News

Grand jury: Menlo fire district is not prepared for growth

July 12 report says fire board is to blame for lack of long-term planning

A grand jury report questioning the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's readiness for dealing with growth in the district says the fire board is "ultimately responsible" for the district's lack of readiness. The board is shown here in June with one of the district's new fire engines; from left are Robert Jones, Rob Silano, Chuck Bernstein, Virginia Chang Kiraly and Peter Carpenter. (Photo by Barbara Wood/The Almanac)

A report issued by the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury on July 12 questions whether the Menlo Park Fire Protection District is prepared to meet the challenges brought on by the rapid development and population growth within the district, criticizing the district for lacking long-term strategic and fiscal planning.

The 96-page report discusses the massive changes taking place within the district's boundaries, an area that includes Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton and adjacent unincorporated San Mateo areas including North Fair Oaks and West Menlo Park. The report concludes that the district is ill-equipped to deal with the changes.

In a press release announcing the report, Grand Jury Foreperson Richard Edminster said that "the district’s firefighters perform their duties admirably every day, and the community can have great confidence in their skills and abilities."

"However," he said, "the district’s board has failed to perform even the most basic strategic and financial planning the community reasonably expects from a public agency with an annual budget of nearly $55 million."

District Chief Harold Schapelhouman said in a statement released late Thursday afternoon that the district will respond to the report within the 90 days given to public agencies to respond to grand jury reports.

"Before responding, the District will carefully review the report with input from its Board and welcomes public comments from constituents. As always, we seek constructive input on our services to the residents of our communities and appreciate the Grand Jury’s recommendations," Schapelhouman said.

He said the board, chief and staff "are committed to a fully transparent, engaged and inclusive discussion and public review of the Civil Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations."

No long-term strategic planning

The grand jury report says that "the District has operated without a strategic plan ... since at least 2010."

"The absence of a multiyear strategic plan hinders the District's evaluations of future demand for services, revenue streams and resource needs, and denies the public the opportunity to measure the District's progress in achieving stated goals."

The lack of long-term planning "impairs the District's ability to allocate its resources effectively and hurts the District's efforts to obtain support from the jurisdictions it serves for the imposition of fees on new developments to be paid to the District," the report says.

The report lays the blame for the lack of long-term planning on the independent district's governing board, which currently is made up of President Chuck Bernstein, and members Peter Carpenter, Rob Silano, Virginia Chang Kiraly and Robert Jones.

"The district's governing board is ultimately responsible for the failure to dedicate adequate resources to the planning process, and the failure to develop a multi-year strategic plan which includes a financial analysis component," the report says.

When reached late Thursday morning, Bernstein said he and other board members had received the grand jury report from Schapelhouman Tuesday night, but that work responsibilities had kept him from being able to read it closely or look at all the exhibits attached to the report.

However, he said, some of the issues in the report "are things that we're talking about that are being done and need to be done." He said the board will discuss the report, but probably not until its August meeting, as the agenda for the July 24 meeting is already packed.

He agreed that "the board of directors is the ultimate authority in the fire district," and a strategic plan is one of its responsibilities.

Bernstein said it is true the district doesn't have a strategic plan, but that the Strategic Planning Committee, made up of him, board member Carpenter and Menlo Park resident Sean Ballard, has been meeting monthly since December.

Board members agreed at their June meeting to try to schedule a board study session devoted to strategic planning, which Bernstein said should take place by August.

"We need and want to have a strategic plan. That's happening," he said.

Impact fees

The report calls out several actions taken by the district as problems stemming from the lack of long-term planning, including the district's inability to get the county, Menlo Park, Atherton and East Palo Alto to approve its request that they impose impact fees on new development to go into the district's coffers.

"Without a strategic and financial plan showing a need, the District was unsuccessful in its attempt to gain impact fees on development projects," the report says. By state law, a special district such as the fire district can't impose impact fees, but must get municipal or county government to approve them for the district.

After the local entities failed to impose the impact fees, "the district developed a go it alone philosophy in its relationship with local governments," the report says. "The current relationship between the District Board and local governments has been described as strained, contentious and unproductive," the grand jury report says.

Ethical issues

The district's subsequent decision to negotiate directly with major developers "raises ethical issues," the report says.

"The District exercises enforcement of local and state ordinances and statutes, and reviews the construction plans of businesses located within its boundaries, including Facebook for compliance with applicable codes," the report says.

"Accepting donations of cash, or soliciting impact fees directly from these businesses, can create the appearance of favorable treatment or disparate application of rules and laws," it says.

Bernstein said the district has made at least three agreements with developers for impact fees after the local entities wouldn't impose them. "We went directly to the developers," he said.

The district has put the money collected in a separate account and "we are only going to spend (those funds) on things that are growth-related," he said.

