Council Says It Supports Shared Management but Votes to Study It Further

Chief Trauernicht on Tuesday night
Chief Trauernicht on Tuesday night

The Davis City Council on Tuesday declared its support for the continuation of shared management of the fire department with UC Davis, but, in a conversation that often moved from the text to the subtext, passed a motion to have an outside entity – a truly neutral one – review how the current system is working.

City Manager Dirk Brazil declared “shared management is working,” and called it at least a modest “financial success” in his introductory remarks, before turning it over to Fire Chief Nathan Trauernicht.

The conversation quickly shifted to Station 31, as Chief Trauernicht acknowledged the need for a “rebuild, for a movement of Station 31.”  He said, while there is money for that because the money comes from North Davis impact fees, any use of that has to go to reducing response times and improving service to North Davis.

He added, “The one thing that I firmly believe is that Station 31 needs to stay in the downtown core.  That is where the risk is.  That is the highest call volume.”

Councilmember Rochelle Swanson said, “I’m committed to the shared services model.  I’m committed to continuing moving forward.”  However, at the same time, she said, “I want management downtown.” She added, “I want citizens to walk in and sit down.”

Councilmember Swanson cited parking issues on campus and the cost of parking.  She acknowledged that the program doesn’t have to be perfect from the beginning. “There’s always growing pains,” she said. “But that’s something that should be the ideal.”

She acknowledged that there are “rumors that by having this conversation there is a desire to uncouple everything. I want to at least make sure that for this councilmember, it’s not.  This is all about level of services.”

For his part, Nathan Trauernicht responded that “there’s no issue for us being downtown.”  In fact, when the original merger discussions occurred, there was talk about a plan to rent office space together. However, that comes down to fiscal priorities.

He added, “We do have free parking at Station 34 right now.”  He also noted that fire inspection and two staff members on that are housed at City Hall right now rather than Station 31 or the UC Davis campus.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs again expressed measured support for shared management.

“I voted against the shared management structure originally.  I said publicly I support it now,” he said.  “I still (have) concerns about the university’s core competency, is about the teaching of students as opposed to running a fire station.  There’s not a lot of other examples out there in California about universities that are running fire stations.”

He said, “I think there are kinks in the process.”  He added, “I do think some sort of examination of it is not a bad thing.”

Union President Bobby Weist addresses council
Union President Bobby Weist addresses council

Union President Bobby Weist spoke during public comment.  He argued the need to keep the central fire station downtown.  He said, in terms of response times, “if that fire station were moved, that would be very detrimental to the downtown.”

He said, “I’d like to make clear, because I’ve been misquoted, the union’s been misquoted, we have never opposed shared management.” He noted about the past processes, “it’s not about the shared management.  It’s about the things that are going on or not going on.  The lack of information that we’re getting. Hopefully that will change now that we’re going to be getting weekly updates – but we’ve asked for that for two years.”

Councilmember Brett Lee expressed surprise at the narrowness of the study.  “I’m a little nervous about what’s being described here, that we need to keep the downtown fire station and can’t make use of any of the funds that are for improving the response times.”

Brett Lee called for an outside firm to look at these needs. He said, “I’m a little skeptical of the need to remain exactly where we are with the Station 31.”  He said that doesn’t mean we don’t need a newer and more modern facility, he just doesn’t believe it needs to be at that exact location.

He was skeptical of the parking issue, noting, “The reality is that downtown is a real pain in the neck to park in compared to UC.”  He added, “Why would a regular person need to go visit the fire chief?”

He noted that they get emails concerned about the morale issues, but suggested “that can be true of any entity.”

Councilmember Lee is not opposed to an outside evaluation.  He wants them to “not be pre-disposed to one direction or another.”  He noted that Chief Kenley came in with the audit with a specific purpose – “I think he had one type of world view. The answer to that is not to get another entity which also has perhaps a world view in another direction.”

He wants a more objective and neutral evaluation.  He said that he is very nervous of this current piecemeal approach.

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis noted that “there are things we tend to lose sleep about in this community, the good news is that fire and police are not two of them.”  He said, “there is nothing fundamentally broken here.”

He took issue, however, saying, “I don’t want us to keep talking about the core competencies of the university.” From his perspective, he notes that hazmat (hazardous materials) at the county level relies on the university fire department to provide its services.  He noted the thousands of lives on campus and the value of the property and the research that is protected from fire by the fire department.

