Residents of Montara and Moss Beach began receiving automated phone calls over the weekend which played a recording by Rick Kowalczyk, the mayor of Half Moon Bay. Normally these political “robo calls” (such as an earlier one by Naomi Patridge, also opposed to the recall) are part of the darker side of local politics which go under the radar and if not heard directly are known only by rumor and hearsay. In this case, though, Montara Fog was able to obtain a copy of the recording.
The choice of mayor Kowalczyk for the anti-Cal Fire recording puzzled some residents. He is not normally a person associated with fire board issues–he has not, as best as I can tell (and I have videotaped almost every fire board meeting since April of 2007), attended even a single meeting of the fire board in at least six years. Furthermore, a search in the Half Moon Bay Review archives for the terms “Kowalczyk” and “fire” returns no quotes or op-eds by the mayor.
Other residents were perturbed that a mayor from Half Moon Bay was trying to influence votes outside of his city. Residents of the unincorporated Midcoast have long complained that Half Moon Bay treats them as distant foreigners, happy to share the cost of schools and fire services (where Midcoast citizens pay three times as much as Half Moon Bay citizens) but also happy to charge a non-residence fee for summer activities and parking fees to their northern neighbors without taking much of an interest in those residents’ views and concerns.
Kowalczyk aggravated those feelings of resentment when he refers in his call to a “Half Moon Bay battalion chief,” despite the fact that the Half Moon Bay Fire Department was merged with the Point Montara fire department in 2006 and has since been called the Coastside Fire Protection District and despite the fact that the battalion chief in question is a resident of La Honda.
In the robo call, Kowalczyk accused Cal Fire of funding a “subversive recall effort,” and for a variety of other sins, including hiding money from the state, harassing an employee, and failing to meet the terms of the fire services contract. A ‘no” vote, he says, will allow all fire stations to stay open and staff will not be reduced.
Like many of these sorts of “hit and run” robo calls, this one is primarily negative in nature and is filled with sound bytes that can’t be evaluated by the listener in the rush of an unexpected, one-way phone call.
In this case, though, we have obtained a recording of the call and can examine each claim in detail. Let’s look at each point, one at a time.
Cal Fire hid millions from the state. True. But why this is relevant to the Coastside is difficult to discern. According to the LA Times, Cal Fire hid $3.6 million, built up over seven years, apparently to avoid having the state take it for other purposes. The money was used for equipment purchases and training. Cal Fire’s yearly budget is slightly over one billion dollars per year–so $3.6 million accumulated over seven years amounts to about one part in two thousand of Cal Fire’s budget over that period. That’s a tiny amount relative to Cal Fire’s size. And the Coastside connection? Apparently none.
Cal Fire funded a subversive recall effort. It’s true that Cal Fire has given $10,000 to the recall effort. But what Kowalczyk does not mention is that over-the-hill unions, with no connection to the Coastside, have made direct donations of $26,000 against the recall effort (both numbers are now several weeks old). It could said, to an even greater degree, that the over-the-hill unions are funding a subversive effort to influence our elections.
Cal Fire harassed a battalion chief. True. Cal Fire lost the first round in a complaint by a battalion chief who claimed that he was being harassed by Cal Fire management. The harassment took the form of being transferred to a station in Felton, a 60-minute rush hour commute versus a 30-minute commute from his home in La Honda. The reasoning of the court is that since the new assignment was so far away the battalion chief could reasonably be expected to move his residence there–thus qualifying as a form of harassment.
Why was he transferred? According to management the firefighter was a holdover from the old Half Moon Bay fire department and formed one of a group of “insiders” who agitated against Cal Fire from within. He was sent to Felton to learn more about the “Cal Fire culture.” Cal Fire is appealing the case.
Cal Fire failed to meet the terms of their contract. Hard to say. Since the anti-Cal Fire faction became the board majority in 2010 they have claimed at various times that Cal Fire did not meet the terms of its contract but have had difficulty is saying exactly what terms have not been met. To aid them in identifying the failures, the board majority developed a list of approximately two hundred and fifty requirements for Cal Fire, making our contract in one of the smallest districts operated by Cal Fire have the longest contract in the state. No definitive list has been presented to document these claims of failure.
All Coastside stations will remain open, fire fighters will not be reduced. True, but seemingly a red herring. Recall supporters have not suggested that there will be a need to close any stations nor have they suggested reducing personnel. Perhaps this sentence is an effort to counter concerns that have been raised that the higher salary, overtime, and benefits costs of a standalone will eventually result in a closed station (and thus, a reduced number of firefighters as well). It’s not clear from the call.
What is clear from the call is that Mayor Kowalczyk, or at least the robotic embodiment of his voice, is reaching out beyond city limits of Half Moon Bay, hoping voters will be impressed by his endorsement.
Transcript of Half Moon Bay Mayor Rick Kowalczyk’s robo call:
Hi, I’m Rick Kowalczyk, the mayor of Half Moon Bay.
I’m calling to urge you to vote ‘no’ on the fire board recall. I’m voting ‘no’ because I support [our locally elected board?] and their plans to replace Cal Fire with better, local services.
I’m terribly bothered that Cal Fire hid millions of dollars from state officials and that Cal Fire funded a subversive recall effort, that Cal Fire was formally reprimanded by the California Department of Human Resources for harassing a Half Moon Bay battalion chief, and Cal Fire failed to meet the terms of their fire services contract.
We can do better. By voting ‘no’ on the recall all Coastside fire stations will remain open and the number of fire fighters will not be reduced.
I urge you to vote ‘no’ on the recall and empower our fire board to continue to look out for our best interests.
Audio recording of Half Moon Bay Mayor Rick Kowalczyk’s robo call: