Is it legal to use “The Emergency Response for All Initiative” to require cities to spend future funds on public safety services?
Yes. The California Constitution, in Article IV, says that the initiative process is a right reserved by the people. Restrictions on how it is used are included in the California Constitution and in the California Elections Code. Legal precedence has established that an initiative must be a “legislative act,” and not interfere with the essential function of the city or violate other laws. “The Brentwood/Oakley Emergency Response for All Initiatives” meets these requirements.
Where did this idea originate?
The idea originated at a meeting in October, 2018, organized by a then-member of the ECCFPD Board of Directors, to talk generally about initiatives. In attendance were two members of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association leadership, the county Controller-Auditor, two members of ECV leadership, and the then-ECCFPD Board member. The idea of using an initiative was developed by members of ECV, partly out of frustration that government agencies that received county property tax funding would not voluntarily participate in solving the fire district funding problem, and that elected representatives at several levels refused to engage to work towards any solution.
Does the Emergency Response for All Initiative plan conflict with funding efforts by ECCFPD?
The fire district has not put forth a funding proposal since 2015, four years ago. (The 2016 Utility User Taxes were put on the ballot by the cities.) If/When a parcel tax is put on the ballot it will require 67% approval to become law. The “Emergency Response for All Initiative” plan requires just 50%+1 voter approval to pass. It seems highly unlikely that the 67% threshold will be met, given the ten reasons why a fire district tax will not pass. When the “Emergency Response for All Initiatives” plan requires only 50%+1 voter approval to pass, gets widespread community awareness, that may indeed be viewed as an eleventh reason the parcel tax fails.
What happens if we have an economic recession, or downturn in the economy?
Included in the each version of the “Emergency Response for All Initiative” will be a provision to suspend implementation, should sales and property taxes fail to grow at acceptable levels. Should there be a major recession, Brentwood has a 30% Operating Reserve Fund, ECCFPD has a 20% Reserve Fund, and Oakley has a Reserve Fund as well. Should the economy take a dive each entity should be able to manage their way through it. Brentwood, for instance, did not touch their 30% Operating Reserve during the Great Recession of 2008.
Will essential government services be impaired by diverting funds to fire district-related service?
No. Public safety should be the number one priority of local government. The California legislature declares that the services described by “The Emergency Response for All Initiative,” above all others, are “critical to the public peace, health, and safety of the state.”
In Brentwood the year-over-year growth of total taxes has been 4.9%, 4.3%, 4.3% over FY2017/18 Actual, FY2018/19 Projected, and FY2019/20 budgeted, respectively. This is according to published city budgets. “The Brentwood Emergency Response for All Initiative” specifies spending an accumulating static amount, which is 2.75% of FY2019/20 budget tax amount of total tax, for seven years. The 2.75% percentage that reflects the static amount decreases with each succeeding year, as the total tax revenue received by the city increases.
In Oakley the year-over-year growth of total taxes has been 7.5%, 4.2%, 3.9% over FY2016/17 Audited, FY2017/18 Audited, and FY2018/19 Recommended, respectively. This is according to published city budgets. “The Oakley Emergency Response for All Initiative” specifies spending an accumulating static amount, which is 3.1% of FY2018/19 budget total tax amount, for ten years. The 3.1% percentage that reflects the static amount decreases with each succeeding year, as the total tax revenue received by the city increases.
What is the Timeline of funds being spent on emergency medical and fire services?
The Total Designated Expenditures (Brentwood and Oakley, not the County) being spent on emergency medical and fire services, to provide funding for “fire protection services, rescue services, emergency medical services, hazardous material emergency response services, ambulance services, and other services relating to the protection of lives and property,” can be calculated based on years-after-passage:
* – and every year thereafter.
Does this initiative work with ECCFPD and the Fire Chief?
ECCFPD is a “special district” under California law, and so they cannot advocate for or against the passage of any ballot initiative. ECV is very willing to work with ECCFPD to pursue reasonable sources of additional funding. ECCFPD has never once asked ECV to do anything, or to contribute community insight, primarily because our opinion is that given history and the facts, it is highly unlikely that any new tax will be supported by the voters to the degree required to pass. The only way forward, to increase operating funding of ECCFPD, is through a no-new-tax policy decision by the voters.
Will the “Emergency Response for All Initiative” cause cut-backs in police service, which will increase crime in our city?
No. In Brentwood, according to the 2018/19 Operating Budget, the city spends over $26 million for the Public Safety expense category, which is pretty much all the police department. This is about $420 annually for each of the 62,000 residents of the city. “The Emergency Response for All Initiative” specifies that the city spend just $10.97 per-resident, additionally, each year for seven years, on additional fire protection, emergency medical, ambulance and hazardous material response services, in order to save lives and preserve property in Brentwood. ($420 versus $10.97)
In Oakley, the Police expense category was $9,583,923 for the 2018/2019 Recommended Budget. This translates to spending $228.19 annually for each of the 42,000 city residents for police service. “The Emergency Response for All Initiative” specifies that the city spend just $7.49 per-resident, additionally, each year for ten years, on additional fire protection, emergency medical, ambulance and hazardous material response services, in order to save lives and preserve property in Oakley. ($228.19 versus $7.49)
Does this initiative guarantee that the cities will spend the funds on the fire district?
No. The goal of “The Emergency Response for All Initiative” plan is to increase fire safety services for the 88% of the fire district’s residents who live in Brentwood and Oakley. Scarce tax money must be spent in the most efficient manner possible, obtaining the greatest benefit for the residents. The cities are free to purchase the services specified in the initiative from sources that provide the greatest benefit to their residents. In most cases this will be ECCFPD, but that is to be determined by the cities, with the oversight of community members. If there are cases where the regional fire district is not the best services provider, the fire district can use this information as valuable feedback on their pricing, cost and service delivery models.
Does the “Emergency Services for All Initiative” plan hurt the fire district?
No. The level of fire services provided to East County cities is inadequate, far below any industry or municipal goals. Over the last several years the fire district has increased operating costs by 30%, closed fire stations, is regularly unable to respond to emergency calls, provides response times that are orders of magnitude greater than standards, is unable to comply with county emergency medical response contractual agreements, is unable to fight a structure fire of any kind on its own without help from other fire districts, is unwilling or unable to exert influence over the expansion of its workload by allowing the cities and county to approve future growth without taking into account the impact on jurisdictional response times, and budgets and expends resources without considering the impact on community response times or service to the community. ECCFPD increasingly depends on Auto Aid, which in 2018 increased by 58% for ConFire’s incidents-responded-to and 63% for engines-sent, and has been unable to change government funding policy, ever. All of this is because of the low funding rate ECCFPD receives. This situation has been documented in county Grand Jury reports, the county Local Agency Formation Commission, an Intergovernmental Task Force, and extensively in the press.
Since 2012 there have been three attempts to secure additional funding for fire services, all have failed. The Emergency Response for All Initiative is just one more attempt to improve fire services in East County by increasing funding.