Fire District race heats up in Menlo Park

Three candidates competing for two seats on the Menlo Park Fire District board are hoping to show voters how they will be able to keep the district in the black and response times down.

Incumbents Bart Spencer and John Osmer face competition from newcomer Peter Ohtaki, a local director for the national nonprofit Business Executives for National Security. Spencer worked as a firefighter, paramedic and EMT before joining Roam Secure, which contracts with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, while Osmer resigned after 10 years at electronics company Celectron to found his own electronics business, Repair Solutions, last summer.

The special district, funded by local property taxes, operates with an annual budget of between $20 million and $22 million.

Measure O, approved in 2006, set the district’s spending cap at $25 million per year, though this fall’s Measure G seeks to expand it to $40 million.

“About 90 percent of our cost is personnel, and most of that is health care costs,” Osmer said. “Unless we’re attacking those issues, we’re not addressing the issue of financial responsibility.”

Ohtaki encouraged the district to seek more grant money and opportunities for partnership with private businesses. “We need increased financial security, and we need the best equipment for our firefighters,” he said.

Property taxes have only increased in Menlo Park, Atherton and East Palo Alto in recent years, fueling the district’s financial stability, said Spencer.

“We’re not spending outside of our means, but since 9/11, a lot of things have increased the demand on our services, and we’re balancing that against how much money we have in our budget,” Spencer said.

All three hope to further residents’ own emergency preparedness through ongoing disaster training and awareness. If elected, Ohtaki would like to get more groups involved, including businesses, churches and other local organizations, to act as ground teams in a crisis.

Osmer hopes to strengthen Menlo Park’s mutual-aid agreements with neighboring cities, particularly Palo Alto, where coverage has been “uneven” in recent years, he said. He’s also supporting legislation that would require sprinkler systems in all new homes.

Though Spencer supports resident preparedness, he said it’s ultimately the government’s job to respond in a disaster.

“[The public has] become somewhat complacent because the last big disaster here was in 1989,” Spencer said. “When the disaster occurs, people want the government there to help them out.”

Peter Ohtaki

» Age: 46

» Occupation: Director of Bay Area Business Force for Business Executives for National Security

» Endorsements: Menlo Park Fire Director Peter Carpenter, Redwood City Fire Marshal Louis Vella, Atherton Disaster Preparedness Committee Director Bob Jenkins

John Osmer

» Age: 39

» Occupation: President and founder of Repair Solutions

» Endorsements: Menlo Park Mayor Kelly Fergusson; not seeking other endorsements

Bart Spencer

» Age: 48

» Occupation: Employed with Roam Secure, contractor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

» Endorsements: Menlo Park Mayor Kelly Fergusson, Menlo Park Fire Director Ollie Brown, Menlo Park Fire Director Rex Ianson

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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