Fact Check: Competing claims on Measure C

Fact Check: Competing claims on Measure C

Michele Ellson

Welcome to the maiden voyage of our new Fact Check feature, which is designed to help you navigate the sometimes murky waters of political discourse in Alameda. Today we tackle the Measure C campaign and specifically, four claims posted on the campaign websites for and against the proposed 30-year, half-cent sales tax hike, which is slated to fund public safety vehicles and equipment and help pay for a new pool and renovations to the main library and the old Carnegie Library.

Preserving Alameda claim:“The City's Emergency Operation (sp)Center (EOC) was built in 1978 and is located in the basement of the Police Administration Building. This location is unsuitable in an area prone to earthquakes and the risk of liquefaction.”

Since it goes without saying that the entire Bay Area is prone to earthquakes, we looked specifically at the liquefaction claim in this statement.

“It’s all in how it’s sliced and diced,” Association of Bay Area Governments spokeswoman Leah Zippert said.

A liquefaction hazard map generated by the United States Geological Service and posted to both the ABAG and USGS websites shows that less than 1 percent of the area of town the police department headquarters where the EOC is now located is predicted to liquefy in a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. Street level analyses based on state and federal data are split. One analysis shows the liquefaction susceptibility of the area as moderate and another focused on liquefaction hazard showing that the site is in a liquefaction zone.

“But pretty much all of Alameda is defined as a liquefaction zone,” Lippert said of the second analysis.

That said, ABAG’s liquefaction maps come with a caveat: They’re not to be used as a substitute for for a site-specific investigation by a licensed geologist or geotechnical engineer.

Milking Alameda claim: “The Measure C tax can be used “(b)asically, for anything that Alameda City Council deems fit.”

Section 3-63.14 of the ordinance that would guide the collection and use of the tax if approved by voters offers an expenditure plan for the money as required by section 7285.91 of California’s Revenue and Taxation code. It says the city can only use the money for “police, fire and other public safety facilities and equipment; parks and recreation facilities and equipment; cultural facilities; and funding for one position to serve as Emergency Operations Coordinator.” It offers examples of authorized projects that include fire station replacement, an emergency operations center, police and fire vehicles, a police/fire joint training facility, and public swim facilities.

While city leaders have offered a list of projects that they say will be funded by the tax and a timeline for getting those started, the ordinance also offers this line, which opponents have keyed in on: “The City Council may choose not to pursue any particular project listed among those examples, may substitute unidentified but similar projects for those listed, and may decided (sp) the order in which projects are initiated and completed, as long as expenditures of revenue from the tax are consistent with the general categories of projects listed in this section.” And Milking Alameda spokesman David Howard said the group has since changed its spiel to say the language permits any project it sees fit (though we checked the FAQ on MA’s website Wednesday night that the original language was still there).

According to the city attorney’s impartial analysis, the tax money can’t be used for “anything” – it says the council is prohibited from using the money to replace general fund money budgeted for normal operations at the previous year’s service levels. And in an April 5 opinion on opponents’ request to pull Measure C from the ballot, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo disagreed with opponents’ claims that the ballot contained false or misleading language based on this “built in escape clause.”

“The court finds that including this provision makes it neither false nor misleading as it limits the Council’s discretion to ‘similar projects for those listed’ and expenditures that are ‘consistent with the general categories of projects listed in this section.’ Thus, it does not give the City Council unfettered discretion as to projects upon which to spend these funds.”

Milking Alameda claim: “A 2009 study of Alameda Fire Department operations suggested closing Fire Station #3, and re-opening Fire Station #5, at Alameda Point. Fire Station #3 doesn’t need to be rebuilt.”

The 2009 study referenced by Milking Alameda was conducted by the International City/County Management Association at the city’s behest, and it did recommend shuttering Fire Station 3 or operating Station 5 at Alameda Point, which was eventually closed, at a reduced level. The study’s authors cited standards that recommend fire engine companies be placed at a distance of 1.5 miles apart and ladder companies, two miles apart (though we looked up the standard and what we read said 2.5 miles apart) and the fact that Fire Station 3 needs to be rebuilt. The study also recommended the city sell Fire Station 3 and its condemned training tower to help fund a training center, which its authors said could be used by all city departments and be constructed with the aid of federal grant money and other agencies that would seek to use it.

We asked City Manager John Russo about whether the city had looked into these suggestions and if not, why not. Deputy City Manager Alex Nguyen said the report never went to the council for its consideration or review. (We couldn’t find evidence the council considered it directly either, though minutes from a council meeting where it was mentioned showed that then-Councilman Frank Matarrese, who has endorsed the tax measure, had “very little faith” in the report.)