Real estate purchases

The report also questions the district's recent real estate purchases. "Without a strategic plan showing any present or future need for the properties, the District purchased five properties for cash exceeding $21.9 million in the last two years," the report says.

It calls out the purchase of a single-family home at 28 Almendral Ave. in Atherton for $4.6 million in cash in June 2017, just months after the district's board had unanimously approved a consultant's report recommending that the fire station next door to the house "be relocated to improve service coverage in the area," the report says.

That Citygate "standards of coverage" report, which looked at how to provide the most rapid response throughout the district, "concluded that the first step in developing a plan for station relocation was to move" the Almendral Avenue fire station, the grand jury report says.

The grand jury report quotes from the Citygate report that moving the Almendral station "to the west is the first step or the 'key to the door.' If that relocation becomes possible, the other sites more readily fall into place."

The report cites the lack of follow-through on board requests or resolutions made regarding the Citygate report, including a resolution that the chief provide the board an updated long-term fire station and land acquisition plan for the entire district.

"The Grand Jury could not find any evidence ... that such a plan was ever developed," the report says.

At that same meeting, the grand jury report says, fire board member Chuck Bernstein asked the chief to schedule a meeting to discuss Citygate's recommendations "to develop station site location strategies and policies, and to involve local government partners in the process."

"The Grand Jury has found no evidence that ... (i)such a meeting ever occurred, (ii) staff used the Citygate Report data to prioritize current Fire Station locations and to develop a land acquisition plan, or (iii) the District followed the four steps recommended" by the Citygate consultant, the report says.

"Instead, District documents show that less than 3 months after the Board accepted the Citygate Report, the Fire Chief rejected Citygate's recommendation to move Station #3," the report says. It says Schapelhouman sent an email to Atherton City Manager George Rodericks on May 2, 2017, saying: "The Fire District has absolutely NO PLANS to close or MOVE Fire Station 3 in Atherton!"

The report says the purchase of the Almendral property "was reactive to learning that the property became available for sale rather than an implementation of a plan."

No clear plan

The report also says "the district does not appear to have had a clear plan for how it would use the property" when it was purchased. The district's board at first recommended the property be rented on the open market, but, the report says, the district's "Finance Committee recommended on December 5, 2017, that 28 Almendral be used for a 'Chief Officer Residence.' On December 19, 2017, the Board approved a proposal to allocate $500,000 for site and building improvements associated with occupancy" of the property. By February, district personnel were living in the house.

Bernstein said the house is going to be rented on the open market, as the board originally directed. Currently, "it's not supposed to be being used for anything," he said. "Nothing's been authorized by the board."

"We're getting bids on doing some things to the property so that we can rent it," he said.

Schapelhouman said in addition that the district is exploring options including tearing down the house, moving it and building a new modular building further back on the lot, or doing nothing.

The house, he said, "needs lots of work to publicly rent it."

However, Bernstein said, buying the property does not mean the district has ruled out moving the Atherton station. Buying the property is an opportunity for the district to "park some of its money" in a property that it could later use to expand the Almendral station, or sell to buy property elsewhere.

"I don't think it's an unwise investment," Bernstein said.

The report also says "the district has pursued accreditation since 2011," but has failed to achieve it, in main part because it does not have a strategic plan, a requirement of accreditation by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.

Bernstein said the district is continuing to work on accreditation and "we expect to have it done within two years. It's typically a two-year process," he said.

Recommendations

The report's recommendations for the district are:

• "Develop and maintain an effective multi-year strategic plan, and achieve accreditation."

• "Ensure its administrative functions operate effectively regardless of competing priorities created by on-going emergency response operations."

• "Engage with its local government partners to review District resources and determine if additional resources are required to maintain effective service levels."

• "Review the consultant recommendations relative to the location of Station 3 and re-examine the basis for purchasing the Atherton property."

• "Adopt a policy not to accept donations from companies or individuals with which the District has enforcement or inspection responsibilities over."

The report also says many people do not realize the fire district is an independent special district, not part of the city of Menlo Park, and that it needs to make that clear on its website, along with an explanation of what a special district is.

In an email, Schapelhouman said the district "started working with the Civil Grand Jury over a year ago and have spent hundreds of hours providing them with information on every aspect of our operations. We responded to many records requests and sent out copious amounts of background information for their review. We also had face to face interviews. I’m pleased that they acknowledged that we provide exceptional service to the community related to our core mission which is the protection of life, property and the environment."

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Comments

12 people like this
Posted by Harold Schapelhouman, Fire Chief
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 12, 2018 at 5:10 pm

As a general statement on behalf of the Fire Board:

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District provides essential fire and emergency services to residents, visitors and property owners located in the Town of Atherton, cities of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, unincorporated areas of San Mateo County and on contract to the SLAC National Accelerator and Laboratory.

