Council Gives a Go Ahead to Pursuing a Ladder Truck – But Staffing Costs a Big Concern

UC Davis ladder vehicle fighting a fire in downtown Davis in 2018

The council will pursue it in stages, and they recognize it is a big ticket item, with the anticipated cost of $1.8 million out of Public Safety Development Impact Fees—but with the city building upwards and looking to continue to densify into the future, the council sees it as the way to go.

Chief Joe Tenney during his presentation noted that most departments are staffing ladder trucks with four personnel. He also noted that, for a normal initial alarm, a residence fire requires 17 personnel, and a three-story apartment building, increasingly common (200 buildings in town), requires 28 personnel, but he acknowledged that level of staffing is difficult even with mutual response in Yolo County.

Additional staff costs and models would be brought back to council.

City Manager Mike Webb noted that this would be taken in a couple of steps—with the item brought back for additional direction from council.

“The lead time (approximately one year) is pretty significant if the city were to pursue the acquisition of a truck here,” he said. “The public safety impact fees… those are fees that are set aside for very specific purposes under state law… These are not general fund dollars for the truck acquisition, I think it’s important to reinforce.”

But he also pointed out that impact fees do not pay for additional staffing.

“Impact fees do not pay for operations and staffing,” he acknowledged. “That’s where we understand and recognize where we’d need to come back and get council direction.”

Councilmember Dan Carson noted that the cost here could be “on the order of $1.5 million a year depending on what complement of staff that we decided upon.”

Mike Webb believed that estimate was “fairly close.” But did add, “I think that would be on the more ideal staffing side of things with four staff on the truck per shift.”

Carson also noted that UC Davis’s ladder truck is running toward the end of its usable life and they will be facing a similar decision about purchasing a truck.

“I think it would be a really awkward thing for two units of government sitting across the street from each other to both be buying and staffing a new vehicle at about the same time,” he said, wondering if the city could acquire a truck and have the university share in the costs of purchase and operations.

The city was open to that option, but both Will Arnold and Lucas Frerichs pushed back.

Councilmember Arnold said, “I’m less excited about the idea of partnership with UC Davis on this. I think the need has been demonstrated.” He said, “I don’t think UC Davis having this piece of equipment… that doesn’t fulfill the need that we have.”

He added, “We’re short-staffed in our public safety at large. This is something that I want to see addressed.”

Lucas Frerichs added, “In some ways this is déjà vu for me—collaboration with UC Davis. I think we have done a really good job with that in the last couple of years. The shared management experiment was not a success for many reasons—it’s well documented.”

He said he would support a combined fire department, “but have a city fire department.” He noted across the board that UC Davis was the last UC to have its own fire department.

“No other UC campus in the state has their own fire department,” he said. UC Santa Cruz merged with City of Santa Cruz and runs that department. “I still believe that would be the preferred approach eventually, but we’re just talking about a ladder truck here.”

He sees this as an “insurance policy” where he noted that in the last two years a number of buildings were approved that were a minimum of four stories, and as much as seven stories.

“We’ve had multiple structure fires at the University Retirement Community,” he added.

Dan Carson clarified, “I’m not proposing a return to the shared management.” He said that his specific proposal is: “We buy the truck, we staff the truck, we seek a partnership with UC Davis to help pay for all those things.”

He noted that the growth would accommodate students “so we try to make the numbers work.”

Frerichs clarified that he wasn’t suggesting that Carson was suggesting shared management.

He added, “I don’t have any problem with that. I think that we need to take some concrete steps towards a purchase.”

Gloria Partida added, “I realize that this is a lot of money that we are talking about. I’m wondering if this is something that we can slowly ease into as far staffing goes. I think there are a lot of people who would be very nervous about spending this amount of money and resources.”

Dan Carson pointed out that we remain in a COVID economy, and it will take time to purchase the truck anyway. “I just hope we can use this (time) to find the least costly option for staffing.

“I don’t disagree that there is the need for this type of vehicle in this town,” he said. “$1.5 million is the equivalent of the $50 parcel tax—it’s not a minor amount of money year over year.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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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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24 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    Davis renews Measure J and votes no on peripheral growth of a business park, foreclosing any option but infill densification and taller buildings. Yet Davis can’t afford the safety equipment or staff required to provide public safety for the direction it has decided to go in.

    It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad.

     

        1. Ron Oertel

          Needless to say, if they actually charged developments for the increased cost they create, there wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.

          In this case, it seems that increased density is increasing costs (that otherwise would not occur). Charge them for it (and figure this out before approving it).

          By the way, how many raises has the city provided to employees, lately? And, what is their average total compensation?

          Same question regarding firefighters?

          (Including retirement, and medical benefits therein.)

      1. Ron Glick

        Whining? Note I used the word hilarious. I think the biggest losers are the Davis City Council members who were afraid to engage in an honest discussion about renewal of Measure R and now don’t have a solution to our budget woes as a result of the failure of Measure B.

        For a city that prides itself on being smart its “smart growth” policies seem to have unintended consequences. Meanwhile the streets are the worst. When I moved here the debate was about the cost effectiveness of paving the alleys. In the future it will be about paving the streets.

        I think its hilarious, sad but hilarious.

    1. Alan Miller

      Yet Davis can’t afford the safety equipment or staff required to provide public safety for the direction it has decided to go in.

      Maybe that’s why Davis’ Measure JeRkeD is an economic suicide pact.  Except the property owners of over-escalating values are the winners — just be sure time the sale of your property for right before Davis implodes and burns.

    2. Tia Will

      Yet Davis can’t afford the safety equipment or staff required to provide public safety for the direction it has decided to go in.

