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Atherton looking for place for officers, dispatchers to sleep between shifts

Employees talk about need for local housing at council meeting

It's nearly impossible to make the math work.

Add five-hour round-trip commutes to 12-hour work shifts and there's barely seven hours left to sleep, eat and bathe before it's time to head back to work, Atherton police officers and dispatchers told the City Council at a May 2 meeting.

In 2014 the town found a solution to that conundrum when it allowed police department employees to sleep between shifts in an unused town-owned home in Holbrook-Palmer Park. Speakers at the meeting said they had as many as seven officers and dispatchers (divided between day and night shifts) daily using the three bedrooms and other places to sleep in the house.

But the agreement with the Atherton Police Officers Association allowing the use of the house has now ended because the town needs the house back.

At the suggestion of the council, Police Chief Steve McCulley moved into the house while he and his wife tried, without luck, to find an affordable local rental, City Manager George Rodericks said. He said the chief and his wife were sharing the house with the dispatchers and officers, but some issues arose "that made the continued shared use not feasible." The council then offered the residence to the chief and his wife as their home for a $24,000 a year reduction in salary. After a 30-day notice, the dispatchers and police officers could no longer use the house effective April 30.

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The chief is expected to provide oversight in the park while he is in the home, as were the police personnel.

Sgt. Jeff Rickel told the council that he probably would not have taken a job with the Atherton Police Department if sleeping at the town-owned house was not an option. He has a three-hour round-trip commute, and tries to arrive a half-hour early for his 12-hour shifts. "That would be a 15.5-hour day," he told the council. The home was often "packed" with officers and dispatchers using it between shifts, Rickel said.

Now, he says, he's pondering his options. "I'm thinking of buying a camper to put on the back of my pickup truck," he said. "It's definitely a conundrum for me."

Officer Chris Greene said he lives in Santa Cruz, and often took advantage of getting some sleep at the house after getting off work at 7 a.m.

Officer Harris Smiler, a new Atherton police officer, had a similar story. In a letter to the council he said he used the town-owned home at least two or three nights a week -- and sometimes as many as five when working overtime -- to avoid the commute to his home in Oakland.

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"The Gilmore House was a sanctuary and safe haven to me," he wrote.

Plus, Smiler wrote, staying in town gave him time to do off-shift duties such as organizing the property room, instructing others in using Tasers and serving as treasurer of the Police Officers Association.

Others said that even if they don't need it, having a place for fellow officers to sleep makes everyone safer in a job involving firearms and split-second decisions. Officers also sometimes have to stay beyond their shifts to appear in court, they said.

Janelle Miller, a dispatcher and records clerk who has worked for Atherton since 1997, lives in Brentwood. It takes between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours for her to drive the 70 miles. "There isn't much time to sleep," she said.

Erica Johnson, the town's community services officer, said that staying in the town-owned house instead of making exhausted drives home allowed her husband and 10-year-old daughter to know "I was somewhere safe, with people who kept me safe."

Council members were sympathetic and asked Rodericks to explore possible resolutions, including offering Chief McCulley a stipend so he could afford to pay higher rent and return the house to its previous use.

"We obviously want you to get home safely," said Mayor Cary Wiest.

"It's absolutely critical that we provide some kind of place for them to rest," said council member Rick DeGolia.

Council member Elizabeth Lewis said she feared the town's proposal to convert two rooms in another park building to sleeping quarters was not enough. It is, she said, like trying to "put a tiny little (surgical tape strip) on a wound that needs stitching up."

Lewis said the town might consider eliminating 12-hour shifts, and could look into renting a house in a nearby community for the officers and dispatchers to use.

"There may be other solutions we haven't thought of yet," said council member Mike Lempres.

Other ideas posited by council members included turning an entire park building into short-term living quarters and exploring the legal ramifications of Atherton residents offering housing in their homes or guest houses.

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Atherton looking for place for officers, dispatchers to sleep between shifts

Employees talk about need for local housing at council meeting

by Barbara Wood / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, May 4, 2018, 10:25 am

It's nearly impossible to make the math work.

Add five-hour round-trip commutes to 12-hour work shifts and there's barely seven hours left to sleep, eat and bathe before it's time to head back to work, Atherton police officers and dispatchers told the City Council at a May 2 meeting.

In 2014 the town found a solution to that conundrum when it allowed police department employees to sleep between shifts in an unused town-owned home in Holbrook-Palmer Park. Speakers at the meeting said they had as many as seven officers and dispatchers (divided between day and night shifts) daily using the three bedrooms and other places to sleep in the house.