Because the District is an independent special district, its five-member Board of Directors is statutorily tasked with governance of the organization, approving its budget and establishing its policies. We received the 97 page Civil Grand Jury report and recommendations entitled, Ready for Growth on July 10, 2018.

The District will respond within the 90 days permitted by the statute governing the Civil Grand Jury. Before responding, the District will carefully review the report with input from its Board and welcomes public comments from constituents. As always, we seek constructive input on our services to the residents of our communities and appreciate the Grand Jury’s recommendations.

The Fire District is a trusted public safety community asset that provides essential emergency response services. The Board, Fire Chief, Staff and organization are committed to a fully transparent, engaged and inclusive discussion and public review of the Civil Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations.

The next Fire Board meeting is July 24, 2018

Harold Schapelhouman, Fire Chief


48 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 12, 2018 at 5:45 pm

Instead of MP, EPA, and the County governments allowing run-a-muck massive developments with carte blanche to corporations and developers it's time to replace those elected and appointed officials along with their planning departments


52 people like this
Posted by Menlo Park Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 12, 2018 at 6:03 pm

I don’t trust you or the fire board. Most residents the board serves shouldn’t either.

*Hiding your Special District status - extremely questionable.

*Buying a $4.6 million dollar house on a whim AND directly against expert recommendations - willful negligence and abuse of tax payer funds

Who is resigning first?


13 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 12, 2018 at 7:45 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Buying a house on a "whim"? Says who? That purchase was wise long term planning.


89 people like this
Posted by Menlo resident
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 12, 2018 at 8:25 pm

This is flat out embarrassing and it sure looks like our tax payer dollars are NOT being used wisely. Time for them to ship out or heck, lets give them another raise!


59 people like this
Posted by MW
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 12, 2018 at 8:35 pm

Atherton and Menlo Park’s managers have had a grudge against the fire district for a long time. Atherton’s manager took a shot at the district last year with the Matrix report on the town withdrawing from the district. All it drew was a collective yawn and some laughs. (And of course it made Peter Carpenter angry, which is always fun to watch.) This report merely parrots comments made by the two city managers over the past couple of years. They can’t publicly attack the fire district because people will say they aren’t running their towns very well so why are you attacking the fire district. Indtesd, they manipulate the grand jury into doing their dirty work.


82 people like this
Posted by Menlo Park Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 12, 2018 at 9:00 pm

Menlo Voter:

Whim

1.a sudden desire or change of mind, especially one that is unusual or unexplained.
"They bought it on a whim"

synonyms: iimpulse, urge, notion, fancy, foible, caprice, conceit, vagary, inclination, megrim

The report says the purchase of the Almendral property "was reactive to learning that the property became available for sale rather than an implementation of a plan."

Furthermore, speculative real estate purchasing in Menlo Park when your core competency is NOT real estate investment is ill advised. Not to mention in a market at record highs floating on top of one the longest bull markets in American history.


80 people like this
Posted by Shake out
a resident of another community
on Jul 12, 2018 at 9:06 pm

This is certainly embarrassing for the board and quotes from this report will no doubt haunt board members in all of their future elections.


20 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 12, 2018 at 9:19 pm

Nice article, now so what? Property purchases with money from the fire district, no added bond measures or begging for more $$$ from us tax payers. Balanced budget. No debt. No strategic plan, yet no complaints and that survey with a 98.5% approval rating. An ISO ( insurance rating) as a class 2. No class 1 ISO rating in San Mateo County for any fire agencies. FEMA Task Force 3, country wide outstanding performance and response to national emergencies.

Civil Grand Jury, get a life, get a better hobby, like reading to school age children, get more involved in your church. You’re a joke, with a non enforce authority!!!

FIRE DISTRICT KEEP UP THE EXCELLENT WORK.


78 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 12, 2018 at 11:06 pm

The MPFPD has shown it is incapable of managing money. The spend on property that they may need in a decade or more than attempt to rent it out to their own personnel at below market rates. They pay exorbitant amounts of Over Time and are the highest paid, on average, municipal agency in the state of California. Anyone who thinks this Fire District board cares that the money the are blowing through actually comes from our pockets is deluded. On top of their exorbitant spending and the surplus they have built up they want to start charging an impact fee, more money to spend poorly.

Don't let them get away with it, elect board members who can plan for the future and who can actually spend wisely.


19 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 13, 2018 at 7:31 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

MPFPD is probably one of the best fiscally managed government agencies in this area. They're not constantly asking for bonds like the school districts. They cover their future pension liabilities, unlike any other agency in the state that is part of Calpers.

