News

Atherton approves fire services study

Options for leaving fire district and fiscal matters to be examined

Atherton's City Council has given the go-ahead to a study of fire services in town, something that has soured the relationship between the town and Menlo Park Fire Protection District since it was first proposed in September.

The council voted unanimously April 19 for City Manager George Rodericks to negotiate a contract with Matrix Consulting Group, a management consulting firm based in Mountain View.

The study will look at the costs and benefits of its existing fire and emergency services provided by the fire district, and at other options for providing fire services to the town.

Although the president of the fire district's governing board, Peter Carpenter, had sent an email urging Atherton residents to protest the study, only one member of the public was at the meeting for the item. The town received two emails opposing the study, one of them from someone who does not live in the town or the fire district.

In an e-mail with the subject "A need for citizen outrage - note from Peter," Mr. Carpenter called the proposed study "nothing but a greedy and selfish attempt to take property tax revenues from the Fire District to pad the coffers of the Town."

"The net result of this effort would be to diminish the ability of our Fire District to respond to our less affluent neighbors in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto," he wrote. "This is a greedy and selfish proposal."

Mr. Carpenter later told the Almanac that he had written the email as a private citizen, not as president of the fire board, although the email does not state in what capacity he is writing.

But council members, especially council fire board liaison Cary Wiest, said the town needed the study so it would have the basic information to make knowledgeable decisions about fire and emergency service.

"This is one of the steps that we have to take," Mr. Wiest said.

Councilman Rick DeGolia expressed the only skepticism. "I hear the same comments that everybody else hears from our residents," he said. "The fire district's tax level is basically twice what (the town's) is. What will we get from (the study) I'm not really clear about it."

Mayor Mike Lempres said he had done some preliminary figuring based on information the fire district had given the town about the 2015-16 fiscal year. During that year, the fire district received $11.8 million in property tax revenues from Atherton and responded to 517 calls from the town. The calls ranged from 93 false alarms to 103 "general service" calls (such as for water, smoke, odor and animal problems) and eight fire calls.

"They're averaging $23,000 per call in Atherton which is a pretty astonishing number," Mr. Lempres said.

Councilman Bill Widmer asked for one change in the consultant's proposed work plan: to hold public meetings about the study after it has been completed, not before. The council approved that change.

The proposal from Matrix is for $49,500 and suggests looking at two fundamental questions:

• What are the costs, locally generated revenues, and benefits of service from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District?

• What is the financial and service feasibility of the town creating a municipal fire department?

To answer the first question, the consultants propose looking at what taxes and fees from Atherton residents go to the fire district, how much it costs the fire district to provide services to the town, and if the revenues exceed the costs.

To answer the second question, the consultants propose looking at options for providing fire service to the town, including a municipal fire department, contracting with another fire service or creating a joint powers agreement with other regional agencies.

The Matrix team who will be conducting the study includes two former fire chiefs and a project manager who has conducted more than 150 fire and emergency medical services reviews nationwide.

The proposal shows the study taking 14 weeks to complete.

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Comments

3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 20, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There is no doubt that the residents of Atherton pay more in ALL kinds of taxes than they receive in services – to the school districts, to the Fire District, to the Harbor District, to the Open Space District, to the County, to the State and to the Federal government – but where is the value in spending our limited Town of Atherton tax dollars studying any of these entities and trying to figure out how to somehow pay less than our fair share?

For example, I estimate that the residents of Atherton receive:

- less than 30 cents of services for every tax dollar paid to the school districts

- less than 20 cents of services for every tax dollar paid to the Federal government

- less than 10 cents of service for every dollar paid to the Harbor District

Do what is the Town Council going to do about these so-called "inequities"?


11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 20, 2017 at 7:42 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.


Web Link

"“They say they are transparent,” said Council Member Cary Wiest on Wednesday, “but it’s like pulling porcupine quills out of a porcupine” to get any data from the fire district."

This is simply a lie.

