Councilwoman Lena Tam on casting the lone vote
Last week, the City Council voted, 4-1, to put a firefighter-sponsored initiative that mandate minimum staffing levels on the ballot in November 2011, the last date it could legally do so. Councilwoman Lena Tam offered the lone “no” vote, saying she thinks the measure should be before voters sooner.
Tam says she’s been getting a lot of questions about her vote and she wants to answer them. Here’s what she has to say.
Following the August 3, 2009 City Council meeting, some people have asked me why I voted against waiting until November 2011 to place the Fire and Emergency Staffing initiative on the ballot. That’s almost three
years after the City Clerk certified the 9,048 signatures on the petition. This action is not timely and does not avoid unnecessary cost to the taxpayers.
First, I agreed with the speakers at the Council meeting that were opposed to placing the initiative on a special November 2009 election because it could cost up to $370,000. These funds could better be used
to restore some of the staffing in the fire department which has resulted in taking fire engines and ambulances out of service. We may not be spending the money for a special election in November 2009, but
we will in 2011.
Second, I favored placing the measure on the June 8, 2010 gubernatorial primary election because the cost would be significantly less since several major candidates and issues would be on the Alameda County
ballot, including governor, supervisor, and assembly races. This would honor the initiative process and the voters that signed the firefighters’ initiative. It would provide us enough time to get the information we
need on the impact of the state’s budget, and potentially work with the firefighters to better assess the risk of reduced staffing and appropriate funding.
After returning from a Washington D.C. session on disaster preparedness training funded by the Department of Homeland Security, I believe that Alameda needs to be better prepared in an earthquake with the potential of multiple natural gas fires. If I have to gamble with the safety of Alameda residents because of budget cuts, I want to stack the deck toward safety by keeping the remaining equipment that serves our 76,000 residents adequately staffed. It is our responsibility to protect the safety of our firefighters, our paramedics and our citizens in an emergency.
I hope we can reconsider placing the initiative in June 2010 – respect the democratic initiative process and save costs, irrespective of our opinions on the petition.