They saw an opportunity to purchase a property that WILL be needed in the future and they bought it at today's price, instead of waiting 20 years to pay ten times as much. That's hardly a "whim". Yes, they pay a lot of overtime, but what Brian and many others always ignore is that most of it is reimbursed by the agency that the firefighters were working overtime to assist. When there are wild fires or other natural disasters should we just tell MPFPD to stand down and not send anyone because we don't want the firefighters being paid overtime? That would be stupid and would violate mutual aid agreements.

Sorry, what we have is a well run agency and a bunch of people that are jealous of the money firefighters make and who covet the money the district gets in taxes. If you don't like how much money the district gets, contact your state representatives and get it changed. Until that happens the district will continue to collect a lot of money.


20 people like this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 13, 2018 at 8:38 am

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

While I haven't read the report. the things the Grand Jury doesn't like are "mouse nuts". MPAFD is one of the most fiscally responsible agencies in the area. Their attention to the underfunded pension liability and other "long -term" financial impacts is admirable and should be mimicked by other cities and county agencies.

WRT to their purchase of the houses next to their stations, I'm with Will Rogers "Buy Land they aren't making it anymore". The new downtown menlo park station is proof that the long-term land acquisition pays off. the home next to that station was purchased years ago, and the beautiful and more functional station built there would have been impossible without the acquisition. Can you imagine the whining that would have ensued if they had used eminent domain to get the property? They are being smart LONG-TERM operators acquiring adjacent properties.

While I don't always agree with their operating tactics (Grocery shopping with $400K fire trucks) The board is made up of intelligent, successful individuals and we should be grateful of the skills and experience they bring to the table. Do they need a long-term plan? yes. are they working on one? yes.

Thank you to all those elected board members for your years of service and dedication in what is apparently (based on the criticism) a thankless job.

Roy Thiele-Sardina


54 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jul 13, 2018 at 9:38 am

As an everyday citizen it sure sounds like the Fire Board has not been doing the job they were elected to do.
Perhaps instead of having the Board's proxys defend them on this message board they should be working harder develop a long term strategic plan and address the Grand Jury report.
This Board feels like everything that is wrong with small town politics and the more they complain about criticism (Atherton, pay, benefits, real estate) the less we trust them to do the job they were elected to do.


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 13, 2018 at 9:43 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It would be foolish and very expensive if a public agency publicly identified properties that it needed which were not on the market.

It would be equally foolish if a public agency failed to acquire an essential property as soon as it became available on the market.


12 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 13, 2018 at 11:45 pm

Menlo,

I have to disagree. First off the MPFPD is asking for more money without providing justification for it in the form of impact assessments that it wants the cities to approve. I also disagree about Overtime. Having worked for many companies and had to manage budgets you budget for a certain number of overtime hours, if you exceed that, especially if you consistently exceed that like Menlo Park FPD does every year, you hire more people. You pay them the regular salary instead of time and a half or double time. What you get is more hours at lower cost and you are not burning out your employees. If, as you say most of the money is reimbursed by other agencies that would be true for other Fire districts, correct? Yes Menlo Park is still ranked as the highest average pay int he state, please explain how that is the case?

As for purchasing houses, if the problem that the MPFPD keeps complaining about is traffic on Willow and the time it takes to respond then why are they not buying places in Belle Haven and other areas that they claim to have a hard time reaching during rush hour?

I also heard that Menlo Park is in the process of purchasing a new ladder truck that will have a driver in the rear and is used for very tall buildings. I also heard that it will be based out of Station #1, can any one confirm that and if it is true explain what rational there is to put it there while most of the taller buildings in the district are on the East side of 101?


16 people like this
Posted by Mr Schades
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 14, 2018 at 1:17 am

There are reasons grand juries exist, and looking for public malfeasance is one of them.

Knocking the Arrogant One down a couple pegs is just interesting coincidence, schadenfreude if you will.


48 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2018 at 6:55 am

Unfortunately the property taxes we all pay is balkanized among various government fiefdoms, which makes for inefficient use of those tax dollars. For example, while the fire district has a plethora of funds from property taxes, enough to purchase atherton residences and remodel them, we have the school districts serviced by the same fire department in a budget crisis (Ravenswood), or school districts requesting additional parcel taxes (Menlo Park) to make ends meet.

If the Board running the Fire District had any sense of community spirit, rather than protecting their fiefdom so that they can spend money like a drunken sailor, they would transfer some of their largess to those government entities in a less fortunate position. It's also good politics.


Like this comment
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 14, 2018 at 7:20 am

Brian:
That's a great idea for the fire district to give other agencies that are in debt, poorly managed, more money to run as a poorly managed, and continue to be debit. Maybe, they need to consolidate their government services with other agencies. How about all government agencies that have a surplus of tax funds, provide it back to those tax payers.

THERE IS NO PROVISION IN CALIFORNIA TO DO THAT!