November 4, 2016
George Roderick’s, City Manager Town of Atherton
In order to assist the Town with its proposed fiscal review of the Fire District, we are delivering the following important items in hard copy to your office:
1. Our current budget
2. Our most recent comprehensive audit report
3. Our 2015 Standards of Cover Assessment Report
4. Our tax rate area (TRA) information for the Town
5. Our Emergency incident information specifically for Atherton
As part of our commitment to transparency and good governance, I wanted to make sure that if you
are not able to find something on our web-site, please let me know and I will see if we have it readily available in hard copy form.
If a requested item cannot be found on our web-site or does not exist in presentable format in our files, and takes a reasonable amount of staff time to be prepared, we will provide you with that data at our earliest convenience. The emergency call data took approximately 4 hours of staff time to research and prepare.
If your request will take a substantial amount of staff time or require additional work by one of our consultants, we will advise you as to those time frames and potential costs. This may include data that has to be tallied by hand. In the case that the requested data does not exist in any form in our records we will notify you. You may then, at your option, decide to collect the data yourselves or request that we engage staff or consultants, at your cost, to collect the data for you.
In order to make this as efficient as possible we would request that you prepare a schedule containing a comprehensive list and description of all of the data that you would like from the District. If we need clarifications on your request, I would suggest a face to face meeting with management of both jurisdictions and knowledgeable staff to be certain there is no confusion or wasted effort.
We would also ask that the Town allow us to review and offer suggestions for a scope of services from any consultants retained to conduct a Fire Services Fiscal Review.


Menlo Park Fire Protection District
170 Middlefield Road • Menlo Park, CA 94025 • Tel: 650.688.8400 • Fax: 650.323.9129 Website: www.menlofire.org • Email: mpfd@menlofire.org
Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 20, 2017 at 8:12 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

From: Peter Carpenter
Subject: Atherton's Fiscal Review
Date: April 15, 2017 at 10:34:05 AM PDT
To: harolds@menlofire.org, Virginia Chang Kiraly <vc@kiraly.com>, Michelle Radcliffe <mradcliffe@MenloFire.org>, "Quint, Lauren" <lquint@meyersnave.com>

Harold,
In the unfortunate event that the Atherton Town Council approves the Matrix contract we should immediately deliver to Matrix hard copies of all of the relevant publicly available information including, but not limited to,:
1 - run data previously provided to the Town Manager
2 - latest Annual Report
3 - latest CAFR
4 - most recent CityGate reports
5 - such other publicly available items as you feel appropriate
6 - a copy of the District’s Public Records Request policy so that Matrix, like any other individual, can request additional public information from the District and to which we will respond IF we have the requested information.
7- Designation of you as the Fire Chief as the sole MPFPD point of contact for Matrix.

Matrix address:
Richard Brady, President
201 San Antonio Circle, Suite 148
Mountain View, Ca 94040
650-858-0507


Thanks,

Peter


18 people like this
Posted by Funny
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 21, 2017 at 7:12 am

Right...a lie. Hmmmm

Reading the Town's website, they have been at this issue for quite a while and have tried to get data from the Fire District. The District had been less than cooperative. I remember a prior blog post from Peter on another article about the Town putting out the Study - back in October 2016 I think. Peter said he sent an email to his chief saying that the District should provide the Town with data - mind you, AFTER the Town had asked several times as indicated in the staff report and the Towns website. Then, November 2016, the Chief sends the data and 1 year of stats only - saying as Peter shows above - if you want something more, and it takes time to gather, we are going to charge you for the time it takes to get it.

Now again, instead of offering assistance, Peter sends another letter instructing the Chief to send the same available data, the same public records act policy information on how to get any other data, and designating the Chief as the "sole" contact not "a" contact for the Town.

All this instead of saying, send them this suggested data and help the Town get whatever else it may need to complete their study.

Sounds obstructionist and definitely akin to pulling quills from a porcupine as Wiest suggested.


5 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 21, 2017 at 7:38 am

Hey boys and girls, don't you think that the chosen consultant MATRIX while earning their $50,000 are capable enough to ask for whatever they need, either directly from Atherton or other sources without the Fire District trying to take control by dictating the rules of the game? Sit back and trust the system and allow it to play out. Sending duplicate records to Matrix that were previously furnished to a Atherton is unnecessary. It doesn't show good faith, instead a sense of power and control. It also implies that you are trying to hide something.