“I find it troubling to hear somehow that it’s more of a core competency of the city than it is of the university,” the mayor pro tem pointed out. “I kind of want to put that aside and recognize that we are in a partnership with a very professional organization that’s culturally a bit different, has different responsibilities from property but essentially is just as qualified as what we have on our streets, which is very high quality.”

Robb Davis clearly supports an analysis of ways to optimize the location of the current downtown fire station given the need for its reconstruction. He also made it clear that any study should analyze the future direction of the fire department given the overwhelming shift to medical emergencies over fires in the city.  He said, “I would welcome an independent analysis… that would be done by an independent entity.”

Rochelle Swanson agreed on the need for it to be a transparent process with council needing to be the one to make the call.  “Considering the history of what’s gone on the last five years, I think an RFP needs to come back to us.  We need to be making the decisions.”

She also suggested it needs to occur after the June election in order to depoliticize the process.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs

Lucas Frerichs, responding to Robb Davis, said,  “I’ve said that the university’s core competency is that they teach students.” He added, “I didn’t say they don’t have competency… of the ability of the UC Davis fire station to protect the campus.”  He said his primary concern who is accountable to whom in this arrangement.

Dan Wolk pointed out that we are not talking about the success of the boundary drop, the MOUs, or the issue of personnel on a fire engine. That, he said, is a separate discussion.  “We are talking about the management of our fire department.”

He said that he has seen an improvement of morale over the past year, but “morale is still low there (in the fire department).”  He said, “I think we got an issue there.”

The mayor noted things like communication, or the fire management being located in the city rather than on the campus, as possible areas of concern. “Those are issues,” he said.

Chief Trauernicht responded, “I take your comments to heart certainly. We own certainly a piece of that.”  But he noted, “The firefighters also are without a contract.  Our staffing levels were cut. Those things as much as we may or may not want to admit, play into morale.  They’re a huge part of it.”

Mayor Wolk backtracked slightly, stating, “I get that.”

Rochelle Swanson moved that there be an RFP process with a subcommittee coming back in July with a cost assessment, assessment of fire services and a report on possible locations for facilities.

The motion was passed unanimously, belying what appears to be a slightly below the surface large gap in the view of the current situation.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Barack Palin

    “Why would a regular person need to go visit the fire chief?”

    Exactly, why is it a big deal to have all management downtown?  The current process is working but it seems like a few of our council members are straining hard to look for problems.  Why the need for another study?  Just a waste of funds.  This council does a lot of punting.

  2. Tia Will

    “I’ve said that the university’s core competency is that they teach students.” He added, “I didn’t say they don’t have competency… of the ability of the UC Davis fire station to protect the campus.”  He said his primary concern who is accountable to whom in this arrangement.”

    I have heard this comment about the university’s “core competency” repeatedly, and yet have no idea what is meant by this objection as it applies to joint management. If it is not about competency or ability, just what is it about ? If it is truly about accountability as Lucas has asserted, would he then question the corresponding situation and be concerned that the campus was not being adequately served if the joint chief had originally been chief of the City of Davis fire department ?  Is this a legitimate concern, or nothing more than a political turf war ?  At this point, I am leaning more towards the latter although I would certainly be open to considering a more generous generous interpretation if the actual concern were spelled out in more detail.

  3. Tia Will

    “I’d like to make clear, because I’ve been misquoted, the union’s been misquoted, we have never opposed shared management…..”  Bobby Weiss

    She also suggested it need to occur post the June election in order to depoliticize the process.” Rochelle Swanson

    Although I appreciate the sentiment expressed by Rochelle Swanson, given the tenor of the comments of Mr. Weiss, it is going to take more than a postponement beyond the June election to “depoliticize the process”.




  4. Eileen Samitz

    Rather than an entire new fire station in North Davis, we need an Emergency Medical Service (EMS) station there which would cost far less and make far more sense. This has been recommended by many citizens since the development of the 2001 General Plan Update, yet no action has been taken on it. The statistics showed that less than 10% of the fire station calls were fire related and so the remaining 90% of the calls were primarily medically related.

    We don’t need the enormous cost of an entire new fire station, fire trucks and staffing when an Emergency Medical Service would be far more more cost efficient, as well as focused on the primary need of emergency medical services. EMS’sare used in larger City’s for a good reason..because they work well. A fire truck and fire fighters are not needed to give CPR or control bleeding and to get a person to a hospital.

