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Council may place second fire measure on ballot

Submitted by on 1, June 30, 2009 – 6:00 am9 Comments

81I got so wrapped up in this whole business about the Alameda Point initiative the other day I forgot to mention the other big electoral news from Saturday’s League of Women Voters meeting: The news that the city is creating a companion for the firefighters’ minimum staffing measure which is due to be set for the November ballot.

Councilwoman Lena Tam, who broke the news that the city is seeking to alter the Point initiative, confirmed that the city attorney’s office is putting something together, though she said she doesn’t yet have the details. “It will likely have provisions for funding, because the (firefighters’) measure currently has no funding component,” Tam said.

I checked in with Domenick Weaver of the firefighters’ union and he said he didn’t have any additional information on the city’s plans.

“We contacted them early on in the formulation of our measure and have offered many times since to do something collaboratively,” Weaver said, adding that the City of Berkeley did a measure with its firefighters last fall. “Unfortunately in our case, city decision makers took the more adversarial route and have initiated legal action against the firefighters and the three citizen proponents of (our) measure.”

The council is set to place the firefighters’ measure, which would mandate minimum staffing levels at 27 fire personnel per shift, on the November ballot, at one of its July meetings. I’ll update you as more information becomes available.


  • David Howard says:

    This is funny. The Mayor has accused the firefighters of "ballot box budgeting" over their ballot – and criticized them for it – which specifies minimum staffing but does not specify dollars.

    Now, it seems, the City is criticizing the firefighters ballot for NOT including any funding provision to support the minimum staffing.

    Measure P was supposed to protect "vital services" such as police and fire services. It doesn't. If the City wants a special public services tax, they need to repeal Measure P.

  • Anon says:


    Maybe you can help me out. David Howard doesn't see the firefighters change to the City charter as "ballot box budgeting". Isn't that the same thing that the teachers union did a few years back when they put on the ballot that a minimum amount of the states budget has to go to the schools. Under this type of mandate, the City has no other options, than make cuts to other services. David where do you think the City can make up the costs of the additional staffing? I am still waiting to hear from anyone that can tell me what City other than Alameda has as many firefighters as they so police officers. The firefighters are valued civil servants but they need to look at the big picture. Hiring more firefighters will cost millions in salaries and benefits. Right now the City does not have that money. David also needs to realize that the firefighters didn't support Measure P because the City would not guarantee pay raises that the union requested for their support. Let's be real.

  • Michael Krueger says:

    Of course this is ballot-box budgeting. If you mandate a minimum level of something that the City is currently trying to reduce, and if you don't identify any new sources of revenue (read: taxes) to pay for that something, you are tying the hands of the Council, forcing them to cut other things. It is exactly these kinds of unfunded-mandate initiatives that have tied Sacramento in knots, and I should hope that Alameda has the sense not to go any further down that path. We all know where it leads.…

    As for Measure P, I didn't hear anyone promise that it was going to preserve all vital services from all cuts under all possible circumstances. The extra revenue may not be enough to prevent all the cuts we are seeing now, but those cuts most certainly would have been much worse if Measure P had not passed.

    In other words, Measure P did preserve services, and repealing it is hardly a precondition for proposing a tax to support something else, like minimum staffing levels for firefighters. Anyone suggesting repealing Measure P and replacing it with something else had better be sure that the new tax will generate more revenue than Measure P, or we will find ourselves even deeper in the hole.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    The reason that Measure P has failed to help fund city services as promised is, of course, the fact that the economy took a serious dive into the recessionary/depressionary economic crisis cesspool last year, taking Alameda's traditionally stable real estate market with it. Sales tax revenues, gas tax revenues, property taxes, and many other revenue sources are also down, and every local government in CA is hurting. You cannot get increased real estate transfer tax revenue into the City treasury when homes are not selling at all or are selling at below-market prices.

    Like many jurisdictions, Alameda needs to "punt" and find additional revenues somewhere, somehow. And no one who supported Measure P or who expected it to help our budget a lot more than it has been able to should be faulted for having had "reasonable" expectations in these difficult times.

    But "Plan P" has not been enough, and we have to try yet one (or two or three or thirty) more options to keep the City functioning well. Not exactly a cakewalk, either here or in Sacramento, is it? Amend proposition 13, anyone?

  • David Howard says:

    I stand by my previous remarks – as of the June 2008 CAFR from the City – Planning and Building was at 37, up from 27.5 from 1998, while public safety officers declined from 274 to 254. I'm not trying to account for the recent correction.

    That reflects, over 10 years from 1998, to 2008, while Mayor Johnson was on City Council, a loss of sense of purpose of government – a mis-direction from delivering services to residents and protecting residents to serving…well, you decide.