But the agreement with the Atherton Police Officers Association allowing the use of the house has now ended because the town needs the house back.

At the suggestion of the council, Police Chief Steve McCulley moved into the house while he and his wife tried, without luck, to find an affordable local rental, City Manager George Rodericks said. He said the chief and his wife were sharing the house with the dispatchers and officers, but some issues arose "that made the continued shared use not feasible." The council then offered the residence to the chief and his wife as their home for a $24,000 a year reduction in salary. After a 30-day notice, the dispatchers and police officers could no longer use the house effective April 30.

The chief is expected to provide oversight in the park while he is in the home, as were the police personnel.

Sgt. Jeff Rickel told the council that he probably would not have taken a job with the Atherton Police Department if sleeping at the town-owned house was not an option. He has a three-hour round-trip commute, and tries to arrive a half-hour early for his 12-hour shifts. "That would be a 15.5-hour day," he told the council. The home was often "packed" with officers and dispatchers using it between shifts, Rickel said.

Now, he says, he's pondering his options. "I'm thinking of buying a camper to put on the back of my pickup truck," he said. "It's definitely a conundrum for me."

Officer Chris Greene said he lives in Santa Cruz, and often took advantage of getting some sleep at the house after getting off work at 7 a.m.

Officer Harris Smiler, a new Atherton police officer, had a similar story. In a letter to the council he said he used the town-owned home at least two or three nights a week -- and sometimes as many as five when working overtime -- to avoid the commute to his home in Oakland.

"The Gilmore House was a sanctuary and safe haven to me," he wrote.

Plus, Smiler wrote, staying in town gave him time to do off-shift duties such as organizing the property room, instructing others in using Tasers and serving as treasurer of the Police Officers Association.

Others said that even if they don't need it, having a place for fellow officers to sleep makes everyone safer in a job involving firearms and split-second decisions. Officers also sometimes have to stay beyond their shifts to appear in court, they said.

Janelle Miller, a dispatcher and records clerk who has worked for Atherton since 1997, lives in Brentwood. It takes between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours for her to drive the 70 miles. "There isn't much time to sleep," she said.

Erica Johnson, the town's community services officer, said that staying in the town-owned house instead of making exhausted drives home allowed her husband and 10-year-old daughter to know "I was somewhere safe, with people who kept me safe."

Council members were sympathetic and asked Rodericks to explore possible resolutions, including offering Chief McCulley a stipend so he could afford to pay higher rent and return the house to its previous use.

"We obviously want you to get home safely," said Mayor Cary Wiest.

"It's absolutely critical that we provide some kind of place for them to rest," said council member Rick DeGolia.

Council member Elizabeth Lewis said she feared the town's proposal to convert two rooms in another park building to sleeping quarters was not enough. It is, she said, like trying to "put a tiny little (surgical tape strip) on a wound that needs stitching up."

Lewis said the town might consider eliminating 12-hour shifts, and could look into renting a house in a nearby community for the officers and dispatchers to use.

"There may be other solutions we haven't thought of yet," said council member Mike Lempres.

Other ideas posited by council members included turning an entire park building into short-term living quarters and exploring the legal ramifications of Atherton residents offering housing in their homes or guest houses.

Comments

SuzB
Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on May 4, 2018 at 12:55 pm
SuzB, Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on May 4, 2018 at 12:55 pm

Perhaps families in the area can host an officer? Or maybe some of the vacant, unused houses that have been purchased and sit empty during planning and permit process could be used for this purpose?


Who is Driving the Bus?
Atherton: other
on May 4, 2018 at 1:05 pm
Who is Driving the Bus? , Atherton: other
on May 4, 2018 at 1:05 pm

The local fire district is also struggling with the issue of high cost of housing faced by its employees. At its core this is a collective bargaining issue. If housing costs are a recruitment and retention issue than the employer can expect to offer higher compensation to attract well qualified candidates. It will then be up to the employees to craft their own solution to their individual housing needs. How are local teachers and Stanford nurses dealing with this issue? Many rent a shared apartment or house and each pays a share for rent and upkeep. This is a far better solution than the employer becoming a landlord to its employees. It is a convenience not a necessity for fire and police personnel to live in the community employing them, especially with the high cost of Atherton housing. There are many good alternative locations nearby that allow a quick return to work if necessary.


mary
Atherton: West Atherton
on May 4, 2018 at 3:56 pm
mary, Atherton: West Atherton
on May 4, 2018 at 3:56 pm

perhaps some space could be carved out of the new town center....while the edifice is being created, it would be a good time to think about it.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 4, 2018 at 5:22 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on May 4, 2018 at 5:22 pm

There is a great benefit in finding ways to encourage emergency service personnel to spend more of their off duty time in the communities that they serve because in times of emergency they will be available for immediate service.