1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 14, 2018 at 9:30 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Brian:

I would suggest you didn't run budgets for an agency that provides emergency services. I would also suggest that if MPFPD did as you suggest and hire more firefighters, you'd be complaining there were too many firefighters being paid when they weren't being deployed in mutual aid situations which are completely unpredictable.

As to buying property in EPA, I would suggest that nothing that suited the districts needs has become available, which leaves eminent domain to force the sale of what they need. If you recall last year steps were taken along that line and the S storm was significant. In fact if I recall correctly you were one of those complaining about it.

If they are buying a tiller truck and stationing it at station 1 it is most likely because they don't have a station east of 101 that will accommodate a truck of that size. That's my guess. Feel free to attend a district meeting or email any of the directors or the chief and ask them.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 14, 2018 at 11:41 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Note that MPFPD has NO control over the rampant, almost uncontrolled growth that is being approved by Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and the County and NONE of those agencies provide, as the law requires, the Fire District with any mitigation for that growth - but they all demand mitigation for themselves.

So how can any agency plan when it has no control or benefit from these developments?


2 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 14, 2018 at 11:59 am

Brian,

Why don’t you run for public office. Council and fire board seats are up.

Sounds like you have all the solutions


57 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 14, 2018 at 2:48 pm

The grand jury report is damning. Fellow posters, if you haven’t read it, I recommend you do so.

How can the District make decisions involving millions of dollars without having a defined strategy? This makes no sense.

Board members should follow through on the grand jury’s findings. If not interested in doing so, maybe consider resigning.


65 people like this
Posted by Repeal
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 14, 2018 at 3:02 pm

"An ISO ( insurance rating) as a class 2. No class 1 ISO rating in San Mateo County for any fire agencies."

Wrong Citizen. Redwood City Fire Department is ISO Class 1

Time for Atherton to make the switch. Better leadership, lower cost, no narcissism


62 people like this
Posted by Repeal
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 14, 2018 at 3:09 pm

"So how can any agency plan when it has no control or benefit from these developments?"

Start by not breaking the law by going around the Cities/Town/County for impact fees Peter.

#jailtime


2 people like this
Posted by KWG
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 14, 2018 at 4:09 pm

@Repeal, actually RWC's rating is a 2 Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 14, 2018 at 4:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Wrong - it is the cities who are breaking the law. As the Lead Agencies they are required to identify ALL impacts of a proposed project on ALL agencies and then to mitigate those impacts.

Menlo Park approved the huge upzoing for Facebook simply by declaring that it would have NO impact on the Fire District. That is preposterous on its face.

The Fire District then negotiated impact fees with Facebook


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 14, 2018 at 4:33 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"How can the District make decisions involving millions of dollars without having a defined strategy? This makes no sense."

The Fire District has a defined strategy and that is to provide the same level of service to all of its residents and to ensure that is happening the Fire District brings in OUTSIDE auditors to document actual response times via Standards of Cover studies. All the recent land acquisitions were made pursuant to the results of those Standards of Cover studies.

What other agency do you know that has outside audits of its performance?


6 people like this
Posted by Repeal
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 14, 2018 at 4:57 pm

@KWG - Redwood City was just upgraded from ISO 2 to ISO 1. That website hasn't been updated.


22 people like this
Posted by Repeal
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 14, 2018 at 5:02 pm

"The Fire District then negotiated impact fees with Facebook"

Thereby breaking the law


15 people like this
Posted by Just the facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 14, 2018 at 5:08 pm

“Provide the same level of service to all its residents” sounds more like a motto you would paint on a fire truck than a strategy you would use to guide $55 million organization.


27 people like this
Posted by Repeal
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 14, 2018 at 5:12 pm

"What other agency do you know that has outside audits of its performance?"

Every agency that has used CitiGate. That includes the vast majority of Departments in the Bay Area.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 14, 2018 at 5:22 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

""What other agency do you know that has outside audits of its performance?"

Not Menlo Park, not East Palo Alto, not Atherton, not SM County!!


Like this comment
Posted by KWG
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 14, 2018 at 5:41 pm

@Repeal, You say the Redwood City fire website isn't up-to-date? If their ISO rating had improved from a 2 to a 1, they'd be crowing about that fact and not allow outdated information to remain on their website. If I'm wrong about their ISO rating, I'm sure you can provide a link that validates your claim. The only agency in this area with a 1 rating is Mountain View. (Web Link). Palo Alto is a 2 (Web Link). And, yes, RWC is a 2 as is MPFPD.


Like this comment
Posted by Repeal
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 14, 2018 at 6:19 pm

@KWG, You're correct, I'm sure they'll have a public awareness campaign. But you're wrong that they are not a Class 1 because it just happened. Watch for the news.


