After over 50 years, the Half Moon Bay Police Department might well be on its way to closing its doors, after the City Council voted unanimously on Saturday to enter into negotiations with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office as the provider of its police services. The move to outsource is part of an effort to bridge a deficit that city officials have said can reach over $1 million in the upcoming fiscal year if nothing is done to cut costs. Officials estimate that contracting with the Sheriff’s Office could save Half Moon Bay over $500,000 a year, not counting one-time transition costs that include the CalPERS pension liabilities of departing staff.
Saturday’s meeting marked the end of a 5-month chapter stretching back to November 2010, when the city first decided to look into for its police and recreation departments after a 1% sales tax increase (projected by proponents to bring in $1.4 million annually) was during the general election.
In a meeting held on Nov. 4, the council directed Interim Police Chief Lee Violett to prepare a request for proposals inviting law enforcement agencies in San Mateo County to respond to, resulting in from Pacifica and the Sheriff’s Office. Half Moon Bay’s request is said to be the first in the country to for providing municipal police services.
Violett recommended that the council vote to enter into negotiations with the county Sheriff's Office for services. He told the council that none of the five policing configurations presented by Pacifica were viable options for the city, as according to his calculations, it would cost the city money to enter into a contract with Pacifica after services not included were factored into the overall equation.
“It was our job to do the math and do the adjustments and figure out the real costs,” Violett said.
“It’s the end of an era,” Mayor Naomi Patridge said. Patridge, the first female matron at the Half Moon Bay police department and a supporter of “community policing,” had to leave the room after becoming emotionally moved by Half Moon Bay Police Sergeant Dennis Loubal and Officer Richard Cheechov’s heartfelt comments to the council on behalf of the Half Moon Bay police unions.
“Four years ago, when the city’s fiscal crisis was made apparent, I hoped we’d move forward together,” Loubal said, a 14-year veteran of the department. “That has become less likely,” he said, referring to cuts that have left the police department with limited capabilities and soaring overtime costs. Cuts in the last few years have whittled staff down from 23 to 15.6 full-time employees which now include a part-time police chief (contracted at 3 days per week), four sergeants, eight officers, and two records and administrative staff.
Due to the emotional weight of his words, Loubal paused a few times before continuing with his comments.
“During this crisis the Chief has been very open and honest with the sergeants; we’ve met with him and discussed his recommendations,” Loubal said. “The officers and sergeants concur with the Chief...we encourage you to move forward entering into negotiations with the Sheriff’s Office.”
“It is their proposal that makes most sense – we encourage you to move forward expeditiously,” Loubal continued. “Our careers have been on hold, the city needs the savings,” he said soberly. As he returned to his seat, the more than 30 people in attendance gave him a round of applause.
Richard Cheechov, a Half Moon Bay police officer for 12 years, addressed the council after Loubal in a grave tone. “It’s of great sadness that the police department can’t operate independently,” he said.
Like Loubal, Cheechov was visibly moved at the weight of the decision before the council and its effect on the future of the Half Moon Bay Police Department.
“We find ourselves at a point where we can’t cut any further,” he said. “This cannot continue indefinitely if the safety of the city is to be maintained. With this in mind, the Half Moon Bay Police officer’s association supports the sheriff’s bid.”
“It’s like my grandma died,” Cheechov said after giving his comments to the council. “To a certain extent, it’s not like it’s completely unforeseen, but when it happens, it’s like going to the hospital and finding your grandma on life support. It’s one thing to know it intellectually and it’s another thing to actually be there and when you’re actually faced with it,” he said.
One city resident spoke strongly about not outsourcing police services. “This is a very sad day in Half Moon Bay history,” George Muteff told the council before their vote. “The seeds of this day were planted years ago and nurtured with bad choices. The history of the Half Moon Bay police has been there for us for a long time – these folks have always been there for us and done their jobs, I thank them for that. This day is not the result of one single decision, it is the result of a collection of incidents and poor spending over time,” Muteff said.
“I hope our PD has one last bite at the apple and we allow them to reorganize,” Muteff continued.
Patridge’s comments about the “end of an era” were also a reference to the council’s decision earlier in the meeting to enter into negotiations with the city of San Carlos to provide Half Moon Bay’s . Half Moon Bay currently offers classes in a range of areas, including sports, dance, foreign languages, and art.
But while County Sheriff Greg Munks told Half Moon Bay Patch that none of the officers in Half Moon Bay’s police force will lose their jobs in an outsourced configuration of services – projecting a situation similar to what happened last fall when the sheriff took over policing of San Carlos and absorbed all of its full-time employees in the police department – the two remaining city staff running the Half Moon Bay Recreation Department, Supervisor Dirk Alvarado and Administrative Assistant Caroline Weigandt, might not be so lucky.
“I’m just heartbroken,” Weigandt said shortly after the council voted to negotiate with San Carlos for the city’s recreation services. “This is such a small department with Dirk and I, we really love this community,” she said.
“They [city staff] met with us on Wednesday and said our positions might be eliminated,” Weigandt said. “Everything was questionable then. I don’t know when it will go into effect and I hope it will be the end of the summer,” she said, referring to the fact that the summer recreational program was already set for the season.
According to Katie Crowder, Assistant to the City Manager, a contract with San Carlos would save Half Moon Bay $187,509 in payroll benefits, staff costs and supplies.
“We feel we can provide quality services with efficient prices with a hometown feel,” said Randy Royce, San Carlos City Councilmember, to the council before the vote. San Carlos City Manager Jeff Maltbie was also in attendance.
Weigandt voiced concern and questioned if San Carlos would be able to fulfill their aims outlined in their proposal to provide recreation services to Half Moon Bay based on the amount of facility space available. “We don’t have facilities like San Carlos,” she said. “We have only this facility [Ted Adcock Community Senior Center] to provide programs and it’s busy from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night,” she said. “I just don’t know where they’re going to put all the things they say they want to.”
Weigandt also questioned if the 15 hours of in-person staff time per week proposed by San Carlos would be enough to meet the needs of the recreation department, based on current levels of staffing in the department with two individuals working 3 days a week.
Cara Schmaljohn, Executive Director for , whose agency uses the Ted Adcock Senior Community Center for 15 seniors classes and lunch programs, voiced concern that her organization would lose access to the facility if San Carlos won the recreation services contract. “We serve 125-150 people a week in these classes,” she said.
“My concern is the outcome of who is providing the services,” Patridge said, specifically mentioning concern that Senior Coastsiders would be able to maintain their programs if San Carlos takes over recreation services, as well as Little League’s access to .
Half Moon Bay City Manager Laura Snideman said that the use of the community center would be part of the negotiations between San Carlos and Half Moon Bay.
Councilmember Rick Kowalczyk made a point to ensure that there was an option to “walk away” from negotiations with the Sheriff’s Office or San Carlos if either process was not working. Kowalczyk also said he would like to have reports back to the council on performance standards, as well as having the ability to have a community pool of reserve police officers.
Violett said that a contract with the Sheriff's Office would be able to be negotiated by mid-June.
"We'll be working towards a complete transition of the department before July 1," said San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks. July 1 is the first day of Half Moon Bay's 2011-2012 fiscal year.
"This day will go down in history in Half Moon Bay," Patridge said after most of the attendees had left the meeting with both votes already having taken place. "We made difficult decisions, but we didn't waffle and we came out with one vote," she said.
“This is the beginning of what you said is the future of Half Moon Bay,” Councilmember John Muller said, referring to City Manager Laura Snideman’s introductory comments earlier in the afternoon.
“We’ll have something in the next five to 10 years…I think this is the way to show us the future,” he said.