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Rich Irony in Mayor Johnson’s Comments About Protecting Local Money for Public Safety

In a recent statement issued by the City of Alameda, Mayor Beverly Johnson complains about the State’s attempt to borrow money from local governments, depriving residents and businesses of “the services that [they] expect and deserve” such as police, fire and emergency medical service. But a study of City of Alameda provided data shows that during the Mayor’s tenure in office over the past ten years, public safety staffing has faced a steady decline.

The City statement is a report on a recent Alameda County Mayors Conference on the state budget crisis and includes the statement that “State takeaways of this magnitude could force cities to close fire stations [and] reduce police patrols.” But Alameda residents have already suffered the closure of Fire Station 5 and reduced firefighter staffing levels which may have negatively impacted the response to the Inverness fire on Bay Farm Island.

And a study of data in the City’s own Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2008, shows that from the time Mayor Johnson was elected in 1998, through to 2008, the number of public safety officers per 10,000 residents in Alameda has been in steady decline, while the number of building, planning and community development (redevelopment) staffing has been rising. The data suggests the Mayor is more concerned with serving developers than protecting residents with public safety and emergency services.

Using data from the CAFR, we graphed the staffing levels for those departments, and added a trend line to show the general direction. In the graph below, public safety staffing is the blue line and blue trend line which you can see is in a steady decline. The number on the Y-axis on the left-hand side of the chart represents the number of staff in the department per 10,000 Alameda residents. The figure for Public Safety has been divided by 10 to scale it onto the graph near to the other two departments.

The purple lines represent the Planning and Building Department staffing level, which has been on the rise, the yellow lines represent Community Development (a.k.a. redevelopment services), and the turquoise line represents the combined levels of the Planning and Building and Community Development departments, which also shows a steady rise from 1999 to 2008.

Alameda Staffing Per 10,000 Residents - Selected Departments

Alameda Staffing Per 10,000 Residents - Selected Departments

Larger image available here.

We then took the same chart, but added markers to show the points at which the current Mayor and council members took office. Mayor Johnson was elected in November, 1998, and one can readily see the bump in Planning and Building Department staff that took place in 2001 and 2002. And from 1998 through 2008, the trend for the combined departments (turquoise) rises steadily.

City of Alameda Staffing Levels With Councilmember Milestones

City of Alameda Staffing Levels With Councilmember Milestones

Larger image available here.

For those who want to see the numbers, the data table is here.

We asked Dominic Weaver, the President of the local firefighters union for his thoughts on the Mayor’s statements, and he responded:

The firefighters are encouraged to see Mayor Johnson stand up for the needs of this community. That is why we have been one of her strongest supporters throughout her political career. Unfortunately, in the case of the fire department, recent decisions by the Mayor and Council (the brownouts and closures) have already had a negative impact on “the services that our residents and businesses expect and deserve.” This council has trusted City staff to provide recommendations on handling the current fiscal challenges and those recommendations have come at the expense of the community and the firefighters.

Alameda resident Michael Gunnell, of Wood Street, who was one of several residents who expressed concerns over the debris that the FISC Fire deposited in Alameda residential yards told us by email:

While I am not pleased with how the City dealt with the FISC fire, I am even more alarmed with the willingness with which safety personnel are laid off. It truly seems as if the City believes all days will be sunny Sundays without any worry. The talk of the County shutting the bridges down at night, also puts us as risk (no mutual aid) – it is a double whammy. Lay off safety personnel, close off transit routes and sit back and wait for the BIG ONE….at least we will have a good view.

Gunnell was referring to a proposal from Alameda County to save money by leaving the Park Street, High Street and Fruitvale Bridges in the “up” position during non-peak hours. We’ve requested from the City a copy of a letter sent by the Mayor and Alameda County Public Works to the Army Corps of Engineers on the matter, and we are waiting for a response.

7 comments to Rich Irony in Mayor Johnson’s Comments About Protecting Local Money for Public Safety

  • anon

    Are you saying that when the Building department tells citizens that they exist for “public safety”, they are…fibbing?

