at 2:07 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

BR asks"peter carpenter: Would you mind telling us exactly where those savings would come from?"

Just to begin with - 1 Chief instead of 2, 3 Battalion Chiefs instead of 6, one Training Department instead of 2, 1 maintenance facility instead of 2, better response times using the closest stations, a water rescue capability that Palo Alto had to abandon years ago, etc.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Budget Reader
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Peter Carpenter: The chief + captains get you about a million. I'm dubious about the rest saving that much; you still need to maintain the same amount of equipment and train the same number of people.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

BR states:"I'm dubious about the rest saving that much; you still need to maintain the same amount of equipment and train the same number of people."

There is a lot of overlapping capability in two agencies and it is entirely possible that we could eliminate at least one station (3-4 firefighters times 3 shifts plus the equipment and real estate) and still have the same response times. Combining and fire prevention training are also a big cost savers.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ryan
a resident of Barron Park
on May 24, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Privatize the fire service. I'm tired of their greedy, self-serving agenda. This has to stop now.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by al norte sm
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 2:38 pm

taxpeyer: "My guess is that you are at the station right now. "

Nope. Haven't been a union member, except a year during school as a retail clerk.

Those comments above apply to your usual privatization comments (want the links to your posts on other threads?) and "Outsource the entire operation" comment above.

Folks want an effective, efficient government managing it's functions and run appropriately by elected officials.

They do not want to have for-profit private contractors doing the limited functions that government does best.

If you disagree (I'm sure you do) then get off this board and start up an initiative to accomplish that. If you are right, I'm sure you'll have no problem getting thousands of PA residents signing your petition for a for-profit corporation running the fire dept, police dept, etc..

Do your civic duty and quit moaning here and get out and do something you think is correct.

You'll lose.

But Wackinhut will appreciate your efforts. (again, want the links to your wackenhut posts?)

They might even let you have one of their specially served vodka shots. Served in a very special shotglass holder, so to speak, just for you.

Enjoy the locally fragrant aroma....


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Budget Reader
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Peter Carpenter: Yes, if you eliminate a station, that gets you the necessary savings. But unless the union agrees to wage cuts, or we can muster the 2/3 majority for a tax increase, we're looking at that anyways.

I can see how there is a possibility that merging with your district would let us make the necessary cuts without causing as much of a drop in service levels as there might be, but that's still going to require drawing up maps to figure out what response times will be once we close a station and carry out the merger.


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 24, 2011 at 2:53 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

BR states:"going to require drawing up maps to figure out what response times will be once we close a station and carry out the merger."

Drawing up such maps is easy and it is done all the time.

Next challenge? Other than getting people to think outside the box and outside their comfort zone??


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Budget Reader
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm

peter carpenter: sure, but we haven't done it yet, so we don't actually know that what you suggest is actually going give us the same response times that we have now. And until somebody does it (and you're in a better position to do it than I am) we won't know.


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Budget Reader - as someone very knowledgable about the response times and current station locations and overlap I can assure you that a detailed analysis will show that a combined agency can eliminate at least one station.

Don't let the never ending Palo Alto process and analysis lead to paralysis.


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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 24, 2011 at 3:25 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

The MPFPD has a balanced budget, substantial reserves to cover all of our future commitments and almost no unfunded pension liabilities.

If Palo Alto wants to join MPFPD then all they need to do is to pick up the phone. Endless analysis, the Palo Alto process and the fear of reaching across the creek may simply be too much to overcome.


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Posted by Community Center
a resident of Community Center
on May 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Very interesting to watch norte telling other folks to get off this board while she desperately tries to defend her union. We can no longer afford the bloated staffing and salries of the PAFD. Change is coming and your posting isn't going to stop it.

Consolidation/regionalization is something to factor in to the analysis. But the most (more) important issue are:
1.) adjust the salaries to national rate
2.) fix the bloated pensions (limit to 2% annual, $50K annual)
3.) adjust the retirement age to Social Security level (67?). If the workers are not interested in continuing to do safety work, they can pull weeds, paint walls etc.
4.) eliminate binding arbitration

Lots of work to do but change is coming!



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Posted by Joe
a resident of Downtown North
on May 24, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Maybe we should shut down one of the seven libraries, so someone who's baby is choking can have a fire engine.

Or maybe the City Council members can buy their own IPAD's so a police office can respond to someone breaking into a resident's house.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by al norte sm
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm

CC: "Very interesting to watch norte telling other folks to get off this board while she desperately tries to defend her union"

Nice try, sister. I said: "If you disagree... then get off this board and start up an initiative to accomplish that." Like you, taxp wants to moan and groan, throw out some non-starter about privatization and does nothing about it. It was a "put up or shaddup" statement.

Fabricate something in your first statement and it takes away from your opinions that follow.

btw: you also don't read well. I said I'm not in a union. If's it's ADHD, they have drugs that can help you, girlfriend.