2 people like this
Posted by Khaled
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2018 at 6:29 pm

I own commercial property in Redwood City and I’m excited to read that our city’s ISO rating is now a 1. My insurance bill just went up and my agent didn’t mention the improved ISO rating. I’m going to call on Monday to see if I can get an adjustment. Thank you @Repeal, can you share a link to the source of this most welcome news.


2 people like this
Posted by Repeal
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 14, 2018 at 6:40 pm

@Khaled, This is great news for you as a business owner in RC, but be patient. I got the impression that this is a very recent change. Give it a a bit for the news to find the people you will be talking with. I wish my business was in RC and not Menlo Park.


22 people like this
Posted by Winging It
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 15, 2018 at 12:31 pm

This says it all:

"The District Board annually assigns directors to standing committees, including a Strategic Planning Committee (SPC). The duties and responsibilities of the SPC, as contained in Board policy are: Strategic Planning – Shall oversee and provide policy and direction on matters related to departmental strategic planning including facilities, apparatus, real property, equipment, alliances and service area extensions, major acquisitions and operations.

Grand Jury review of committee meeting agendas and minutes posted to the District website found the Strategic Planning Committee operated sporadically from 2012-2017. The committee met semi-regularly in 2012 and 2013, cancelling about half its scheduled meetings. However, in the 2014-2017 period, the committee cancelled the majority of its scheduled meetings: IT DID NOT MEET AT ALL in 2014, or 2016, and only twice in 2015 and 2017. " (Menlo Park Fire Protection District: Ready for Growth?, San Mateo Civil Grand Jury, 2018, p. 10).

Kissing off these meetings demonstrates both negligence and arrogance. The district has so much money in reserves, they did not prioritize the planning process. One of the Directors has regularly patted himself on the back many times in this very forum about the exemplary financial planning. Really?!

Which director was assigned to the Strategic Planning Committee? Why did the board cancel the meetings?

Another disturbing aspect is the lack of prioritization by the board. It's not like the board would be doing the strategic planning work itself. The district has ample staff to gather the information and perform the analysis. The board just makes the decisions and sets the direction. My guess is there was ample capacity in the existing staff to support this effort. But, if not, some of the $70 million could have created an entire "Office of Strategic Planning" with office space in one of extra houses the district purchased.


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 15, 2018 at 1:26 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Board itself performs the strategic function. Committee input comes from less than a majority of the Board and therefore does not constitute a Board decision.

All of the recent property purchase were by careful design - three were immediately adjacent to existing stations and the fourth was a new warehouse to replace the one that had been purchased by Facebook for its expansion.

It would have been foolish for the Board to have publicly identify its interest in these properties before thy came on the market and it would have been short sighted not to have acquired the location critical properties once they came on the market.


20 people like this
Posted by Winging It
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 15, 2018 at 2:40 pm

I counter that it was not careful design, but rather a way to keep the district's options open. That is hardly strategic planning -- rather the opposite.

The district paid for a study which concluded Station 3 should be moved to the west. The appropriate expenditure, then, would have been on properties such as on Santa Clara Street (the site of the suggested new location for Station 3). Instead, the board purchased an expensive property at a location which was declared inefficient for response times.

No doubt, the district will get its money out of the Atherton property. But, real estate is not the strategically preferred way of investing tax dollars.

Absent a strategic plan which said the district should purchase adjacent properties to all its fire stations, I don't see how the purchases could be deemed anything other than foolish.


12 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 15, 2018 at 2:44 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The district paid for a study which concluded Station 3 should be moved to the west."

That recommendation was predicated on the assumption that there was no way to expand Station 3 at its current location. When the adjacent property became available that assumption was no longer valid. The Standards of Cover study showed that the best coverage was with Station 3 at its current location.


20 people like this
Posted by Winging It
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 15, 2018 at 4:19 pm

Was not the CityGate study's recommendation predicated on RESPONSE TIME issues, not potential space for the station?

The Grand Jury seemed to think so:

"When asked by the Grand Jury why the 28 Almendral property was purchased given the Citygate recommendations, District officials replied that the property was acquired in order to allow the District to expand Station No. 3. The Grand Jury asked how this decision could be reconciled with Citygate’s recommendation that the District relocate Fire Station No. 3 to the west. District officials said that Citygate would likely have reached the conclusion to keep Station No. 3 at its current site and expand it if the opportunity to acquire 28 Almendral had been known to Citygate when making its recommendation. HOWEVER, CITYGATE'S RECOMMENDATION THAT STATION NO. 3 BE RELOCATED TO THE WEST WAS BASED ON DISTRICT RESPONSE-TIME ISSUES, NOT BECAUSE OF A LACK OF ROOM TO EXPAND STATION NO. 3 AT ITS CURRENT LOCATION". (Menlo Park Fire Protection District: Ready for Growth?, San Mateo Civil Grand Jury, 2018, p. 15)

The District paid for the CityGate report, but is confident it knows what the consultant would say given knowledge of the increased space at station 3. Did the District actually ask CityGate? Perhaps an addenda to their study would help solidify that assertion. In fact, it stands to reason the district could have actually created the study in house. Given their certainty, they must have the knowledge and experience and wasted money on the CityGate study to begin with.