It is a mistake to think of providing off duty quarters for such emergency service personnel as a benefit to those individuals rather than as a benefit to the community which they serve. This is particularly true in earthquake prone areas and in communities whose emergency personnel live at a distance from their duty station.


Give it a rest
Atherton: other
on May 4, 2018 at 9:16 pm
Give it a rest, Atherton: other
on May 4, 2018 at 9:16 pm

I'm tired of all the same arguments about how the trillions of dollars of unfunded liability in California for public safety workers should grow and grow and grow, and how now on top of this, taxpayers should provide free housing for them.

Would it be a benefit to Apple if engineers lived on premises or close by? Sure. If there's an emergency project to fix a bug, they're right there. Does Apple provide free housing? Of course not.

Do Atherton police officers get compensated more than most Apple engineers? Yes.

Like Train Fan pointed out in the other thread, every argument made about how all these concessions should be made for public safety workers can be made for private sector workers in Silicon Valley. The difference is when we grew up, public employees made less than those in the private sector. Now, on average, this is no longer the case.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 4, 2018 at 10:52 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on May 4, 2018 at 10:52 pm

Give it a rest - Have you ever served in the military or as a police officer or as a firefighter?

Do you know what Service means?


Give it a rest
another community
on May 4, 2018 at 11:13 pm
Give it a rest, another community
on May 4, 2018 at 11:13 pm

Peter, I have not. I wasn't aware that unless I've been a soldier, cop, or firefighter, I'm not entitled to an opinion.

But, I do know what service means. I also know what it means when someone gets paid for services rendered. I know you do as well. The fire district you "Service" has the highest paid public employees in California.

I don't agree with the between-the-lines definition of "Service" (with a capital "S") you seem to suggest in your comment: that firefighters and police officers tender uncompensated service to the community, and that the services they render are inherently greater or more valuable than private sector service. It's different service. Both types of service are needed. Both types of service are compensated for in Silicon Valley.

Again, if anything, the public safety workers are earning more for their services. If private sector employees don't get free housing, nor should public sector employees.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 4, 2018 at 11:18 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on May 4, 2018 at 11:18 pm

Give - yes you are entitled to your opinion but that opinion must be judged but you admitted lack of Service. Thank you for clarifying your lack of Service.


Give it a rest
Atherton: other
on May 4, 2018 at 11:28 pm
Give it a rest, Atherton: other
on May 4, 2018 at 11:28 pm

I didn't admit lack of "Service". I don't know what the word means as you're using it. If it means I'm not a cop or firefighter, then yes, I lack "Service".

If it means working at a job without compensation, than I lack "Service" as well, and so do the police and firefighters.

But how about I define "Service" as someone who is not responsible for handing out the highest public sector compensation packages in California. A financial fiduciary type of definition of serving people. Then I have "Service", but you don't.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 4, 2018 at 11:35 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on May 4, 2018 at 11:35 pm

"I don't know what the word means"

Understood.


Explanation
Menlo Park: other
on May 5, 2018 at 8:05 am
Explanation, Menlo Park: other
on May 5, 2018 at 8:05 am

Give it a rest, you don't seem to understand stuff, so let me explain it to you. Peter's been very patient, but you still don't get it.

People who work for the government, especially in the public safety area, provide Service. That's what they do.

You most certainly do not. You're not a Service Provider. Not even close. We'll call you a Service Payer, though to be honest, you don't deserve having any part of what you do with the word Service associated with it.

When Service is provided, Service Payers don't get to question anything about the Service or the Service Providers, including and especially the costs. That's what Service and the provision of Service is all about. Service Providers are the ones to decide issues like how Service is provided and payment for Services Rendered.

If Service Providers need free housing, they, as the Providers of Service, will decide how that works. You've never provided Service, so stay out of it.

Your role is to merely to pay for it.

Get it now?


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on May 5, 2018 at 9:58 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on May 5, 2018 at 9:58 am

Explanation:

sarcasm duly noted.

