Legal Challenge by Palo Alto Committee Results In Change To “Misleading” Firefighter Staffing Ballot Initiative

At a time when local officials have made, and continue to make, drastic cuts in fire departments in an effort to deal with the financial crisis, Palo Alto Firefighters Local 1319 found a novel way to ensure that the public (not politicians) had the final say in what fire service related  cuts would be made. They supported a ballot measure that if passed would prohibit the city council of Palo Alto from reducing the fire department's staff below 2009-10 levels or closing stations without first holding public hearings and an election.

Supporters of the measure, designed as “Measure R”, obtained the necessary signatures to ensure the matter was on the November 2, 2010 ballot, over the objections of most Palo Alto politicians.

However, last week the former Mayor of Palo Alto filed a lawsuit objecting to certain language in the measure as "false and misleading". Dena Mossar, who is chairperson of a committee opposed to Measure R, alleged that the phrase “Such a decision should not be made solely by one or two individuals on the city council or in the city administration", might mislead voters to support the measure. She claimed that only a majority of the city council could vote to reduce services.

Last Thursday, August 26, 2010, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Kevin J. Murphy sided with Mossar, and ordered the offending language changed to "Such a decision should not be made solely by the city council."

Ironically Mossar’s committee is called “Safe Palo Alto”….. and is made up of politicians….. I suppose they should be able to spot false and misleading language from a mile away.  Seriously… “SAFE PALO ALTO”.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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