15 people like this
Posted by Peter Skeptic
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 21, 2017 at 12:33 pm

It seems that each time Peter opens his mouth I trust him less and less. I don't think Atherton residents need to put forth any effort to get things changed. Peter's overly defensive/aggressive rhetoric has already soured things and I am guessing his lack of skills will do a fine job of putting a nail in the coffin. I see change a comin'.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 21, 2017 at 12:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

My role is to protect the interests of the Fire District and to ensure that it provides quality service to all of its residents, not to swell the coffers or inflate the egos of the Town of Atherton.


5 people like this
Posted by Through the looking glass
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 21, 2017 at 12:47 pm

First, I think Peter is correct and somewhat incorrect at the same time. Yes, the fire district is not accountable to the Town of Atherton. Its constituents are the individuals living in the district. However, as the individuals' elected representatives, it is normal for council members to see if their interests are being protected. There have been other examples of this (e.g., airlines flying over the town; airlines don't work for the town). In and of itself, there's nothing wrong with this (and a lot right with it).

The puzzling aspect is the role reversal. Atherton spends too much on its own police department. Peter has done a good job of pointing this out over the years. The town council, by and large, has turned a blind eye to it. Now that we're looking at the fire department, the roles seem almost completely reversed!


2 people like this
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 21, 2017 at 1:07 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Perhaps the Town of Atherton should consider building a wall around their affluent residents. (after first detaching the undesirables, who are not paying their fair share, from their Town)


2 people like this
Posted by Yet More Of The Same Nonsense
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2017 at 1:12 pm

It wasn't funny the first time you posted that, Hickey.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 21, 2017 at 1:20 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

I wasn't being funny, just "on topic".


2 people like this
Posted by Funny
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 21, 2017 at 1:23 pm

@Glass - first, I've been a resident long enough to remember that the Council DID conduct an analysis of its Police Department and DID review the options related to outsourcing. It was a HUGE conversation in 2012 and prior when the Town was in a much different financial condition. I think they actually outsourced a number of different areas. But, after the review and feedback at public meetings and elsewhere from residents, the Council opted to retain its PD very much supported by local residents. That issue was then closed.

Perhaps the outcome with the FD will be the same, perhaps not. As Peter said, it's not really up to the Council - it's ultimately the residents that must move it forward; but I think they should have an objective analysis rather than one-sided information.


2 people like this
Posted by Yet More Of The Same Nonsense
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Jack Hickey -- "I wasn't being funny, just "on topic"."

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.


12 people like this
Posted by He Who Protests Too Much
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 21, 2017 at 1:27 pm

First, it is astonishing how much Carpenter posts on this subject and doesn't listen to others.

Second, Carpenter days"nothing but a greedy and selfish attempt to take property tax revenues from the Fire District to pad the coffers of the Town." This is ridiculous and he knows it. Atherton cannot "take" any of the Fire District's tax revenue, even if it wanted to. Tax allocations were determined by Proposition 13 in 1978. Even if somehow Atherton were to take on providing fire services (which has never been proposed that I've seen), it wouldn't get those tax dollars. This is an inflammatory comment and IT is the source of tension between the Town of Atherton and the Fire District. Atherton's attempt to get the facts of what is spent in Atherton is not the issue generating tension (other than perhaps with Carpenter and anyone who believes his wild claims).


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 21, 2017 at 1:33 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

How much do Athertonians pay for fire insurance on their homes? Would that be reduced if they had their own fire department? Is it significant?

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.


Like this comment
Posted by Through the looking glass
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 21, 2017 at 2:17 pm

@Funny: "the issue is closed". Now you're starting to sound a lot like Peter's comments on the fire district. Yes, some council members, who got huge contributions to their campaigns from the police union, argue everyone's satisfied, so the costs are just fine. That argument is illogical/hypocritical with respect to the current fire situation since "[the fire district is also] very much supported by local residents". Like I said, this is the same issue, just in reverse, and everyone is taking opposite positions.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 21, 2017 at 2:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Atherton cannot "take" any of the Fire District's tax revenue, even if it wanted to."

Here is what the Atherton Staff Reports states - "(property tax revenue sharing agreements, additional service
levels, provision of additional fire-related infrastructure, development of local emergency response programs, etc.)"

