News

Menlo Park fire district buys $3.2 million house

Property needed to replace Alameda de las Pulgas fire station, district says

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District announced on March 2 the $3.2 million purchase of a house on Valparaiso Avenue, next door to the district's Alameda de las Pulgas fire station in unincorporated Menlo Park.

The three-bedroom, two-bathroom house at 2110 Valparaiso Ave. is on a 6,000-square-foot lot next door to the half-acre corner lot the fire station currently occupies.

Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the additional land was needed for the district to build a station similar to the one it recently built in East Palo Alto, with three equipment bays that vehicles can drive through; fire trucks at the Valparaiso station must now be backed in and out of the station.

The chief said the district used "a template overlay" for a three-bay drive-through facility to determine the need for additional property.

The district paid nearly $1 million more than the March 3 $2.25 million estimated value on the Zillow website for the 1980s era, 2,050-square-foot home.

Chief Schapelhouman said the Zillow estimate was not correct. In an email, he wrote that the district's agent, Nino Gaetano of Pacific Union Real Estate, found data on recent sales of comparable houses in the area for as high as $2.9 million. The chief said the property's sales price will be listed at $2.9 million, but that the district "included a separate cash payment to the seller" of $300,000. "That is how the seller wanted the deal structured," he said.

Mr. Gaetano said that, in his opinion, the district "did really well and Zillow is not reliable and is never used for supporting data" by appraisers or real estate professionals.

The district paid cash for the property, with the money coming from the capital reserve fund for the Alameda station, Chief Schapelhouman said.

The purchase is just the latest property acquisition by the fire district, which in 2017 spent more than $16 million buying land and structures. Those purchases included a $4.6 million house next to the Almendral Avenue fire station in Atherton, a $5 million 28,000-square-foot warehouse on 1.37 acres on Pulgas Avenue in East Palo Alto, and a $6.6 million acre of St. Patrick's Seminary land next to the Middlefield Road fire station in Menlo Park.

The chief said the Alameda fire station is the district's oldest, built in 1949. It will be rebuilt after the district finishes a new station on Middlefield Road. "It will take us about 10 years, or more, to rebuild both of these facilities," he said.

Chief Schapelhouman said that at least two of the district's chief officers have expressed interest in renting the new house. When the district first began negotiating for it, the house was listed for rent at $6,000 a month.

The house is clean and ready for someone to move in immediately, Chief Schapelhouman said.

The district is currently finishing up a new station in downtown Menlo Park on Oak Grove Avenue. A new station was completed in East Palo Alto in 2016.

The station on Alameda de las Pulgas serves Menlo Park, Atherton, nearby unincorporated areas and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which the district serves under a contract, the chief said.

The fire district includes Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and adjacent unincorporated areas. It has seven fire stations and an administration and fire prevention building.

It had a $54 million budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, with reserves of $65 million.

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Comments

22 people like this
Posted by Smart move
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 4, 2018 at 3:08 pm

Purchasing this land now is a smart, and strategic move to replace a fire station that will be 75 years old by the time the project gets underway.

Menlo Park and Atherton could both learn something from the forward-thinking fire district, which clearly sees the big picture.


19 people like this
Posted by Mansion Above
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 4, 2018 at 3:25 pm

Dumb move. Look at the numbers. Vanity run amok.


34 people like this
Posted by Who is Driving the Bus?
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 4, 2018 at 6:25 pm

Who is Driving the Bus? is a registered user.

What business is the District in? The Fire protection business or the land development business. The District seems to be careening towards developing the property it recently bought in Atherton as employee housing. Does it make sense to anyone to buy land in Atherton for $6 million, pay another $2 million to build a neighborhood appropriate home to house a highly compensated public employee? Where is the Board on this? Are there any public hearings? How could this possibly pencil out as a good investment? Not one more dime should be spent on this project until the Board declares what they are doing and how and, why it benefits District residents.

If the District thinks it needs housing to attract employees then offer a housing stipend or some other incentive. Public housing in the most expensive zip code in America is not fiscally responsible and sends the message the District has way too much revenue and reserves.


34 people like this
Posted by Smart Move
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 4, 2018 at 7:02 pm

Both the Almendral and Valparaiso properties were bought with an eye toward making future fire stations more efficient, with drive-through garages. Planning for new stations to meet a growing population is what responsible governments should be doing.

How is that a bad thing?