    I may well undertake to calculate the number of public safety staff, and planning/building staff per 10,000 people, to normalize the figures over the 1998 to 2008 period, and then calculate the same based on current figures, Michele's number of 16 planning/building staffers, 99-3=96 sworn police officers, and whatever the current number of firefighters is. It will be an interesting graph, I'm sure.

  • David Howard says:

    Why always the assaults from Mr. Anonymous? You lose credibility when you don’t post your real name.

    Anyway, the firefighters’ stated reason for not supporting Measure P is that it did not reserve the funds for public safety, even though that’s how the City sold the tax. And guess what? No sooner did Measure P pass, then we faced reduced firefighting services. The Police Dept. is looking at losing 3 positions as well.

    As for the number of police officers or firefighters… the real measure is not sheer number of staff, but how many officers/firefighters per 10,000 residents. We actually did this analysis on Action Alameda News for police officers – see the link below or click my name. This ties directly to budget – rule of thumb right now in California is that a city’s general fund is about $1000 per person. i.e. a city of 75,000 people times $1,000 would have an annual general fund budget of about $75 million. Pretty close to Alameda’s general fund budget of $80 million.

    Alameda has 14 police officers per 10,000 people, compared to Berkeley’s 17, or Piedmont’s 19. We didn’t do a similar analysis for firefighters, but we can, or perhaps Michele would like to do that.


    Actually, Michele did some of that work in the past, when she compared Redwood City to Alameda. But it gets complicated, because Alameda firefighters do double duty as firefighters and paramedics. (One might expect a union to insist that paramedics ONLY do paramedic duty, and firefighters do ONLY firefighting duty, thereby increasing the total ranks of the unionized staff, but that’s not what we hear from Alameda firefighters.)

    If you want to talk absolute numbers of public safety employees in Alameda, look to the June 2008 Comprehensive Annual Financial Review – it shows that since 1998 – when Mayor Johnson was elected to office – the total number of public safety employees in Alameda has declined by 7 to 8%, (from 274 to 254) while the number of planning and building department employees has grown by around 34% from 27.5 to 37. (City of Alameda numbers, not mine.)


    I’m ok with looking at cuts to other public services BUT preserving fire and police services. The City’s job is to a) protect the citizens and b) deliver other services to residents. Let’s start with cutting subsidies to the Park St. and Webster St. business districts, shall we? Or how about reducing staff in the City Attorney’s office – all the work is outsourced to outside law firms anyway.

    Now…did you REALLY want to talk about the issue, or not?

    • Hey guys – couple of quick notes:

      Redwood City's firefighters also serve as paramedics. The difference is that they don't do transport service, something we do.

      Planning and Building is actually down to 16 staffers, they just laid off half the department, including the director. (The city also just let one staffer from the city attorney's office go.)

      Also, I think when you look at the midyear reductions that were made this year, our budget was down to $75 million and change.

  • David Howard says:

    Monsieur Krueger is apparently trying to re-define the term “ballot-box budgeting.”

    Intuitively, one would think that it means specifying funding or taxes via ballot, rather than having politicians and civil-servants do their job and figure out how to fund the mandate given to them by citizens. M. Krueger tries to re-define it as a measure that sets a mandate to politicians while allowing them to figure out how to fund it.

    The firefighters ballot measure sets a mandate – minimum staffing – and forces the politicians and City staffers to do just that – given a mandate by the public (minimum fire service levels) YOU (the politicians, civil servants, etc) figure out how to fund it. That’s your job. We’re not going to try to do it at the ballot box, we’re just determining what services we want by ballot.

    Precise definitions of the term “ballot-box budgeting” are hard to come by, but I found this one. (click my name, or the link below.)

    While the CTA blames the extreme partisanship in Sacramento for the budget problems, one cannot help but notice that using ballot initiatives to ensure funding for programs without accountability (referred to as “ballot box budgeting”) ties the hands of legislators and contributes to political gridlock.


    The above definition – “using ballot initiatives to ensure funding for programs” – would seem to pretty directly define what M. Krueger is talking about and supportive of – using the ballot box, instead of the work of politicians and civil-servants, elected and paid for the job, to figure out how to fund the mandate given to them by citizens, residents and voters.

    The proposed ballot-initiative from the City apparently will try to do just that – use a ballot initiative to ensure funding for public safety programs and pass the buck from the people paid to figure out these budget problems to the voters.

    Arguably, Measure P was an egregious example of ballot-box budgeting – the city claimed the funds would “ensure vital services” but there was no accountability when it turned out that, alas, the measure did NOT ensure vital services.

  • Concerned Bigtime says:

    One thing that should also be looked at is who really drafts the 2nd fire measure ballot and how much that costs Alameda. Having worked in private practice as an engineer my whole life, my sense is that in small cities it will be drafted by an outside firm and not really the city attorney. How much will that cost? Michele may have a good story in detailing outside legal bills for the city.

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