      I would like to remind everyone that no one has said “Davis can’t afford the safety equipment/staff required. Merely that we will have to be both responsible and creative in financing. If we can find the money for a creative and aesthetic change to the city to campus transition, surely we can invest in basic safety needs.

      1. John Hobbs

        “surely we can invest in basic safety needs.”

        You just about have to, huh? And while some of us are blessed to be able to pay a few more bucks in taxes and fees, this will have the consequence of further out-pricing young families from Davis. I hope by creative you include well paying tech jobs and more affordable housing to attract that larger tax base. Change is inevitable and as you know by having lived this long sometimes painful.

        1. Ron Oertel

           I hope by creative you include well paying tech jobs and more affordable housing to attract that larger tax base.

          If that was even possible, those goals work in “opposite” directions, as seen in the Bay Area.

          I find it amusing that some on this blog expect other “newcomers” to dig out an existing hole, while simultaneously digging even deeper as a result of that push.

          While every other city is simultaneously is also trying to do the same thing, without success.

          The Ponzi scheme is coming home to roost.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I am not opposed to economic growth, as I would define it.  Obviously, it cannot depend indefinitely upon population growth (as you and others seem to advocate for).

          Regardless, growth is already not paying for its own fiscal costs.  If it were, cities across California would not be in a deficit.

          I was just reading today that the bridge toll on the Golden Gate Bridge may rise to about $10, to try to address a huge deficit (despite already-implemented cutbacks in services that tolls pay for).

          1. David Greenwald

            Economic growth is separte from population growth, but linked to thinks like jobs, economic development, the technology sector, etc.

            “Regardless, growth is already not paying for its own fiscal costs. If it were, cities across California would not be in a deficit.”

            Problem with this statement is that it ignores any sort of analysis for why cities have deficits (if they do). Revenue without cost containment does not produce sustainable budgets.

        3. Mark West

          “Problem with this statement is that it ignores any sort of analysis for why cities have deficits…”

          It also ignores the fact that the population continues to expand and that we need more housing and jobs to accommodate.

          1. David Greenwald

            And if economic growth stagnates, costs go up but revenues don’t rise to meet the city’s needs

        4. Tia Will

          John

          I am blessed to be able to pay more now. But it has not always been so. There was a time when I also was effectively priced out of Davis and had to live elsewhere until my income was sufficient to buy here. Yes, that was many years ago, but does not change the fact that if you cannot afford the price, you cannot afford it whether or not it has increased over time.

          As to your substantive questions, yes, we should attempt to incorporate good-paying jobs, as well as raising the minimum wage, and provide affordable housing.

        5. Ron Oertel

          And if economic growth stagnates, costs go up but revenues don’t rise to meet the city’s needs

          You’re referring to inflation.

          Revenues DO go up every year, as a result of rising taxes (even under Proposition 13).  More than 2%.

          I wasn’t planning to say anything, until this last comment of yours.

          Regarding Mark’s comment, I’m not sure what population growth he is referring to (that Davis needs to accommodate), but it’s a separate issue from fiscal concerns. California’s population growth has nearly ground to a halt, last I heard.

          But obviously, the Ponzi scheme isn’t working so well anywhere in California.

        6. Ron Oertel

          I’d also refer you back to this quote/exchange, from a member of the city’s finance and budget commission (in regard to the DISC analysis and its long-term capital costs) – transcribed to the best of my ability:

          ”Pay as you go. I take it that’s paid by everyone in town, not just the residents and owners, right? (Response – correct.) So, we’re deciding that everyone else is going to pay for this infrastructure, which is the way that it’s always been done. But, we’re facing $100 million or more in shortfall (from this approach). So clearly the system we’re using isn’t appropriate, which is sort of a logical conclusion.”

          Strangely enough, folks like you are advocating a continuation of this approach – which is the very reason that cities like Davis are facing fiscal challenges. Instead of moving away from this, you actually advocate for a continuation of it.

          Essentially, you claim that the city should “absorb” these costs, and that it shouldn’t even be part of the analysis!

        7. Ron Oertel

          And in the case of this fire truck (staffing, and eventual replacement), it wasn’t even needed until the city decided to densify.

          With the resulting costs spread out to the ENTIRE city (which otherwise wouldn’t even need it).

          If costs were assigned to (and collected from) the proposals which create them, there wouldn’t be any fiscal challenges.

          1. David Greenwald

            The city wasn’t not going to grow – so the option was up or out. We chose up.

            In your comments however you are failing to ask a critical question here – you are presupposing that we need to make the purchase, what evidence is there of that? As Matt asked, how many times was a ladder vehicle needed last year and does that justify ongoing $1.5 million when there is an available ladder truck at UCD?

  2. Keith Olsen

    “$1.5 million is the equivalent of the $50 parcel tax—it’s not a minor amount of money year over year.”

    It’s interesting how to pay for things are almost always framed in parcel taxes.

  3. Matt Williams

    But he [Chief Joe Tenney] also pointed out that impact fees do not pay for additional staffing.

    Councilmember Dan Carson noted that the cost here could be “on the order of $1.5 million a year depending on what complement of staff that we decided upon.”

    .
    When considering staffing, the issue I believe we have to face is how many fires in 4-story buildings are expected to happen in any year.  If the answer is a very small number, then that means the four firefighters dedicated to the ladder truck will do a whole lot of sitting around.  Is that the most efficient usage of firefighter personnel?  Is there any reason why the existing firefighters can not be trained to deploy and operate the ladder truck in the occasional incidents where it is needed to combat a fire?  Such cross-training of existing staff would have a one-time cost but would avoid the recurring costs of adding more staff … especially if those additional staff members spend most of their time waiting for an incident to happen.

    $1.5 million per year seems like a “terrible thing to waste” at any time, but especially in these times.

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