I think the argument that the fire district is developing property or providing employee housing is knee-jerk hyperbole.

Look at the fire district’s record with station 2, and the nearly-completed station 6. Both are modern facilities with drive-through garages, and have ample capacity for future growth and needs.

The fire district should be commended for upgrading its facilities, and doing so without coming to taxpayers asking for additional moneies.

Fact of the matter is, modern fire stations need more land than in the past. Banking that land in advance is a smart move that will reduce costs in the long run. In the event that plans change, the land can always be resold. It’s not likely the land will go down in value.

I am happy the fire district is upgrading its facilities rather than patching together old stations that won’t meet tomorrow’s needs.

Given the results with stations 2 and 6, the fire district has earned this taxpayer’s trust with regard to continuing with the station replacement program.


32 people like this
Posted by Pot Meet Kettle
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 5, 2018 at 10:25 am

People really need to stop lauding the District as an exemplary steward of taxpayer money. As a standalone fire district, it enjoys sacred cow status under the current system of property tax revenue allocation. On top of that, it serves an area whose property tax revenues were high to begin with, only to experience significant growth over recent years. So, the district finds itself in the unique position (at least compared with other local agencies) of sitting on absurdly high cash reserves. It is, quite literally, the richest local government agency in the state.


19 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 5, 2018 at 10:38 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Fire District has benefited from exactly the same increase in property values as all other jurisdictions.

The difference is that the Fire District carefully controls its personnel and pension costs and forces itself to FIRST take a portion of each year's tax revenues to fund future capital improvements and to prepare for higher pension costs. All of the District's property acquisition have been paid for from those reserves that were carefully funded over the years.

It would be easy to spend all of the revenues in the current year by hiring more employees like other agencies do and then come back with parcel taxes and construction bonds like other agencies do - that is not what the Fire District does.


27 people like this
Posted by John The Baptist
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2018 at 12:23 pm

John The Baptist is a registered user.

From the story:

"Chief Schapelhouman said that at least two of the district's chief officers have expressed interest in renting the new house. When the district first began negotiating for it, the house was listed for rent at $6,000 a month."

Absolutely not! Renting to district personnel raises way too many conflict of interest potentials.


21 people like this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 5, 2018 at 12:39 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

the acquisition of land adjacent to an existing (and aging) Fire-station is good forward thinking.

had that house been sold, tore down and a new house built there, the ability to expand is gone for decades.

If instead they never use it, the appreciation accumulates to the district.

Roy Thiele-Sardina


24 people like this
Posted by been there
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 5, 2018 at 1:49 pm

been there is a registered user.

Wow!! Money to burn. Our tax dollars fund the highest paid firefighters in the state. They are spending money like it is endless and free. Wait! I guess it is in their eyes.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 5, 2018 at 1:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Our tax dollars fund the highest paid firefighters in the state"

Wrong. There are hundreds of firefihters in California who et paid more than MPFPD firefighters:

Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Steve_J
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2018 at 2:49 pm

Steve_J is a registered user.

typical Atherton knee jerk reactions. No forward thinking.


11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 5, 2018 at 2:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"typical Atherton knee jerk reactions. No forward thinking."

If Atherton had followed the same policy of funding the depreciation of its capital assets every year from current year revenues (as does the Fire District) then the Town would already have had the funds needed for a new Town Center.


24 people like this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 5, 2018 at 2:58 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

Peter,

Your district is the HIGHEST paid Fire Department in the State [actually it is the HIGHEST paid special district in the state].

The next nearest San Ramon is $23,000 less per person. your "cherry picking" of single compensation people is simply disingenuous.

Web Link

Roy Thiele-Sardina


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 5, 2018 at 3:10 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Roy - You are confusing the subset of Special Districts with ALL fire agencies in the State.

Many fire agencies in California pay more than does MPFPD.


12 people like this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 5, 2018 at 5:09 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

well of the 450 Special District Fire Agencies....you are number one.

i will leave it to you to parse the rest of the states data and and present it.

My point was that there are always singularly higher paid employees. as an agency you have to be among the HIGHEST paying Fire Departments in California.....which is NOT something you want to brag about.

Roy



5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 5, 2018 at 5:30 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"450 Special District Fire Agencies.."

Roy - where are you getting you numbers!! There are only 301 Special Fire Districts.

Web Link

And the reason MPFPD's average pay is high is because we have a very low ratio of support staff to firefighters.