“There are some minutes that reflect comments about the study, but again, no actions and no full staff report given,” Nguyen said in an e-mail. “ I cannot speak as to what the former administrations' intentions were or the reasoning behind their actions - or lack thereof.”

We also asked Nguyen for the paper trail regarding the condition of Fire Station 3. We'll let you know if we get anything back on that.

Milking Alameda claim:“(E)stimates are that Alameda could save $2 million per year by contracting with Alameda County for fire protection.”

We pressed Milking Alameda spokesman Howard for a little more information on the origin of this claim.

“I'm aware of no written report,” Howard responded to our query. “This came from informal conversations between Ann Marie Gallant and the County Fire Chief, where the message was that rule-of-thumb savings are roughly 10%, largely from consolidating administrative/senior management overhead. The City of Alameda FD budget is $20 million to $25 million, hence 10% of that is $2 million to $2.5 million.”

Alameda County Fire Chief Sheldon Gilbert confirmed that then-Interim City Manager Gallant called and “asked some general questions relating to our consolidation model and our experience in savings.” He said the rule of thumb is that contracting with the county could save a city 10 percent, “but that depends on what service levels they want.”

“I would say that is an assumption based on other cities’ experiences that have contracted with Alameda County fire,” said Gilbert, who said whether that would come to fruition here would depend on a detailed statement of work and proposal.

“It’s not impossible. But it’s not necessarily probable either,” Gilbert said.

Comments

Submitted by Chuck on Thu, May 3, 2012

Thanks for checking the facts on Measure C. It shows that David Howard and Gretchen Lipow have been spreading lies and misinformation about Measure C, even misquoting a judge of the Alameda Superior Court.

Submitted by Domenick Weaver... on Thu, May 3, 2012

Hey Michele,
Thank you for posting the information about the validity of claims being made by both Preserving Alameda, and the contrary Milking Alameda group as it pertains to the EOC and the Fire Department. As President of the Alameda Firefighters Association for the last 5 years, I have always tried to bring light to the shadows of information that our community had been receiving, especially under the Gallant and Chief Kapler regime. Your article not only validates our efforts, but it exposes truly inappropriate actions and releases of information that were intended to confuse the community and destroy the Department.

The stretch and spin that David Howard, Denise Lai, and Liz Williams have concocted comes as no surprise, as a defense to the position my association took against their beloved Mayoral candidate, Doug DeHaan in 2010. Prior to that, I had personally met with each of them to discuss issues with the FISC fire and the reductions in our force that were being driven by Gallant and Kapler. In fact, we were very much on the same page when it came to the poor response by the Fire Chief with regards to the safety of our community and our firefighters in the aftermath of the FISC fire. It is also a fact, that for the remainder of Kapler's career after the FISC fire, I had ongoing conversations with him about the number of firefighters who developed serious lung issues from pneumonia to asthma after the 20 plus hours spent at that fire and the resulting residual cleanup. Now 3 years after that fire, I have 14 members who were on that scene that have been diagnosed with lung problems that they never had prior to that incident. I have asked numerous times for that to be investigated, as those numbers are way outside the normal percentages of diagnoses in a regular population of firefighters.

Now, in 2012, this group of activists uses partial information, unofficial reports and opinionated conversations to levy false claims and cause continued confusion among Alameda Citizens. This group of activists wants people to believe that the firefighters engage in inappropriate relationships with elected and appointed officials, when IN REALITY, THEY ARE THE ONES HAVING BEHIND THE SCENES CONVERSATIONS AND RECEIVING "LEAKED" INFORMATION!

Your article proves that Gallant was indeed providing the information she wanted to get out to people like David Howard. How did he know she was talking behind the scenes with ALCOFD Chief Sheldon Gilbert? I do not recall ANY Council giving her direction to explore a contract for service with ALCOFD. Did Mr. Howard get that information directly from her, or was it through Councilmember DeHaan? Why does the Milking Alameda group choose to quote a report that was intentionally crafted to combat the Staffing Initiative that we considered putting forth to the voters? Are people aware of the deeply misplaced aggression that Gallant had towards the firefighters, possibly attributed to personal and professional relationships in Southern California? Either way, it is obvious that the claims made by Milking Alameda are political paybacks for my association's position on Councilmember DeHaan.

I believe that David Howard, Liz Williams, and Denise Lai are intelligent people. It is unfortunate that due to politics, we have ended up on opposite sides of the coin. We have, and always will invite questions and partnerships with this community in order to provide the best for it.

Again, thank you Michele for exposing the way the convoluted argument against Measure C has come to be.

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