Bottom line: The District has been winging it because they have no strategic plan and deliberately put off opportunities to create one. The Board owns this. What are they going to do about it?


12 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 15, 2018 at 4:44 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Anyone who thinks the Board is "winging it" should look at the new Station 2 in East Palo Alto and the new Station 6 in Menlo Park. Both of these new stations were only able to be built because the Board purchased adjacent properties.

The same will happen with Stations 4, 1 and 3 and their adjacent properties in accordance with the priorities set by the Board.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 15, 2018 at 5:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The next periodic outside performance review, Standards of Cover Study, is already in the works:

June Board agenda:
Desk Item - Consider and Discuss the Draft Standards of Coverage (SOC) Request for Proposal (RFP)


22 people like this
Posted by Who is Driving the Bus?
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 15, 2018 at 6:13 pm

Who is Driving the Bus? is a registered user.

"Winging it" is absolutely correct in pointing out the Citygate SOC report clearly and unambiguously calls for relocating Station 3 to the west of its current location, along with relocating Station 5 to the west of its current location. The report points out Stations 3 and 5 are already too close to each other. Mr. Carpenter praised this report when it was presented by the consultant as "data driven". I doubt the underlying data has changed much since the report was delivered two years ago. Rather than acknowledge the truth of that observation Mr. Carpenter attempts to shift the focus elsewhere. He seems to do that a lot.


23 people like this
Posted by Repeal
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 15, 2018 at 9:40 pm

@Who is Driving the Bus? Perfect assessment of the SOC coverup. It's amazing, although thoroughly entertaining, that Mr. Carpenter keeps digging his hole deeper and deeper on every issue.


23 people like this
Posted by Repeal
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 15, 2018 at 9:54 pm

Ask why extra land wasn't purchased around Station 77. Oh, wait, a failed land grab of a property owner by the MPFPD Board that involved more of their arrogant decisions they and the Chief are known for? If it weren't true, the twisted and dirty details would make a great movie. Heck, they are so narcissistic they will probably sell the script anyway.


23 people like this
Posted by Winging It
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 16, 2018 at 7:32 am

Carpenter (above) says, "Note that MPFPD has NO control over the rampant, almost uncontrolled growth that is being approved by Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and the County and NONE of those agencies provide, as the law requires, the Fire District with any mitigation for that growth - but they all demand mitigation for themselves."

Impact fees are proscribed by law under the "Mitigation Fee Act". That's the legislated mechanism to counter exactly what Carpenter decries above. The Fire District asked the cities to assess those impact fees the development projects. The City Managers from Atherton, EPA, Menlo Park, and the Assistant County Manager declined, requesting additional information. Why?

The gave several reasons, including the district being adequately funded ($70 million in reserves). They wanted more information on the District's finances (a study). In fact the City/County Managers offered to pay for that study. The Fire Chief gave the Fire Board some options to move forward, including participating in that paid-for study of its finances. Instead, the Board chose to "wing it", preferring to shake down the developers directly:

"On May 16, 2017, the District’s Board adopted a resolution withdrawing its request for the impact fees. At the May 16, 2017 Board meeting, the Board president expressed the following assessment regarding withdrawal of the request to the cities and county: 'We made the mistake as a board of passing a resolution that we were going to submit this impact fee proposal to these jurisdictions, and rather than acting in good faith and putting it on the agenda for their elected leaders, they’ve refused to do so. This takes that off the table and says, FINE, WE'LL DO OUR OWN THING.'" (Menlo Park Fire Protection District: Ready for Growth?, San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury, 2018, p. 19).

The District did get some money from Facebook, but that agreement can't be disclosed, so the taxpayers have no clue whether they got a good deal. Taking money from Facebook creates a conflict of interest, as the District regulates Facebook. The concept of regulatory capture speaks to regulators becoming advocates for the very entities they are supposed to hold accountable. Getting a pay-off from Facebook instead of impact fees surely opens the door to this problem.

More importantly, the Grand Jury said, "The Grand Jury finds THE PUBLIC HAS A COMPELLING INTEREST in learning if the District has the financial resources it needs to meet the challenges presented by rapid growth in the district" (p. 19). Yet, the Board has fought tooth and nail against any sort of intrusion into their financials. Carpenter has had many heated, passionate opinions of Atherton's foray into such a study on these very forums. Apparently, the Board would prefer the public's compelling interest is not satisfied.