Would you rather have more administrative staff in order to reduce the average pay?

And if those of us who waived our pay were counted in the total then the average would also come way down.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 5, 2018 at 5:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

And there are 99 Special District employees in California paid more than the highest paid MPFPD employee:

Web Link


29 people like this
Posted by Jenson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 5, 2018 at 11:11 pm

Peter will never admit to the gravy train that the MP fire District is hitched too. He will divert attention as he always does to balanced budgets and city politics. Comparisons aside, regardless of other agencies being paid more. The MPFD is still drowning in money any way you spin the facts. Things are out of control with this district and its board.


13 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 6, 2018 at 8:50 am

Jenson:
Things are what they are.... how do you plan to change how they get their funding? It is what it is: enjoy the great services we receive from the district at a cost that stays within tax guidelines. Not in debt, runs on balanced budget, nationwide reputation.


13 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 6, 2018 at 9:07 pm

The web link Mr. Carpenter provides for, purportedly, the 1000 highest paid firefighters in the state, includes nobody from MPFPD despite the fact that the list goes down to people making less than $150K per year, all in with overtime and benefits. Clearly, many in MPFPD make more than that.So, apparently, Mr. Carpenter is supporting his position with a list that does not include employees from MPFPD. IMO, that is typical of the obfuscation of the fire District's former President.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 7, 2018 at 6:03 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.


Wrong - "For site stability purposes, search results are limited to 20 pages with the last firefighter on that list making $228,665.00 " and no MPFPD "firefighter" appears on the those 20 pages.

As I stated "Wrong. There are hundreds of firefighters in California who are paid more than MPFPD firefighters:

Web Link

If you search that list for MPFPD "firefighter" the highest result is $188,796.36:

Web Link=

Please do your homework more carefully.


19 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 7, 2018 at 8:02 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This is a great lesson in reading and researching beyond the headlines.

An earlier Almanac story on MPFPD salaries was based on a single data set (publicpayca) that was fundamentally incomplete.

But when you look at a larger and more complete data set (Transparent California) a very different picture emerges.

Doing so takes hard work and time but the result is truth rather than a flashy headline.

[Editor's note: The Almanac story used both websites Mr. Carpenter refers to, and the one he says is "fundamentally incomplete" is the state controller's website.]


13 people like this
Posted by John The Baptist
a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2018 at 1:57 pm

John The Baptist is a registered user.

Gosh. The way Carpenter spins it the poor SOB's who work for the MPFPD are getting ripped off.

Of course the average fireman in the MPFPD makes two or three times as much as the average schmuck does who is served by them. Not sure how much more the schmucks can pay considering all of public employees who sacrifice so much for so little.

Still, the schmucks should be more grateful.


8 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 7, 2018 at 2:13 pm

I believe it is Mr. Carpenter who is mistaken about the list he provided; when I look at the last page on the list, the lowest paid firefighter shows a total compensation of $148,684, OT and benefits included. So, when Mr. Carpenter says "the last firefighter on the list making $228,7655", it looks to me like, unbelievabluy enough, it is he who is wrong. He is correct to say that no MPFPD firefighters make the list even though by his own admissioin some make more than the $148,684. So I believe that Mr Carpenter continues to cherry-pick statistics to obfuscate the immense largesse that has been awarded to the MPFPD in his 15 years on the Board.


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 7, 2018 at 2:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is the last entry on page 20 of a search for "firefighter" salaries in California:

1,000 employee records found – Page 20 of 20

Justin Dilworth Firefighter
Ventura County, 2016 $82,854.00 $228,665.00
For site stability purposes, search results are limited to 20 pages. Please contact us for the complete search results.


Web Link=


4 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 7, 2018 at 7:07 pm

Smart move!


3 people like this
Posted by Thomas
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 8, 2018 at 12:09 pm

"Our tax dollars fund the highest paid firefighters in the state"

Wrong. There are hundreds of firefihters in California who et paid more than MPFPD firefighters:


Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Stats
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Mar 9, 2018 at 5:33 pm

Stats is a registered user.

Mike, Peter,
Just to clarify. My query for ‘firefighter’ on Transparent CA goes to 2500 records (50 pages). Page 20 (top 1000) ends exactly as Peter stipulates. But the list does continue to page 50 with the final entry, number 2500, grossing around $194,000.


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

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