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Councilwoman Lena Tam on casting the lone vote

Submitted by on 1, August 14, 2009 – 6:00 am5 Comments
Councilwoman Lena Tam

Councilwoman Lena Tam

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.


  • Bob B says:

    Ms Tam knows what the financial problems exist within the city government, and if the measure passed how would it be paid for? This isn't about public safety as she might claim, but payback for the support of the fire department's firefighter's union in prior elections. As well as, trying to get their future support in upcoming elections that Ms Tam might consider running in!

    I don't believe the city counsel would cut public safety at a whim, when elected official cut public safety they are cutting their own throats in the eyes of the citizen. No one wants to do it, even if it is expensive and there are questions about what is the right size of public safety for the city. It just bad business in the eyes of the public to make these cuts. But Ms Tam clearly showed she will vote to payback for political gains. Shame on her.

    • Hi Bob,

      A quick note on the financial piece of this (and sorry for the delay, I wanted to check my notes): The night of this vote, Councilmember Tam did actually say she wanted to explore the city's options for funding this if it passed. Per my notes, she said she wanted to get the opportunity to evaluate what's an appropriate level of staffing, find out whether additional revenues besides taxes are available and to work with the union to see if there is an opportunity to develop a collaborative measure to put on the ballot.

  • Sandy says:

    Dear Ms. Tam,

    I agree with you, 100%. As a citizen of Alameda and one that is very interested in Disaster Preparedness, this is a very important matter. Only education ranks higher than the protection of people and property in the time of disaster. For many Alameda residents, a disaster occurs when their house catches fire or they have medical emergency. We need a honest assessment of our current level of preparedness and a plan for the future.

    Thank you again.

  • Joan says:

    Dear Council and Chief Kapler:

    I just watched as every available piece of fire department equipment rolled over the Bay Farm Island bridge. I can't help but wonder what will happen if there is an emergency on the rest of the island on Saturday night.

    I read the articles in the Journal and the Sun about your solution to the November vote. When a quarter of the residents told you clearly they wanted a voice in the security of their city you first tried to squelch their petition by suing the men who brought that petition to the people. When that didn't work, you side-stepped the issue with a legal maneuver. We will be allowed to vote, but only after you have had two and a half years to further decimate the department.

    The reason you gave was that there was no money in the budget to fully fund the fire department; but you did

    manage to find the money to rehire the lawyer who had been laid off. And there was money to give raises to the administrative staff of the city.

    Please note that on this evening when a depleted fire force is fighting fires, all of those people who were rewarded with a raise are sitting comfortably at home. To make their wages fatter, you put the lives of your firefighters at a deeper risk.

    Have you established just how low you will drop the department staffing or is this going to be an ongoing technique to balance the budget? Will our police department be next? &nbspAre you betting that the fires won't be so serious that the city will be hit with a lawsuit?

    While laying off one lawyer might have helped to decrease spending these last few months, your choices now may make that option an impossibility in the future. For now, it seems that the safety of the citizens of Alameda is not very high on your list of priorities.

    I commend Lena Tam for being the single council member who clearly has our interests at heart.

  • Carole says:

    Bob B. — Checking Lauren Do's site on campaign filings from the 2006 election, it looks like the Firefighter's union gave $5,000 to Beverly Johnson and Frank Matarrese's campaigns for re-election. I guess they forget the "payback." What did Tam get?

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