After nearly an hour and a half of impassioned public comment on the future of San Carlos fire services, the San Carlos City Council voted unanimously to pursue an agreement with Redwood City as a means to provide fire services to the City of San Carlos as well as take a major step toward lowering their current fire services costs. The crowd was raucous at times, forcing Mayor Ahmad to close the tall doors leading to the lobby of City Hall. Speakers ranged from concerned members of the public, current firefighters from the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department, Fire Chiefs from around the Bay Area, community leaders and the former mayor of San Carlos. The vast majority of the speakers pleaded with the council to ignore a substantial cost savings and not go with the private option, Wackenhut Corporation, to provide San Carlos fire services. Instead, these speakers argued that a significant savings could also be realized by negotiating with Redwood City for a more regionalized approach. In the end, they got their wish.
Theory vs. Practicality
Many of the council members found themselves caught in a struggle of theory versus practicality. In this case, was it possible for a private company such as Wackenhut, to handle a service that has traditionally been a publicly provided service? Countless speakers argued that there was no oversight with a company such as Wackenhut. The Brown Act and an open forum with the public was not mandatory under a contract with Wackenhut. Further, could a company that was made for profit be trusted to provide the same level of safety for San Carlos residents as many of our current firefighters do every day. Some, including former San Carlos Mayor, John Buchanan, said he faced the exact same issue the current council was facing last night, over thirty years ago. He urged the council to explore the Wackenhut option, alluding to the idea that the current structure of our public fire fighting platforms will land the city right back in this same position again some day. In the end, the council seemed to really be taken with some of the ideas in the Wackenhut proposal, but ultimately it appeared there was simply to much of an unknown factor with Wackenhut.
It’s Not a Done Deal
Keep in mind that the decision was to pursue an agreement with Redwood City for fire services in San Carlos. There are many details still to be worked out, such as upper management issues, hiring, and oversight issues. Councilman Andy Klein made it known that private companies such as Wackenhut were not entirely out of the picture. While he hoped for a successful negotiation with Redwood City, he made it clear that he would have the council revisit a possible deal with Wackenhut or another private company should those negotiations with Redwood City not make favorable progress.
It’s Time to Give the City Council Credit
There are many different opinions on the members of the city council. I, for one, feel they take far too much heat for being handed a disaster of a financial situation and asked to make everyone happy. The truth of the matter is that San Carlos is in a massive hole due to Proposition 13. We see far less per property tax dollar than any of our neighboring towns and the voters of San Carlos have shot down every measure which would have generated additional taxes for services such as the Fire Department. You simply cannot have it both ways. At the end of the day, this council has systematically and intelligently cut costs across the board. Everything from police, fire, parks and city employees have seen substantial cuts. The result is that San Carlos will very soon be living within its means….something that has not happened in a very long time. It is certainly okay to be critical of city leaders when appropriate, but when you have the last three council members running unopposed and working under almost impossible circumstances while finally getting San Carlos to sustainability, it’s time to give them some credit.