  • Mike G

    It is truly about priorities, all arenas of Public safety, Building, Fire, Police and Emergency are all taking hits, because the public does not nor will not feel it until it affects them personally. And Politicians know this, thus enabling them to cut services without much fight. But if you were to ask anyone who has required these services or anyone who has been called to action during an event. They will tell you of a greater need for assistance….I do not like to use New Orleans as an example but….in large event training(i.e. Earthquake, Hurricane etc..)what happened in New Orleans provided a blue of what not to do. And judging the response to the FISC fire and its aftermath, I would say Alameda emergency response more akin to New Orleans than not….so if you value your own safety as well as that of you community, let your Mayor and Council members know about it… When the BIG ONE hits, it’s already too late.

  • The categories are the City’s categories, not ours. Public Safety presumably includes fire, police and the fire paramedics – the ones that the Mayor is shedding crocodile tears over in the City’s press release.

    The absolute numbers (see the data table) in the “public safety” category may well include folks like building inspectors/code enforcement – the number of sworn police officers is 99, and the number of firefighters until recently was around 109 – a few dozen short of the figures reported by the city in the public safety category.

    And in any event, nobody ever calls 911 for a building inspector to get them onsite in an emergency.

  • Mike G

    By the way, Just to let you know, that personally you may not call a building Inspector for a 911 call but the Police and Fire departments both call the Building Dept(At least in SF) for assistance in many 911 calls when it requires the expertise of a Building Official. I personally have been on many of these calls. So while they,(building inspectors), may not seem to be the foremost requested emergency personnel, they are non the less an important cog in the wheel………….

  • Understood. Building inspectors are indeed an important cog in the wheel. In fact, Alameda PD took one or two along for the ride when they did a probation search and a meth bust at a “dilapidated” (Alameda PD word) house in Alameda (See and the follow-up story. )

    But when the Mayor issues a public statement shedding crocodile tears about the State taking money from local municipalities that would pay for “police, fire and ambulance services” she’s not talking about building inspectors.

    And when the average citizen thinks about “public safety” they are thinking first about fire, police and ambulance.

    This whole discussion is about whether residents want, as a priority, to fund fire, police and ambulance emergency responders over bureaucrats in the planning, building and development services department who help land developers get projects built.

  • Mike G

    Whether or not the money is from the state or our pocket books, building inspectors are not the same as planners and the building department is funded by permits not by the state. So be clear with whom you align Building Inspectors with, the planning department is not part of any enforcement of the safety aspects of the building codes. Building codes are a byproduct of tragic events, thus Building Inspectors are on the front line for safety in our businesses and homes, whether or not the average citizen realizes that…..

    So my point is, DO not try slice and dice who is safety personnel or not but realize that all levels and categories of Safety are being attacked….

    If you want to call out the Planning Department, the Mayor and Council members do so, but make sure you keep the facts straight on who is doing what. Building Inspectors have no input on the Actions of Planning or Developers that have connections with the powers that be.

    On the sarcastic side… just stop getting building permits..layoff more Building Inspectors and whoala more house fires, thus the need for more Fire and Emergency personnel…pretty simple don’t you think….

  • Mike – I think we’re violently in agreement. If you go back, you’ll see that we were responding to an anonymous commenter that was saying that building inspectors are “public safety” (we agree) and implied that because the Planning & Building department staffing numbers were growing, the City was growing “public safety” staffing.

    But that was beside the point about the discussion over State borrowing impacting fire, police and ambulances. Our point of the entire post is that the Mayor is hypocritical to cry about the State taking money that would otherwise go to “police, fire and ambulance services” when under her tenure – as evidenced by the City’s own data, staffing levels in the category “public safety” which assuredly includes police, fire and paramedics, has been in a steady decline for 10 years.

    As we noted before, it’s not clear from the City data if they count building inspectors in the “Planning and Building” staffing category in the CAFR, or if they count them in the “Public Safety” category. There’s enough headcount in absolute terms that they may indeed be accounted for in the “Public Safety” category. And in any event, as you point out, (public safety under attack in all levels and categories) I suspect that the number of building inspectors per 10,000 residents has not grown over the past 10 years earlier – perhaps if the anonymous commenter has evidence to the contrary, he or she will bring it forward.