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Submitted by on 1, March 27, 2009 – 6:01 pmNo Comment

fire-station-oneThe city just issued a press release saying they’ve sued to block the Alameda firefighters’ attempt to put a measure on the ballot mandating minimum staffing for the department.

The firefighters opted to work on the ballot initiative in the wake of engine company brownouts, which began on January 26 in an effort to conserve the department’s waning supply of overtime cash. The firefighters recently began collecting signatures to put the measure on the ballot. They say the short staffing is dangerous for both us and them.

The city is claiming the requirement, if okayed by voters, could cost the city between $2.2 million and $2.8 million a year.

Here’s Mayor Beverly Johnson, from the press release:

We all want to maintain adequate public safety, but this initiative could force us to make draconian choices between the Police Department and the Fire Department. This is exactly the kind of ballot-box budgeting that helped drive the City of Vallejo into bankruptcy last year and has made balancing California’s budget difficult.

The city claims in its press release that a charter amendment to require minimum staffing for the fire department, if approved, would illegally impair the city’s ability to allocate budget resources. The release, which went out at 5:55 p.m. today (Friday), did not list a case number. A contact with the city could not immediately be reached for more information.

At least two other local cities, Oakland and San Francisco, have passed such initiatives.

I checked in with the firefighters’ Jeff DelBono, who had not yet seen the suit. And he said:

We’re sick of being cut, and of the citizens’ safety and our safety being compromised. Mayor Beverly Johnson has said over an over over the past couple of years is that this needs to go to a vote of the citizens. This is exactly what this (initiative) is going to do.

He said the ballot initiative only brings Alameda to staffing standards that have been maintained for more than a decade (27 firefighters on duty per shift), numbers that are still below national staffing standards. And he said there are other ways for the city to cut the department that would allow it to maintain that staffing level.

The city and the firefighters have been locked in contentious contract negotiations for more than a year, and the battle for hearts and minds has intensified with the advent of the brownouts. Firefighters had accused the city of playing politics with the title and summary of the ballot language, which the city attorney is required to write (the city denied the charge).

As I reported earlier, the engine company brownouts that had been happening (an ambulance on Bay Farm and a truck company on the West End) are being shifted to the Alameda Point fire station as of April 1.

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