- - - - -

btw: Peter - well done with the disclaimer. Agree with you - any consolation issues can be solved in a heartbeat, if the answers aren't already on the books. Good input, good discussion.


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Posted by RIF=Reduction-In-Force
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2011 at 4:23 pm

> They do not want to have for-profit private contractors doing
> the limited functions that government does best.

Who says? Has there been a vote on this, here in Palo Alto?

Two-thirds of the firefighters in the US are volunteers--not "government employees". Road construction is routinely outsourced to the private sector. Libraries are quickly going the way of the dodo, replaced by digital formats, parks can be easily run by the private sector. That doesn't really leave much that the so-called "public sector" can "do best". There might be some reason to have sworn police officers as public-sector employees, but many places are beginning to outsource patrols to the private sector. And surveillance cameras would just fine, when operated by the private sector.

It's really hard to find anything that the public sector actually does best. If Wackenhut were to be employed here, they would do just fine.


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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on May 24, 2011 at 4:33 pm

I simply don't understand why nobody talks about reducing pay rather than closing stations. Taxpayers want the MOST services for the LEAST cost. The public sector unions want to provide the FEWEST services for the MOST cost. Their interests are 180 degrees opposed to those of the ordinary citizen.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by al norte sm
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm

rif: "If Wackenhut were to be employed here, they would do just fine."

Just like Wackenhut does "fine" when contracted by the government in other areas?

Something fairly important?

Like security?

Embassy security?

In Afghanistan?

Really?

Are you serious? You expect the PA city council, which is trashed regularly on these boards, to control these guys effectively?

These guys?

I have only one word for you: Cheers!

This is from another thread about Wackenhut: nsfw - Web Link

Check out the bottom photo, the vodka shot out of the **** photo. your tax dollars at work!

Again: Cheers!

Hire these guys to run a firehouse and I can guarantee one thing.

I'd never take a cub scout den on tour of the firehouse ever again!

Wackinhut, or any of their subsidiaries like armorgroup that they use to hide taxes and/or liability, have an obligation to be profitable to their shareholders, first and foremost. Just what you want: low bidder, or a company cutting corners.

Not sure where the creative bodypart-drinking-platform thing comes in their corporate charter.

Stay classy, Palo Alto!




 +   Like this comment
Posted by RIF=Reduction-In-Force
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2011 at 4:48 pm

> I simply don't understand why nobody talks about reducing pay
> rather than closing stations

Management is supposed to sit between these two poles, figuring out what we NEED, rather than what we WANT.

As pointed out in a number of posts above, there are costs, costs, and more costs associated with having XX firefighters. As the head count goes down, the dollars needed to support these people goes down. The question is, will it cost us some other way? In Palo Alto's case, only about 2.5% of the callouts are for structure fires. Ambulance service can be outsourced. So .. it's quite likely that downsizing by x% will not hurt us.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by RIF=Reduction-In-Force
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2011 at 4:54 pm

> You expect the PA city council, which is trashed regularly on
> these boards, to control these guys effectively?

I would expect the City Manager to control them. I would expect that any contracts signed would include performance clauses--which we do not get with the current firefighters. And if there were significant problems, I would expect the City Manager to terminate the Wackinhut Contract.

> I'd never take a cub scout den on tour of the firehouse ever again!

Your choice .. but then you could take your cub scouts to this firehouse:

Web Link

> Wackinhut, or any of their subsidiaries like armorgroup
> that they use to hide taxes and/or liability,

And you know this how?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by al norte sm
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm

"So .. it's quite likely that downsizing by x% will not hurt us."

"quite likely" is good enough for your family, maybe.

Love your math: X + Y = orange rhinoceros

"quite likely" works just great.

Until it doesn't.

rif: I do agree it's a management issue.

Peter: what are the formulas, or best practices, that MP and other towns use to insure employee and public safety in terms of staffing? Is Palo Alto out of the norm?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 24, 2011 at 5:01 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

EN asks:"Peter: what are the formulas, or best practices, that MP and other towns use to insure employee and public safety in terms of staffing? Is Palo Alto out of the norm?"

MPFPD's standard is first in within 6 minutes - we usually beat that by a couple of minutes.

PAFD meets the same standard but at a higher per resident cost.

The answer is both consolidation and revised pension programs.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

30 firefighters sleep at night so as to be on call. Two or three minutes, out the door. Not quite the same as a 9 to 5 job.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by RIF=Reduction-In-Force
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm

> "quite likely" works just great.
> Until it doesn't.

There are lots of towns with fewer fire fighters. The fact that Palo Alto has had deep pockets and few managers in the City Manager's office, and the City Council, has resulted in agreeing to the bloat that we have now.

Moreover, there are lots of possibilities to "design out" fires in most homes. Retrofitting sprinkler systems would result in fewer fires that do significant damage. This on-site fire suppression would result in the need for fewer fire fighters.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by al norte sm
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 7:19 pm

"Moreover, there are lots of possibilities to "design out" fires in most homes."

So when yours is "designed out", the hell with the rest of them?