    Rich Rifkin has written a number of articles on this in the Davis Enterprise recently also agreeing with this need for an EMS service concept rather than an entire new fire station in North Davis. With all the fiscal problems the City has now, including not even being able to fix our roads, the last thing we need is trying to take on the enormous cost to build, staff,and pay the huge operational costs for another fire station, when an EMS service station would fulfill the need. This also allows the downtown fire station to remain located where it is, which seems to be the best location for it.



  5. 2 cents

     “I’m a little skeptical of the need to remain exactly where we are with the Station 31.”   Brett Lee

    How many available sites are there for a fire station in the downtown area? Unless we were to position the station on the fields adjacent to City Hall I can’t think of another place that would be large enough to house a station.  If it is moved more north that could significantly affect downtown response times.

    1. hpierce

      Google the UCD fire station location… draw a line from there to downtown… think… if more questions feel free to check back in on this issue.

      1. 2 cents

        I see your point and it makes some sense but I would be interested to know the time it takes to get from the UCD fire station, through campus and to a call in Old East Davis for instance.  Perhaps if they could go in a straight line the issue would have less impact but they can’t. And the campus is not designed well for quick through traffic.  So, lacking information regarding routes available from the campus fire station to various areas in the downtown my point is still valid. Perhaps maybe we need to think and if there is a more substantive answer we could address this issue more intelligently.

        1. hpierce

          Actually, with minor mods to the barriers that cars aren’t allowed to go thru, but emergency vehicles can… UCD FD has a pretty direct path to the intersection of First and A [the road that passes between the Library and the Quad], (will admit, I was still recalling the “old” station, just off A/Old Davis Road), without doing the La Rue/Russell thing.   Response time might be 30 seconds longer to old East than from the current “main” station.  For fires, that’s OK [still under the response time standard for any given site in the City]… for medical emergencies, depending where the rescue vehicle is located… well, why should old East have better response times than far west Davis or far east?  Or Covell Park/Northstar?

          Or do I hear an attitude of an “entitlement” that someone doesn’t want to ‘lose’?

  6. Anon

    He said that he has seen an improvement of morale over the past year, but “morale is still low there (in the fire department).”  He said, “I think we got an issue there.

    Morale issues existed long before shared management became the norm.  I would strongly argue the morale problem has absolutely nothing to do with shared management, but has more to do with union activity or how promotions are handled.


  7. SODA

    Couldn’t watch last night but based on the article I am not convinced there is need to expend $ for a study.

    What exactly were the compelling argument(s)?

    1. The Pugilist

      I was waiting to hear them myself, but they never came.  All we had was Weist lying, Wolk falling over himself to attack Trauernicht, and Lucas claiming to support shared management but not really in any real sense of the word.

  8. ryankelly

    The City owns property right next door to the downtown Fire station on the corner of 5th & D.  It houses a cold-weather shelter and sheds for STEAC to store food.  The parking lot was restricted to Fire Department parking some time ago and is under utilized.  Why not build on this lot to expand space for the Fire department?  Multiple stories, so staff and visitor parking can be provided.

    1. hpierce

      Ryan… you are absolutely correct, and good point…


      STEAC will be vacating the site in the next few months, and it was a food ‘closet’ and distribution center… thanks to Mr H, Mr T, and others, they are moving, but will still provide those services,and, potentially more… at a new location.
      The cold weather shelter piece… have seen nothing of where the same number of beds would be  relocated to, or, “just lost”.  Not establishing a new site, or additional beds elsewhere, will be a ‘sticking point’ to me.

      1. ryankelly

        The existing house is a two bedroom one bath house = 2 bunks in each room and two more beds in the living room, totaling 10 beds. The house could be moved. Or another two bedroom place could be located to operate during cold weather months.

        The location is zoned for mixed use, and multiple stories could be built without affecting sunlight for neighbors.

        The only downside is that it has a litigious neighbor.

  9. Mark West

    “Why not build…” 

    Why not?  $650+ million in unfunded obligations. We need to address how we are going to pay off our current debt before accruing more. I’m not opposed to building a new station.  I’m opposed to the City continuing to spend money that we don’t have without a reasonable plan for addressing the deficit.

    1. The Pugilist

      As I understood it last night, they have money from impact funds from Cannery that is supposed to help address fire issues, so it’s not quite accurate to say we don’t have the money.

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