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Consolidation of San Mateo County Fire Agencies - Yes or No?

Original post made by Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood, on Nov 10, 2009

In another discussion the issue of consolidation of San Mateo County Fire Agencies was raised. I promised to post your Fire District's position on this issue - see below.

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Comments (12)

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Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2009 at 10:07 am

I wonder if we could get Martha Poyatos to post the Sphere of Influence review here?

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Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 10, 2009 at 3:46 pm

yes, consolidation will streamline administration.

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Posted by Are You kidding
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Nov 10, 2009 at 4:43 pm

What is this a joke? Woodside Fire District stated they would not merge with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. The only chance would be with the city of San Mateo Fire Department, which will not merge because of personnel issues involving the two management groups. Good try, but don't get our hopes up!!!!!! Trim the big management salaries and eliminate some of those chief positions of the MPFPD first.

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 10, 2009 at 10:11 pm

San Mateo County has way too many local government entities. How many police departments, fire departments, school districts, etc. does a county our size really need to have? How many people in management and administrations does it take to run each of these organizations?

There should be a way to save money here; some of the agencies aren't that big but still have the overhead to manage them. There are at least 15 fire agencies, 20+ police departments, and more than 22 school districts.

What would it take to think outside the box and consolidate some of them? Do we really need that much overhead?

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Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2009 at 6:56 am

Lets assume for a moment that a County Police Protection District was enacted. How long would it be before residents in a particular area felt that they were being under served? and no matter how the cost is collected (Ad Valorum or fee based) some areas will pay more and some will pay less. The argument will then become which areas use more of the service and should those areas be required to pay more?...

When the limited police resources are dispatched to the more crime ridden areas of the County, leaving the likes of Atherton or Portola Valley without a response, how long will it be before residents in those areas decide they would rather have their own police services. (my guess is about a month.)

The fact is that the County is far too diverse for a scheme like this to work for very long, and before you know it the wealthier areas will once again decide to tax themselves to provide their own police protection. Of course the chances of getting out of the County plan might be slim, so we would end up paying twice.

That said I do believe that many government agencies could save a great deal by joining together to provide Admin services. Why does each agency need to process their own payroll, accounts payable and receivable? Why not a County Wide Government Accounting agency to do these things? I am not saying its the right answer, but its worth discussing.

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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2009 at 11:18 am

While I am very familiar with the theory of economies of scale, which is sort of at the heart of Bill's post, and I can certainly see the scenarios that Interested mentioned playing out, I'd like to address the specific issue of Fire District consolidation from a different perspective. In addition to responding to fire emergencies, local fire jurisdictions also provide regulatory oversight with regard to new construction, remodels, etc. As an example, in Menlo Park and Atherton, all building permits must be approved by the Fire District. A very common comment I have heard from people I know in the construction business is that the Menlo Park Fire District is extremely hard to work with in this regard, usually adding more cost to a project. Evidently the fire codes have some degree of latitude written in for local jurisdictions to apply. Cities like Woodside or Redwood City, currently with their own fire departments, would likely not be willing to have the stricter enforcement placed upon the permitting process. I will stop short of expressing my own opinion as to whether stricter is good or bad, but I do believe this difference between fire districts is a barrier to any reasonably smooth chance of consolidation.

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Posted by Martha Poyatos
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:54 pm

The LAFCo study will be available shortly on the LAFCo website which is It has also been made available to the fire districts so that they may post it on district websites.

If readers would like a more immediate electronic copy they can e-mail a request to

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:21 pm

I'm not saying that money is the only factor to consider in discussing consolidation. But given the financial conditions of government these days, money is a significant factor. The state has once again come knocking on local governments' doors to "borrow" money.

In San Mateo County we should look for ways to be more efficient with our tax dollars. Trimming overhead either for redundancy or cost savings makes sense. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. I'm sure there are experiences from around the country which have consolidated multiple agencies -- be it fire, police or schools. Maybe we could take a page from their books.

It's worth discussing.

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Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Kudos to Martha Poyatos. The purpose of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) is to look into exactly these kind of issues. Good on you for picking up on this discussion and showing us how to find the information we need to make informed decisions.

Hey Martha did anyone say today, Thanks for what you do.If not let me be the first.

The work that goes into the LAFCo sphere reports is remarkable and the author inevitably is attacked by those on the losing end of the recommendations.

As George Washington might well have said "Martha, your swell"

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 12, 2009 at 1:48 pm

In the long run County wide consolidation would both provide better
service and lower costs. Consolidation on a smaller scale would yield
proportionately fewer savings and not quite the same level of service.
For example, under County wide consolidation we could have one superb
training facility, whereas if the southern portion of the County
consolidated we would still need such a facility. Politically the
smaller consolidation might be easier but I would suggest that the
political hurdles facing partial consolidation and total consolidation
would not be significantly different.

Look at Orange County and Sac Metro as examples of what is possible
and of the incredible benefits. Compare Orange County's Emergency
Operations Center to the hodge-podge of small and inadequate EOCs
scattered around San Mateo County.

What is needed is strong leadership, which could come from either
elected officials, the media or the business community.

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Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Nov 13, 2009 at 10:57 am

Mr. Carpenter, thank you, you have given an excellent example of how consolidation would indeed save money countywide.I have to believe that there are considerably more examples no one has even thought of yet. We both know that consolidation will take a very long time if it ever happens. What are the chances of some of these ideas being put forward before consolidation? The training facility idea is superb. In your experience what are the chances of the various agencies working together in this way regardless of consolidation?

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Posted by Rob Silano
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Nov 13, 2009 at 4:52 pm

This concept(training consolidation) is not new to law enforcement both on the local, state and federal levels. Many regional training centers are all over the USA. Many provide a basic training certification, in-service and professional development courses.Many offer an AA degree after the termination of training. A great stepping stone for them (students) to continue on to a BS/ MS or specialization certification. Some of these centers also provide fire training. We at the NCRIC coordinate many training classes for all segments of Emergency management, fire , police, natural disasters, and private sector companies. Get this, at no charge to the agency.......... Go to up, get approved and get the training........All federal grant money at work!

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