Gary Podesto to City of Stockton: Leave my friends alone!

So The Record finally got around to scanning Gary Podesto’s open letter to the City of Stockton on the proposed changes to the City Charter (Otherwise known as Measure H) which voters will decide on in November. No major red flags as to why it was only excerpted a couple weeks ago since no one was libeled as I predicted. It just seems to be a rambling letter where he makes the same flawed points Fire has been making this whole time. Then, just for fun, he suggests kneecapping local businesses and growth in general. Since I have nothing better to write about this week, let’s pick apart his argument after the jump. (Yes, we do jumps now.)

What’s truly sad is I’m not even that knowledgable about the ballot measure. I believe the thrust of it is the City wants to eliminate part of the City Charter that requires binding arbitration for labor disputes with Fire (disputes like changing minimum staffing requirements from 4 to 3), a provision voted in to the Charter in 1992. But even with my limited knowledge on the subject I’m able to see through most of Podesto’s bullshit (the transparency of said bullshit increases as the letter goes on).

One thing I can’t argue against is something I’ve said before, four firefighters to a truck (or engine company or whatever the proper term is. I’ll be using “truck”) is undeniably safer than three. Despite Podesto’s claims of a witch hunt, I don’t think anybody wants to eliminate a guy from responding trucks. There may be some lingering bad feelings from Fire’s budget being generally safe before the 2007-2009 stretch of cuts Podesto mentions in his letter, but everybody understands that the more hands on deck the better in this situation. That doesn’t stop Podesto from spelling it out for anybody just in case you were unaware how 4 is safer than 3. It’s actually quite educational but, again, unneeded. The argument isn’t that 3-man trucks are preferable to 4, it’s that 3-man trucks are preferable to even deeper cuts to areas like the already gutted Police Department (or other, similarly eviscerated departments in the City). Podesto disagrees and cites the ever-popular Quail Lakes fire as an example.

The Quail Lakes argument is a tired one, mostly because it was the biggest residential fire in the history of Stockton. That doesn’t really make it an appropriate example. No matter what precautions are taken unexpected, extreme situations (on both ends of the spectrum) are always going to crop up. It’s important to ask “what if” to ensure you have all your bases covered, but asking “What if the biggest fire ever broke out…again?” is like the Maloof brothers asking “What if Rasho Nesterovic Kermit Washingtons Tyreke Evans during the home opener?” It’s possible, Rudy Tomjonavic didn’t punch himself into alcoholism, but not likely. I don’t see the Kings hiring a couple more trainers just in case. There’s also the little matter of Fire completely fucking up the response to the Quail Lakes fire. Mainly, they sent too many firefighters to fight it, neglecting the emergency medical services they’re fighting so hard to keep doing right now. Nobody really remembers this because thankfully nothing bad happened, but if the possibility of another record-breaking fire is enough of a reason to keep 4-man trucks at the expense of every other City service then there’s also a good possibility that they’ll overreact again. For the love of Christ, stop using this extreme example.

Podesto’s letter may lead one to believe Measure H is a direct vote on Fire staffing requirements, it’s not. As I mentioned earlier we’re actually voting on whether or not we think binding arbitration is the way we want the City to continue settling its labor battles with Fire. The two are intertwined for obvious reasons. The City doesn’t want to risk the arbiter siding with Fire (which, despite what the apparently clairvoyant Podesto thinks, is far from a certainty) because their decision is binding after all. And Fire knows keeping arbitration is pretty much the only shot they have at maintaining current staffing levels.

Podesto makes some decent points in favor of keeping arbitration, cost being an important motivating factor. Arbitration is an inexpensive alternative to costly court cases. That point is dulled though by the fact that, according to Podesto at least, going to an arbitrator means the City would still have a budget hole to fill. Litigation may cost more than arbitration, but it’s hard to quantify that. Using Podesto’s logic it’s easy to see what arbitration will cost us, it would cost us $7 million because he thinks an arbitrator would side with Fire on the staffing issue. Something tells me, in this specific instance, litigation may just be more cost-effective (Or, you know, Fire could grow up and takes its lumps for a year and then we can do this all over again when they negotiate the new labor deal in 2011).

But wait! Podesto also attempts to discredit the $7 million figure using the most backwards logic known to man. He argues that if the City were successful in reducing staffing levels, they would have to build a new firehouse to maintain current levels of safety and that would wipeout our budgetary savings. This is the part of the letter where I realized he has no clue what’s going on and someone from the Fire Union presumably called him up and said they needed somebody with something resembling credibility to make their argument for them. Unless I missed something, there are no plans to build a new fire station should staffing requirements change. The point of these budget cuts is that we’re trading in a bit of our sense of safety to fill the massive hole in the budget. The City is trying to find the right balance between spending and safety. You don’t take exchange a certain level of safety for some cash then immediately spend that cash on increasing the level of safety, you use the cash for what you intended it to be for and hope you didn’t cash in too much of your safety.