Give:

you repeat a claim with no back up. Yes police and fire fighters are well compensated in this area, but I question the validity of the claim that they make more than most tech workers. As I've said before, I know a number of tech workers and they are making very good money especially when you consider how little time many of them have in the business. Starting pay for software engineers is definitely higher than that of police and fire fighters.

That said. I'm not thrilled with the idea of the need for local housing for officers. It sounds as if they are working 12 on and 12 off. Meaning they work three days a week one week and four the other. When I was in law enforcement we worked four tens. Four shifts a week, ten hours a day. We had many officers living far away and they commuted. Working that kind of shift allows for it. I suspect working 12 on and 12 off is a choice. That choice has the consequence of making the time between shifts shorter. Seems to me a shift to four tens would get rid of much of the need for local housing.


Just the facts
Registered user
Atherton: West Atherton
on May 5, 2018 at 10:02 am
Just the facts, Atherton: West Atherton
Registered user
on May 5, 2018 at 10:02 am

Actually, having first responders living well outside of an earthquake prone area can be a huge advantage. It is called asset dispersal. Fire and police personnel affected by a disaster will tend to their families first, as any readonable person would expect. On duty personnel will respond to any major disaster and be supplemented as necessary with resources from outside the disaster zone.


Labor Economics
Atherton: West Atherton
on May 6, 2018 at 9:48 am
Labor Economics, Atherton: West Atherton
on May 6, 2018 at 9:48 am

I think this discussion is lost in the weeds about service and having first responders available in an emergency.

There is a key difference between the public and private sector. When a private sector business faces a labor shortages, the owner can offer more salary and better benefits to attract employees. They pass those costs to the consumer. In the alternative, the owner can choose to go out of business. We have seen a couple of instances locally where local institutions have thrown in the towel - Foster's Freeze and the Oasis.

Unlike private sector concerns, the government can't choose to go out of business. Moreover, in California, there are limits on the government's ability to increase taxes (the public sector equivalent of a private sector price increase).

The cost of housing locally has driven up labor costs across all segments, including unskilled and skilled labor pools. Notably, some large private sector skilled labor employers are subsidizing rents, further skewing housing costs. Gentrification, too, has limited the housing stock available to low income workers. Low (and middle) income private sector workers have moved away from the peninsula. Government workers, too, have moved from the area, finding it impossible to raise a family on the peninsula.

The simple fix of giving government employees salary increases has long term consequences, as those workers participate in entitlement retirement systems. Some portion of those increases will continue to be paid for the rest of the worker's lives. Providing short term housing is an innovative alternative. Though the capital improvement costs seem high, they are one time expenses which will likely be less than the long term costs of the alternative (salaries, medical, and pension).

The availability of short term housing will help recruit and retain workers who live further away from the jurisdiction. The improvements will benefit the the community as they will likely trigger the need for fire suppression and compliance with the ADA for the entire building, not just the improved sleeping quarters.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 6, 2018 at 11:45 am
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on May 6, 2018 at 11:45 am

There is a great benefit in finding ways to encourage emergency service personnel to spend more of their off duty time in the communities that they serve because in times of emergency they will be available for immediate service.

It is a mistake to think of providing off duty quarters for such emergency service personnel as a benefit to those individuals rather than as a benefit to the community which they serve. This is particularly true in earthquake prone areas and in communities whose emergency personnel live at a distance from their duty station.

And anybody who thinks that emergency personnel living at a distance will be able to return to their duty posts quickly has not studied the USGS damage estimates for a Bay Area earthquake. In reality, with most of the bridges and major roads impassable it will be a long time before outside help would be able to reach our area.

Web Link

Web Link

Are Our Infrastructure and Lifelines near the Hayward Fault at Risk?
This Google Earth file shows a few locations, photographs, and maps of important infrastructure near or crossing the Hayward. The Hayward Fault runs through, or near to, some of the most densely urbanized areas in North America. A large portion of California’s economy is dependent on these urban areas that contain a maze of transportation, energy, water, telecommunications, waste disposal, and emergency infrastructure that supports millions of people. The high density of structures and lifelines along the Hayward Fault make this a very dangerous fault. Many if not most of the fault crossing of these important infrastructure have been or are planned to be strengthened to increase their resilience to future earthquakes.


Give it a rest
Atherton: other
on May 6, 2018 at 2:05 pm
Give it a rest, Atherton: other
on May 6, 2018 at 2:05 pm

Peter, I see the wisdom in where you're going with this. But I think we need to do more.

