Saturday, May 17, 2008

Oakland Fire Prevention + Certified Mail = Money Down Toilet

I received my letter from the City of Oakland today kindly notifying me that I need to trim my weeds and remove any dead branches from my property. Ostensibly this is a great way to stop wildfires. But I have several issues with their approach.

First, a casual inspection of my property reveals that I have already taken care of these issues. I'm sure this is the case for the majority of hills residents, yet the fire department has decided it would be easier to simply send letters to everyone. Makes sense, at a cost of only $0.42 per house.

Fair enough, until you take a look at the letter I received today. Here's a picture of the envelope:

Certified Letter from Oakland FD

For some reason, Oakland FD decided to send me the letter certified, at a cost of $5.32! That's just great. We'll set aside the deadweight loss this causes to the economy (as the government inevitably does) by causing some people to drive to the post office and stand in line to get this letter. I was lucky, in that I was home.

So, call the cost of these letters an even $6, including the cost of paper, envelope, toner, etc., and a bit of time for a person to manage the process. Now, let's assume that the fully-loaded cost for a "fire engineer" is $100/hr. This is probably low, given the absurd benefits packages these people receive, but I'll be optimistic and assume only a $200k annual pay-and-benefits package.

So, if a person could drive by and look at 20 houses per hour, it would be cheaper to pay people to drive around and hand out these fliers. Even better, the person could ignore houses like mine which obviously have no issue, focusing instead on those which are truly problematic.

Now, I'm sure the government would justify their practice by saying that they want to be sure people receive the letters so they won't get any push-back when they fine people who fail to comply.

I'm really sick and tired of this kind of reasoning. Sure, there will be some non-compliant property owners who protest when the fire department pays to have their yards cleared (a policy I support, by the way). I'm sure the cost of dealing with such individuals would not approach the cost of these certified letters.

I voted against the Oakland Fire Prevention District when it was proposed, and this is exactly why. Our city government is terminally inept, and the worst thing we can possibly do is to give it more money. Enough said.


  1. I could not agree with you more. At my house we make it a policy to always vote NO when city government asks for $ for anything. The city has proved to us again and again that they will squander and waste any money they get their hands on. Measure Y is a good example. My city councilman tried to get me to vote for Measure Y by telling me I would get more police for my neighborhood. I told him all I would get were more ineffective and poorly managed social programs. Boy, was I right!

  2. Sanjiv is at it again

    See his latest website:

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