It's all about trust and there is little between the Fire District Board and the City Councils (the public). A strategic plan would go a long way to restore trust. But rather than do that, the Board arrogantly declares "... WE'LL GO IT ALONE". They are a well-run district, after-all. It is nobody's business.

I predict, the District will tell the Civil Grand Jury to piss off. They have demonstrated that posture for years when dealing with fellow government agencies. There's no reason to believe this time will be any different.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 16, 2018 at 5:55 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Why a strategic plan is a red herring:

"The lack of a strategic plan is surprising given the rapid commercial and residential growth in the cities of Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, east of Highway 101, and unincorporated areas such as North Fair Oaks, which has created increased demand for public safety services, particularly those provided by the District.”

The Fire District has NO CONTROL over the scale or scope of development in the cities whose residents its serves.

How in the world could they predict what growth they will allow?

If they cannot predict the growth how can they do a strategic plan for such growth?

For example, who would ever have thought that the Menlo Park CC would approve developments in Eastern Menlo Park that will add up to 50,000 more employees?


13 people like this
Posted by Winging It
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 16, 2018 at 9:30 pm

@Peter,

Gasp! I am astonished at your reply. The strategic plan is hardly a red herring. It is the ticket to mitigation fees.

Had the district created a strategic plan which laid out its assumptions for large scale development on the east side, it would have been better position to ask for mitigation fees when those assumptions were blown out of the water by Menlo Park. This is especially true had the District collaborated with Menlo Park when developing the plan.

The conversation would have been: You told us to anticipate 10,000 more employees, but instead we have 50,000 and a hotel. We planned to spend $10 million to support that growth, but now we don't have the funds. We need you to assess impact fees on the development.

Instead, the conversation was: Here's a study which says you owe us money. Give it to us. Never mind that we have a lot of money in reserve and no plans on how it will be spent.

No. The strategic plan is not a red herring. I don't buy that explanation any more than I buy the assertion that fire station 3 is properly located now that it has more land. Making it up as you go. Winging it.


15 people like this
Posted by Repeal
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 16, 2018 at 11:39 pm

Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, becomes clear once people realize that the Board lives vicariously through the personality of the Chief.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 17, 2018 at 3:47 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The conversation would have been: You told us to anticipate 10,000 more employees, but instead we have 50,000 and a hotel."


Menlo Park never told the Fire District to anticipate anything but instead told the Fire District that it was "on your own" in getting impact fees from developers.


21 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 17, 2018 at 7:37 am

Time for a new Board and fire chief


11 people like this
Posted by Winging It
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 17, 2018 at 8:14 am

Fire Board Director Carpenter,

You say, "Menlo Park never told the Fire District to anticipate anything but instead told the Fire District that it was 'on your own' in getting impact fees from developers".

Menlo Park published their Strategic Plan: Web Link

I would counter the City telegraphed their growth intentions. I would further point out the Board recognized their intentions and hired a consultant to calculate the impact on the District (CityGate study). The District knew of the growth (or reasonably should have known). The red herring is actually whether the district knew of the growth. It did.

The real issue is the lack of a strategic plan which describes what the District's intentions for the $70 million in reserves. Asking for more money (impact fees) when there is ample capital to absorb the growth is not politically viable. The City Managers got it right.

The better solution is to spell out what the District envisions and how much that will cost. More personnel, additional trucks, new stations all cost money and could be why the District is sitting on a mountain of cash. Modernizing and building stations would burn through the reserves quickly, but there's no strategic plan saying that is where the money is going. Instead, we're all left guessing.

Had the district gone to the City armed with information about how its capital was already committed (a strategic plan), I suspect the impact fee request would have been approved. As a result, there would be not be this fake news report from the Civil Grand Jury.


6 people like this
Posted by Scott Barnum
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 17, 2018 at 1:45 pm

Winging It:

Thanks for your comments and interest here. You have made some good points and impassioned remarks since you joined the conversation on this topic under your "Winging It" name. You should consider dropping your 'nom de plume' and let folks know who you are to better support you.

Why don't you run for the Fire Board in the upcoming election, since you seem to have a lot of energy, passion and insight regarding the Fire District and strat planning... and there's still time to take out/submit papers. If time commitment is an barrier, you can try to get on the Board's Strategic Planning Committee, the composition of which can include members of the public who are not board members themselves. That way, you could learn what the District's issues/needs really are and be better able to add value having more specific context and understanding... but without undertaking the time requirement as a full board member.


2 people like this
Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 18, 2018 at 5:21 pm

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

Repeal - thanks for mentioning Citygate in your comment about the fire district's outside performance audits. While I have not yet read the Grand Jury's report, the fact that the Fire District has outside audits is commendable. I was not familiar with Citygate, so looked into their clients and services. Web Link The company's local client list includes San Jose, Mountain View and Milpitas but I do not see any outside audits that the company has performed for Menlo Park, EPA or Atherton.


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

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