" Even if somehow Atherton were to take on providing fire services (which has never been proposed that I've seen),"

Here is what the Atherton Staff Report states:'Discuss alternative fire service models which could include, but not be limited to, detachment from the Fire District, provision of fire services by the Town through creation of a new fire department, creation of a joint police/fire department, contract for fire services with the County, Redwood City, or the District itself."


Like this comment
Posted by Funny
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 21, 2017 at 2:30 pm

@Glass - you are correct - "the issue is closed" was too strong. My apologies. The issue may not be closed as times may change in the future. But, it has certainly been debated and discussed at the City Council level; numbers were posited; and decisions were made by the City Council as a group, not simply individual council members. A search of the City Council minutes on the Town's website shows the sheer number of times that it has been discussed as well as the decision by the Council to close the issue of outsourcing and move on.

Again, I'm sorry to overstate it as closed; as things may indeed change at some point in the future.


5 people like this
Posted by Walter Sleeth
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 21, 2017 at 3:03 pm

It is a shame that personal grudges have so upset the Council of the Town of Atherton and the Board of the Fire District that the Council has voted to spend $50,000 on a study when in fact they already have the answers. When asked 'what are you going to do with the Study?', the best they could summon was "it will be a first step". But there was no answer to what after the 'first step'.

While it must be recognized that nothing is unchangeable, Members of the Council should recognize that the property tax funding allocations, which is what they are concerned with here, were defined, under Prop 13, in the late 1970's. Changing those allocations would involve some change in the California State Constitution. Doing this Study, when Atherton has several other funding needs, including amongst others, the Civic Center, is not a good use of the resident's taxes.

Finally, contrary to 'Peter Skeptic', I do trust Peter Carpenter. While sometimes sharp with his comments, he is very intelligent and extremely honest; we are all fortunate to have him on the Fire Board. I believe his understanding of the tax allocations, which are essentially the topic here, are correct. He, to my knowledge never said they are unchangeable.



4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 21, 2017 at 7:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Although the president of the fire district's governing board, Peter Carpenter, had sent an email urging Atherton residents to protest the study,"

That email was sent from my personal email address and the email included my Atherton home address.

The reporter failed to confirm this fact before publishing this erroneous account.

The reporter has refused to correct her error and has instead attempted to blame me for her lack of proper sourcing -"Mr. Carpenter later told the Almanac that he was not writing the email as president of the fire board"

A sad day for good journalism.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 21, 2017 at 8:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The standards of good reporting from the NPR Ethics Handbook:

"Guard against subjective errors. #
Ensuring we have our factual details correct is only part of the accuracy equation. It’s just as important to make sure we’ve correctly interpreted those facts in our reporting. The burden is on us to ensure that the way we use the material we collect — sound, photos and words — is true to their intended meaning and context. When quoting or paraphrasing anyone - whether in a blog post, an online story or in an on-air “actuality” – consider whether the source would agree with the interpretation, keeping in mind that sources may sometimes parse their words even though we accurately capture their meaning. An actuality from someone we interview or a speaker at an event should reflect accurately what that person was asked, was responding to or was addressing."

"Accuracy is at the core of what we do. We do our best to ensure that everything we report faithfully depicts reality – from the tiniest detail to the big-picture context that helps put the news into perspective. Facts are incredibly slippery. Studies of press accuracy routinely find mistakes – sometimes many of them – in news media reports. This means that when journalists – even the best ones – think they’re getting it right, they’re all too often wrong. Errors are inevitable. But our best defense against them is constant vigilance. This is why we systematically and rigorously review our facts before we make our reporting public."

Clearly the Almanac has much lower standards.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 21, 2017 at 8:49 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

NPR? Seriously Peter? They're so far left they're falling off the earth! Not someone I would hang my hat on for "journalistic integrity."


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 21, 2017 at 9:00 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I would gladly use the Almanac's Ethical Standards but I cannot find them.


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 21, 2017 at 9:08 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

You don't have to pay for NPR's standards. All of us tax payers pay for it for you. Unfortunately, they only think the left wing pays for their journalistic standards.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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