Pacifica Tribune 4/20/11, My Turn  article.  "Like its tax predecessor, the May 2009 Measure D sales tax increase, the Fire Safety Assessment went down in flames last week. Both tax-and-grab measures lost by two thirds. Perhaps a little honesty and transparency are in order. The fire tax was nothing more than a political move to increase the General Fund by more than a million dollars a year. To mask it as a "Fire Safety" fee assumes the public are fools. The numbers beg to differ. Now to threaten the fire department with decimating cuts and re-organizations is tantamount to spanking the electorate.

Let's take a look at what is really going on. Six years ago Pacifica passed a parcel tax to protect the fire department from threatened cuts. Fire personnel and citizens took to the streets and helped the city fill a budget shortfall.  Along with that came the expectation that the City Council would work for the next five years to increase our revenue. We were promised a plan. Five years later, nothing. In fact, the city laid off three firefighters after promising us no such thing would happen. Trust. That is what killed these tax-and-grab measures. We deserve some honesty from our city officials. How many of us truly understand what Pacifica's role is in the Daly City run fire joint powers authority (JPA)? Pacifica wants to cut one battalion chief, move the other two to 40 hour work weeks stationed in Daly City, lay off one firefighter, and demote several others.

Where does that leave us? Where will the on-site supervision come from for a fire in Pacifica? When Pacifica had its own fire department, acting fire battalion chiefs were utilized when a battalion chief was off, negating the overtime that seems to be a real bone of contention. Is it true that the current Daly City Chief, Ron Myers, will not allow that practice? Wouldn't it seem prudent to substitute a senior captain when a battalion chief was off, thus saving overtime and providing valuable hands-on training for that captain? How are our firefighters trained? Our department used to provide training for not only our own fire personnel but for other cities' firefighters as well. Has that been eliminated?
Speaking of overtime, doesn't the State Office of Emergency Services reimburse Pacifica for all the time our firefighters are called to other parts of the state? If so, where does that money go? Back to the fire department or to the General Fund? 'Wouldn't that make the overtime look excessive even though we are reimbursed by the state? And who is responsible for policy about excessive overtime? Our city? Daly City?
Has the Pacifica fire department sold any equipment? If so, where did the money go? We were told that joining the JPA would save Pacifica $750,000. Has that ever been substantiated? What if Daly City decides to leave the JPA? Will Pacifica be left with any semblance of a fire department?

Last, but most importantly, what about safety? How will Pacifica be affected by the two in two out laws (two manning the engine and 2 in the structure) on the books that require four firefighters to be on scene before they can enter a structure?  How much will Pacificans' safety be compromised? We laid off three firefighters after the last parcel tax; now we are going to lay off one more and transfer two battalion chiefs to desk jobs in Daly City. That leaves us down six firefighters. What's left?

Lots of questions need to be answered. We would request that Chief Myers, Mayor Nihart, City Manager Rhodes, the rest of Council and Finance Director Ritzma conduct an open forum before any decisions are made to make their case and answer these and any other questions to the satisfaction of the electorate. We suggest that this forum be held at the Community Center and televised. Open government is not too much to ask of our council; however, it seems to come very very slowly to Pacifica. In the midst of the gravest fiscal crisis this city has ever faced, with draconian fire safety cuts looming, open government is still lacking. We have called for robust posting of all agendas, minutes and documents for all meetings. Council held a budget workshop last Wednesday, April 13, where $1.5M in cuts were discussed. No agenda was posted prior to the meeting. No budget documents were posted ahead of the meeting and are still not up on the website. No minutes are available now after the meeting.  Transparency and open government are not too much to ask of our council.  We deserve at least that!"

Submitted by Jim Wagner and Mark Stechbart