If and when the big one comes, were going to need doctors and nurses. I hardly need to explain why: I certainly want doctors and nurses to be living nearby me so if I need medical help, they are right there. So do you, and I'm sure so does everyone.

In its aftermath, after the firefighters have put out the fires, and the police have arrested the looters, we will need more.

If it's a serious as we know one will inevitably be, we are going to need to rebuild. Scientists, architects and engineers are going to play a very important role.

Teachers and in fact anyone with an advanced degree are going to need to educate our young in the wake of the schools that will have been destroyed.

Tough decisions and trade-offs will need to be made. We will need to rely on the proven ability of CEOs, senior corporate executives and generals to balance factors and make good decisions.

It would benefit all of us if all of these categories of professionals lived nearby in our community. We want to incentivize them to do so.

I realize these people do not provide Service, but they do and can provide service. Because they're not Service people, we could not justify free housing, yet I still think we need to do something to incentivize them to be around in a crisis.

The Town of Atherton should pay their property taxes for them to provide a meaningful incentive for more of them to be living in this community. The rest of us can absorb the cost in increased taxes and/or debt.

Let's take this idea not just part of the way, but all the way home.

Thanks for your Service and leadership.


Just the Facts
Atherton: other
on May 6, 2018 at 2:52 pm
Just the Facts, Atherton: other
on May 6, 2018 at 2:52 pm

"There is a great benefit in finding ways to encourage emergency service personnel to spend more of their off duty time in the communities that they serve because in times of emergency they will be available for immediate service."

When is the last time off duty personnel were called to assist with a local disaster? And I do not mean the USAR team. When the big earthquake hits rescue and recovery efforts will go on for days. The idea that a few off duty first responders will rush to the scene and make a meaningful difference is a fantasy. On duty resources from adjacent communities will be immediately mobilized and respond to the disaster site while arrangements are made for replacements and backfills. This is what we live with now because the vast majority of fire and police personnel do not live in Menlo Park or Atherton, and even if they did additional personnel and equipment from outside the local area would be needed. Some fire personnel with their two day a week schedules live substantial distances from their "duty post". They will be needed in the event of a major disaster and plans should be made to fly them in if necessary to help with high impact, local frequency disaster events. This is no longer Mayberry and Andy Griffith won't be leaving lunch at Aunt Bee's to respond to the big fire on his day off.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 6, 2018 at 3:28 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on May 6, 2018 at 3:28 pm

MPFPD's Urban Search and Rescue Task Force has millions of dollars of Federally provided specialized disaster response equipment in the Task Force's Menlo Park warehouse.

However, all of that equipment requires specially trained personnel.

In the event of a major earthquake the other USAR Task Forces would certainly respond but FEMA would give a higher priority to the more densely populated areas of SF, SJ and Oakland and it would be days before those external resources could be moved into the area.


Just do it.
Atherton: other
on May 6, 2018 at 5:27 pm
Just do it., Atherton: other
on May 6, 2018 at 5:27 pm

If it's that important, plop down a temporary bunk house in the corner of the park or next to the railroad tracks south of the station and see how it works.

Have one room with bunks for men, and one with bunks for the women. Add a couple of bathroom suites, a kitchenette, and a day room with sofas and a TV.

Have the police union pay for housekeepers to come in as needed to tidy up and change the bedding.

That should be plenty for people to sleep between shifts. Anything more than that should come out of the employees' pockets.

Renting a portable building for this task should be cheap enough. Try it, and reevaluate it after a year or two.

If things work out, maybe the town could build an apartment building with 6 or 8 tiny studio apartments for use by essential workers between shifts.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on May 6, 2018 at 6:11 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on May 6, 2018 at 6:11 pm

"However, all of that equipment requires specially trained personnel."

Aren't all of MPFPD personnel so trained? If not, can't helicopters be sent to pick them up and deliver them if they are that essential? Yes, it would be expensive, but I'd hazard a guess it will be less expensive than housing them nearby "just in case".


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 7, 2018 at 7:17 am
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on May 7, 2018 at 7:17 am

The one thing that will be in shorter supply than skilled emergency professionals after a major earthquake will be helicopters.

Everything we know about earthquake preparedness emphasizes being self sufficient during the first 72 hours after the event. Resources, including personnel, that are not already in place won't magically drop from the sky.


Emma
Atherton: West of Alameda
on May 10, 2018 at 10:56 am
Emma, Atherton: West of Alameda
on May 10, 2018 at 10:56 am

I would be interested in learning more about participating in "Atherton residents offering housing in their homes"


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