If the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (District) wants to pass its $197 Parcel Tax, now is the time to start improving its message or it might as well start laying off staff today. I urge the Board to stop rambling off their facts and begin to insert some emotion into the debate.
From the start, it’s safe to say that asking residents to hand over an additional $197 per year is a hard sell. Now there is this Grand Jury Report that is an unneeded distraction which unfortunately acts as a knockout punch for the opposition while leaving the District with little time to get back up on its feet.
Going forward, the District will be forced to defend itself from this Grand Jury report because most people believe the Grand Jury is a serious thing—unfortunately that is not the case, it’s typically a bunch of yahoos with no experience with a topic writing a report.
Yes, the District should respond to this hit job with a hard hit of its own. Yes, they should be mad. Yes, they should correct misinformation. The problem is, even with the world’s most perfect response with all the wonderful facts they can think of that will expose the Grand Jury report as nonsense, unfortunately, it will not win the District any additional votes. Once something is said, defending oneself is always a losing battle.
Instead, rather than focus on this report, the Board should turn this negative into a positive and change its message. After all, if a Grand Jury is supposed to investigate and interview the District in detail over a few months and come up with the report it did, what do you think “Average Joe Resident” will say who does not invest any time to research about the districts future?
The Grand Jury did the District a favor; it should serve as a wake up call while its still early in the process that people like Captain Gil Guerrero (Station 93) should be the ones providing the sound bites to the public, not the Board or a consultant formulating the message—it should be the people who serve this community each day.
As I sat there Monday night at the board meeting and listened to the Districts proposed response to the Grand Jury, I honestly have to look at my notes on their response, however, I can vividly remember the emotional Public Comment of Captain Guerrero.
During his comments, he provided information in a real world scenario that disputed the Grand Jury facts in which there had been loss of life and structures have been lost. I would encourage the District to use the sound bite to create a commercial. What the Captain did was make this Parcel Tax not about facts and figures using hypotheticals, but rather he made this issue “real”.
It appears to me that the District has been so focused on providing facts to make their case; they took the emotions right out of the message. No one noticed, but Captain Guerrero actually brought the type of message that should be portrayed back to focus—where it should have been all along.
Think about how tweaking the message would make for a wonderful debate.
Imagine someone making the claim they do not get what they pay for now, why would they want to pay more money for service they believe they are not getting in the first place?
Imagine the impact of someone who received that lifesaving emergency response giving the rebuttal. The impact alone would be enough to gain support because the person could make the case that due to the quick response time my life was saved while under a longer response time module they might not be here today to have the debate.
For those who claim American Medical Response (AMR) can do the job, can you imagine having a firefighter explain how they typically are first one on scene and AMR is usually 5-10 minutes later in arriving on scene. Imagine the look one someone’s face when its explained to them our firefighters cannot provided extensive emergency service because they are not allowed to—which results in a higher likelihood of death! Then turning around that unfortunate incident and ask them “what if it was you or your family who was the victim?” You have fire fighters who are unable to do anything because they are not allowed to. Get them to realize how mad they would be if people are standing around while a loved one is dying and in need of help.
The truth is that many people do not care about defining adequate emergency services or staff layoffs until they need service where only then they will understand the impact of this Parcel Tax—in the long run, $197 is a cheap solution rather than paying with someone’s life.
The Board has not figured it out yet of how to get people to care, they are too involved in the process to see it’s rather simple that you hit the county with emotions and make them care. If it becomes real, people will feel it.
Take the microphone away from the Board and give it to the firefighters who live it each day. Let them be the ones to share their stories. Let them talk about saving someone’s life or saving a structure. Let them talk about loss of life. It’s time to make this issue real. The District should begin to show the impact, not tell about it.
You have real life examples of how a longer response time will impact this community—use the story. You have real life facts of how this District impacts the lives of this community—use the story. This is not scare tactics, which I know the District does not want to use, the truth is, its reality.
This District can no longer afford to ignore reality; this Board can no longer afford to sit back and think facts will prevail because it’s already a failing message. The support is not building at a rate needed to pass. The message has been too safe, to soft and too dull.
Real life stories are interesting, impactful and highlight how amazing our District firefighters really are given the resources they are forced to work within.
Recommendations to the Board
The bottom line is that it’s time for the Board and its consultant to get serious on this parcel tax from a message stand point and reach peoples emotions. Below are just a few recommendations to improve the message and reach people who do not attend their Town Hall meetings.
- Find someone who might volunteer to create a dedicated website and take the time to provide information to the public. I understand there are rules and they must be followed or it will invalidate the ballot. See about finding someone who will volunteer to take on this task
- Find a volunteer who will put out a weekly update of the service calls and provide a few stories from the District. Provide the information the media does not cover. This would be ideal for having people who the District positively affected to share their story.
- Social media has got to be utilized; again, someone needs to be on top of updates.
- Service Call Breakdown & Response Times – show the impacts through stories. I bet most people do not realize a majority of service calls are service calls rather than fire.
- Our stations and equipment are in need of upgrades, so take pictures and post them on the web or on marketing material starting with the FEMA station, I mean the Bethel Island station (Station 95). Show the need for a ladder truck for Oakley’s four-story building – drive the engine out to those buildings and raise the ladder up which will show the need.
Upcoming Fire District Parcel Tax Meetings
- Sunday, 1 p.m., Oakley Sunday Seniors, 990 Rosemary Lane, Oakley
- Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., Oakley City Hall council chambers, 3231 Main Street
- Thursday, 6:30 p.m., Scout Hall, 3090 Ranch Lane Road, Bethel Island
- Jan. 28, 10:30 a.m., Brentwood Senior Activity Center, 193 Griffith Lane
- Feb. 11, 10:30 a.m., Eskaton Lodge, 450 John Muir Parkway, Brentwood
- Feb. 16, 6:30 p.m. Brentwood City Hall council chambers, 150 City Park Way
- Feb. 23, 6:30 p.m., Oakley City Hall council chambers, 3231 Main St.
- March 1, 6:30 p.m., Community Services District building, 1800 Willow Lake Road, Discovery Bay