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Is this how we want our tax dollars spent?

Original post made by Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood, on Mar 19, 2018

Having already spent or caused to be spent $80k of taxpayers’ money on their so-called Fire Services Fiscal Review and discovering, thanks to the response to a thoughtful letter (attachment 1) from a concerned citizen to the Executive Director of LAFCO, that detachment from the Fire District would be both unprecedented and very difficult, and after each of the Council members has stated that they are opposed to detachment from the Fire District the Atherton Town Council will on 21 March consider spending another $13k to further pursue this boondoggle:

“At the February 21, 2018 Council Meeting, following public comment and discussion, the Council directed staff to obtain a cost and move forward with Task 4, as described by the Council: …an analysis of the range of options that might be open to the Town, to include, a framework of the LAFCO process, time involved (staff and public), an estimate of cost, potential outcomes; as well as, any other options that might be pursued by the Town, to include, but not limited to legislative changes, agreements, etc.

Matrix Consulting has provided the attached Scope of Work at a not to exceed fee of $13,500. It would be appropriate for the Council to review the Scope of Work; provide feedback; discuss continued pursuit of Task 4 as defined; and, if appropriate, approve the Scope of Work and authorize staff to execute the Scope of Work to move forward with Task 4.

The scope of work for this portion of the process is limited to understanding the LAFCO and legislative processes and requirements associated with detachment and not the analyzing costs and structure of a municipal fire department or contracting with another agency. This incremental process allows the Town to control its interest in pursuing an alternative approach for fire service delivery.

Once the tasks described above have been completed, the project team would develop an action plan on how to proceed if interest is maintained in detachment from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. This action plan would encompass the following: Matrix Consulting Group Page 4 • Steps needed and timetable associated with a strong application / petition to LAFCO. • LAFCO and County processes to review the detachment application and timetable. • Planning for the public processes associated with hearings and elections. • Approaches for special legislation, if needed.”

This is a Town Council which could not get a simple parcel tax approved, which has a cash flow problem because it has decided to start construction of a new Town Center without having the necessary funds on hand and it now wants to spend another $13k on a project that has no possible beneficial outcome!

And almost all of the information that Matrix proposes to provide (“understanding the LAFCO and legislative processes and requirements associated with detachment “) for a mere $13k has already been provided for free by the LAFCO Executive Director’s Feb 9 email!

Nothing that the Council has done or proposes to do will reduce the property taxes of a single Atherton resident by even a penny.

Nothing that the Council has done or proposes to do will improve the fire services provided to Atherton residents.

And the Council is fully aware that 98.5% of the Fire District residents are satisfied with the performance of their current fire agency (attachment 1).

What exactly is the Council trying to “accomplish” except to continue to waste our taxpayers’ money?

Peter Carpenter
Citizens Committee for a Responsible Atherton Town Council - ID 1396981

Attachment 1

From: Martha Poyatos
Date: February 9, 2018 at 3:20:27 PM PST
To: Allan Epstein
Cc: George Rodericks "Schapelhouman, Harold"
Subject: RE: Atherton considering withdrawing from Menlo Park Fire District

Hi Allan;

Below I have copied and pasted your questions and include my responses:

Please explain the process for how detachment would be done.
The process for the Town of Atherton to detach from Menlo Park Fire Protection District (MPFPD) and either form a stand-alone department or contract with another fire agency would start with the Town adopting a resolution of application to LAFCo to amend the MPFPD sphere of influence and detach from the District. The application would include the resolution, application, plan for providing service, indemnification form and LAFCo fees.

