Citizens committee polling Atherton residents about fire protection services
Peter Carpenter, now president of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board of Directors, at a joint meeting with the Atherton City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, in Jennings Pavilion at the town’s Holbrook-Palmer Park. (John Orr / Daily News)
Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton and the president of the Menlo Fire Protection District board, made it clear that the survey sent out on Monday by the Citizens’ Fire Services Performance Committee is independent of the fire district.
“This effort is being done entirely with private funds,” he said in email on Monday.
On Wednesday, he explained that the survey is being run by a consultant, Craig Everett, and is being distributed, in the main, over Facebook.
Everett is charged with polling a representative group of residents in Atherton, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto and asking them, basically, “How satisfied are people with the fire service they are presently getting and would they like a change?” said Carpenter on Wednesday.
The survey is in response to the Town of Atherton contracting with an outside firm to examine residents’ financial connection to the Fire District.
On Wednesday, Atherton City Manager George Rodericks repeated the three main goals of that study: “What revenues does the district receive from Atherton residents, what is the cost of service in Atherton, and if there was no Fire District, what would Atherton have to do?”
Rodericks and all the Atherton City Council members have repeatedly stated that they are pleased with the Fire District’s service to the town, but Carpenter has been critical of the town paying for the fiscal study.
On Wednesday, Carpenter faulted the goals of the town’s study.
“The town has hired Matrix Consulting” to do the study, Carpenter said, “and one of the issues is ‘should Atherton have its own fire service? It’s important to ascertain if residents would support the creation of a separate fire service.”
The Menlo Fire Protection District maintains one station in Atherton and serves the town from stations in nearby locations including Menlo Park.
The town has suggested that the Fire District add a small presence in its new Town Center, but that idea has so far been rejected by the Fire District.
The Fire District launched its own study in 2016 that suggested that it might be better served to close its only station in town — which now seems unlikely, after the district spent $4.6 million to buy a property on Almendral Avenue that could be used to expand Station 3.
But if the town did want to form its own fire department, Carpenter said there would be problems, even if it took the estimated $12 million a year the town’s residents contribute to the Fire District.
“It would be very difficult to acquire the equipment and the stations … and they would need two or three stations. You can’t do that for $12 million. It’s a classic example of a lose-lose situation.”
Carpenter said “this is crazy, that you would hire someone to do this” study of the Fire District’s fiscal relationship with the town’s residents. “I felt, as a citizen and a taxpayer,” that the Citizens’ Fire Services Performance Committee survey was needed.
The survey — first of a possible series of surveys — has three parts:
1. Are you satisfied with level of service provided by our local fire department?
2. On a scale of one (horrible) to five (superb) how do you rate the performance of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District?
1 2 3 4 5
3. 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 7,000 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,
A separate department for Atherton residents with the remaining 83,000 residents being served by the existing fire protection district,