Before we get to what is easily the most laughable part of the letter, let’s take a quick look at safety.Hell, let’s just quote Podesto’s letter:

“Some will say other cities have three firefighter engine companies. Aren’t they safe? The answer is that depends. Let’s look at Modesto and compare it to Stockton.”

Ugh, I hate comparing us to that place, but it’s his letter so let him roll with it. I’m sure he’ll objectively quote statistics that are in no way misleading.

“Modesto uses the three person model. Modesto is thirty-six square miles in size. Modesto has eleven engine companies and approximately 23,000 calls for service. Stockton is over ninety square miles in size, almost three times larger in area and only has thirteen engine companies and 40,000 calls for service, almost twice that of Modesto.”

First of all, we’re three times the size of Modesto but only field twice the amount of service calls? How does that work? Oh, it’s because a routine search of the always accurate Wikipedia shows that Stockton is actually only 74 square miles which is only twice the size of Modesto (which Wikipedia confirms is just a hair under 36 square miles). The other thing that Podesto fails to mention is that Modesto has a population of 211,000 compared to Stockton’s 290,000. So while Stockton has twice the landmass of Modesto, the number of people per square mile is actually fairly even because Modesto has half as much space to fit them in. When you take that into account, 11 companies compared to our 13 doesn’t seem like that much of a discrepancy. There are just as many people per square mile in Modesto as there are in Stockton. We are talking about the safety of people, not land, after all. As far as I can tell, Modesto hasn’t burned down and its residents feel relatively safe (from the threat of fire at least).

Podesto finally ends with some proposed building code additions if these staffing changes go through, because if there’s one thing this city needs, it’s more red tape. The proposed codes are.. well here, just read.  Again, from the letter:

“1) All new residential of any kind must be equipped with both fire sprinkler suppression systems and hard wired fire alarm systems that are connected to a call center. This would trigger immediate response by fire fighters so that suppression will have begun before they enter a ragging inferno.

2) All manufacturing and commercial should be retrofitted with both systems within three years.

3) All older residential should be retrofitted with hard wire alarm systems with call center service.

4) All remodels over $40,000 would trigger sprinkler retrofits”

My first thought (besides “What the hell is a ‘ragging’ inferno?” before making a tampon joke to myself) when I read that list was “And this guy was once in charge of the entire City?” Then I remembered his lasting legacy is a bankrupt hotel on prime, waterfront real estate that was sold for a dollar. Now the list makes sense. He has no fucking clue what he’s talking about. If even half of these proposed codes were actually enforced/followed we wouldn’t have a budget shortfall because three-fourths of the population would be spending half their paycheck on permit fees to bring their property up to code. That’s actually kind of brilliant when you think about it. All that sweet, sweet permit money would replenish the General Fund. Budget crisis solved! Hell, let’s put 6 firefighters to a truck

What would more than likely happen is that these additions to the building code would scare away potential incoming businesses even more than they already are by Stockton’s sea of bureaucracy. Fewer jobs would come to Stockton (aside from construction jobs, which would spend the next 4 years hard wiring every house south of March Lane) and smaller, struggling local business owners would probably be forced to close their doors. All that would do is prolong the decrease in tax revenue that is the reason we’re even talking about this in the first place.

I’m not claiming to have any answers to this situation. I’m not even here to tell you which way you should vote on Measure H (although you can probably tell which way I lean).Thing is, Gary Podesto doesn’t have the answers either. Much like when he was Mayor, he’s running the plays, but somebody else is calling them from the sidelines. The most telling thing about Podesto’s letter is how flat-out desperate it sounds. Mixed in with the claims of former City officials having it in for the public safety unions is almost a flabbergasted sense of defiance. Podesto’s essentially asking “How dare the City try to change the will of those voters in 1992?” I’ll answer that theoretical question, they’re not. This isn’t some unilateral move to strike an undesirable section from the City Charter. They’re just asking voters if we still want that in the charter. For a guy who just spent the better part of two pages touting the wonders of independent arbitration, he sure doesn’t seem to trust the biggest arbiter of them all, the exact same group of voters who voted in favor of binding arbitration 18 years ago.

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~ by Slick Diaz on September 9, 2010.

One Response to “Gary Podesto to City of Stockton: Leave my friends alone!”

  1. Always entertaining. I need to read this thing about 2 or 3 more times. In the mean time there is a ragging inferno in the bay area that is more interesting than this.

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