The basic process is:
1) Town adopts resolution of application referenced above and submits it with application, plan for providing service, indemnification and fees to San Mateo Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo). The Commission has the authority to approve, approve with modifications, modify or deny applications.
2) LAFCo staff processes the application by referring it to affected county departments (assessor, elections, etc.) and agencies (Town of Atherton, MPFPD, affected cities)
3) LAFCo application triggers a letter from the Controller to the County and the Town initiating a 60 day property tax negotiation period. (Both the Board of Supervisors and Town Council must adopt property tax resolutions before LAFCo can schedule the application for hearing)
4) Once the application is deemed complete including adopted resolutions of tax exchange, LAFCo can schedule a noticed public hearing.
5) At the hearing, the Commission has the authority to approve, approve with modifications or conditions or deny the application.
6) If approved, LAFCo would be required to hold a protest hearing at which registered voters can submit written protest. If 50% or more of the voters submit protest, the detachment is terminated. If less than 25% of the registered voters in the Town submit protest, LAFCo orders the detachment. If 25% or more of the registered voters but less than 50% submit written protest, the detachment is subject to an election at which a majority of the Atherton registered voters must vote in favor of the detachment.
7) If approved by lack of protest or by majority vote at an election, LAFCo would finalize the detachment once all conditions are met. Conditions could include an executed contract with another fire agency, acquisition of station, apparatus or other actions.

Who gets to decide?
The Commission has the discretion to approve, approve with conditions or deny and must consider a set of mandated factors including:
The effect of the proposed action and of alternative actions, on adjacent areas, on mutual social and economic interests, and on the local governmental structure of the county; The ability of the newly formed or receiving entity to provide the services which are the subject of the application to the area, including the sufficiency of revenues for those services following the proposed boundary change;
Comments of affected agencies and individuals.

If approved by the Commission registered voters in the Town of Atherton have the opportunity for protest and possibly voting in an election as noted above.

How are assets and liabilities divided?
Detachment does not affect ownership of District owned assets such as stations and apparatus. LAFCo consideration in review of the proposal would include fiscal impact to MPFPD in regard to liabilities related to staff and facilities located in Atherton and loss of property tax revenue and the fiscal viability of a stand-alone department.

How does the Town receive the “fire protection” share of property taxes going forward?

The property tax transfer is a discretionary negotiation set forth in Revenue and Taxation Code. In boundary changes that involve independent special districts, the Board of Supervisors would negotiate with the Town on behalf of the special district (after providing notice to the District and providing the District opportunity to comment). In the case of a detachment, it is not clear that all of the fire district’s property tax share would be transferred to only the Town or if some would go to other agencies (school districts, health care district, county, etc.) that also overlap with MPFPD.

How long might the change take?

Without an election an estimate of the timeline is 5 to 8 months. With an election an estimate is 15 to 24 months based on election law time frames.

Please keep in mind that the proposal to detach from a regional fire district is unprecedented and in processing an actual application other issues may arise that I have not addressed here or that were not addressed in the Fire Services Fiscal Review commissioned by the Town.

Thank you for your patience in waiting for my response to your e-mail.


Martha Poyatos
Executive Officer

455 County Center, 2nd Floor
Redwood City, CA 94063
650•363•4224 T
650•363•4849 F

Attachment 2
Zuma Bay Strategies

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Survey
Topline Results


Survey Dates: • 6/14/2017 – 6/24/2017
Sample Size: • 202 completed surveys
Sampling Error: • +/- 6.9% at the 95% confidence level
Unit of Analysis: • Adult Residents
Survey Medium: • Facebook
Population: • Residents within Menlo Park Fire Protection District
Screens • Age, Language (to minimize Latino oversampling)
Languages • English
Quotas • Location, Gender, Latino
Corrections • Weighting for Female Oversample (Actual pop is 50.5% female)
Principal Researcher • Craig R. Everett, PhD

Question: Are you satisfied with level of service provided by our local fire department?

Yes 98.5%
No 1.5%

Question: On a scale of one (horrible) to five (superb) how do you rate the performance of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District?

1 (horrible) 1.0%
2 0.5
3 7.5
4 27.9
5 (superb) 63.2

Question: The Menlo Park Fire Protection District consists of 7 stations, 93 firefighters, serves 90 thousand residents and has a strong mutual aid agreement to obtain additional resources in times of urgency. A proposal to split off Atherton into its own district would result in two districts, one covering 7000 Atherton residents with 2 stations, 19 firefighters and no mutual aid agreement and one covering the remaining 83,000 MPFPD residents with 5 stations and 72 firefighters that preserves the existing mutual aid agreement. Do you support:

One unified fire department for Menlo Park, Atherton and East Palo Alto 69.1%
No opinion 21.4%
A separate department for Atherton residents with the remaining
83,000 residents being served by the existing fire protection district 9.5%


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