Inane argument for something decades into the future.

Want to talk a couple decades? What's happened around here in the last couple decades?

Loma Prieta TAKES OUT the Marina if it wasn't for the Phoenix. The Oakland hills firestorm. San Bruno last year. Any neighborhood below the SFO flightpaths is at risk (obviously tiny) for a disaster.

Tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny risk.

Like Loma Prieta. Or the Oakland hills. Or a peaceful neighborhood in San Bruno. Off the scale, infinitesimal, tiny risk.

You're crazy if you want to shrink size or reduce quality. Negotiate? Sure. Consolidate? There's an argument there. Get better city management? This board mostly supports that.

Reduce safety?

You're not rational.

I don't care if they play tiddlywinks for a decade, as long as they're ready when you or I need them. When a family member of ours needs them. When our community needs them.

At least we're not in tornado country.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by danos
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Santa Cruz City fire, roughly same population served as Palo Alto, has just 12 firefighters on duty each day, compared to Palo Alto's 30.

Having lived in both cities, I can tell you that Santa Cruz has a lot more 'urban issues' to deal with. I would hazard to guess they get more fires as well.

Palo Alto could definitely get by just fine with fewer firefighters per shift.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Addison School
on May 24, 2011 at 8:11 pm

al norte sm wrote "You want a privatized, lowest-bidder company that doesn't give a hoot about protecting your family? By definition, the top goal of a private corporation is PROFIT."

A provate for profit ambulance company services ALL other cities in Santa Clara County except Palo Alto and they are called AMerican Medical Response. The paramedics respond to 911 calls with city fire departments and seem to do a fine job. I don't see any outrage in other communities about how they " don't give a hoot".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on May 24, 2011 at 9:46 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by al norte sm
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2011 at 11:46 am

Concerned: not a bad point, and I'm not that familiar with it to offer much value to the discussion.

A 10 second google comes up with interesting things:

American Medical Response Pays $9 Million to Settle Civil Fraud Case

WASHINGTON – American Medical Response Inc. (AMR), one of the nation's largest ambulance providers, has paid the United States over $9 million to resolve allegations that the company violated the False Claims Act, the Justice Department announced today.

The cases are United States ex rel. Block v. Laidlaw Medical Transport, et al.; and United States ex rel. Wightman v. Laidlaw, Inc., et al.

Ripping off Medicare.

Now, where were we on corporations and the profit motive?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Community Center
on May 25, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Thanks for the reminder about profit motive. We were focusing on how much profit the union employees were making off the Palo Alto citizens so they could "persuade" a few more elected officials to increase their bloated salaries and reduce their workloads. Sort of a never ending, costly circle.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on May 26, 2011 at 7:02 am

Scharff says "if we have to make public-safety cuts, I don't want the services in Palo Alto to change"
Really? does this Councilman honestly think you can reduce the police and fire department size and budget without it affecting services?
Now the Council and City manager are talking about eliminating units and closing fire halls. Call me crazy but that "option" is exactly what they said "nobody is talking about" last year during the measure R measure debate.
Now it appears the Council and City Manager are looking at doing exactly that. Instead they are using the buzz word "brown out".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on May 26, 2011 at 7:13 am

The MPFD is a special district, their budget is funded entirely different than a charter city department. The people in the MPFD district pay a special fee on their property tax bills.
Peter Carpenter says that the PAFD "just has to pick up a phone" to start the merger with the MPFD. He knows that a City department and a special district located in two different counties would be a very difficult merger.
As a paid member of the MPFD Board of Directors, Carpenter knows better than most people the reality of the difficult process involved in merging the PAFD and MPFD.
Consolidated FDs would lower costs but merging two separate FDs in two different counties and the fact one is a special district and one is a department operating in a charter city would only add to the difficulty.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on May 26, 2011 at 7:36 am

I am encouraged that the PA coincil is discussing taking a new approach to providing fire safety in Palo Alto. Merging with MP might have some benefit, but focusing on the merger would be overlooking the major problem. FF's are overpaid and underworked. We should either put the contract out for bid, or reduce the union employees compensation to market rate. Either way the city would save millions and have money left for parks, libraries, utilities. Great to hear that the council is starting to take a firmer line and not rollover to the unions scare tactics.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 26, 2011 at 7:38 am

1 - I don't receive a penny as a Director of MPFPD

2 - Just because something is difficult, i.e. the formation of a new entity which would provide fire and emergency services to Palo Alto, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Stanford and Atherton, does not mean that the result would not be worth the effort. In fact, the easy solutions don't really solve anything. The merger I propose would both improve services and reduce costs - a rare combination.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on May 31, 2011 at 1:23 am

"Peter Carpenter"

You don't recieve "a penny"?
Nothing at all? no medical, no dental, no insurance?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 31, 2011 at 7:00 am

Jake asks:""Peter Carpenter"

You don't recieve "a penny"?

Nothing at all? no medical, no dental, no insurance? "

Nothing, zip, zero.


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