Government / Politics

San Juan Bautista chooses private security provider

Level 1 Private Security will augment sheriff's patrols in the City of History

The San Juan Bautista City Council on Aug. 16 selected Aromas-based Level 1 Private Security to provide security patrols for the city, adding to the coverage provided by San Benito County Sheriff's deputies.

Level 1 and First Alarm Security Services were the finalists for the contract with the city. Council members first brought up the idea of private security at a special meeting held on June 16, when JT Tomlinson, chief operating officer and co-founder of Level 1 Private Security, presented his proposal.

Vice Mayor Chris Martorana opened the discussion saying, “both of these contracts for different reasons raise a lot of questions in my mind.” 

He described one of the contracts looking like an actual contract while the other looked like a service agreement. He also told fellow council members that they had received some feedback for one of the contracts from PARSAC but not the other. PARSAC (Public Agency Risk Sharing Authority of California) provides San Juan with liability insurance. The agency was created in response to the insurance crisis that eliminated commercial coverage for cities.

City Attorney Deborah Mall said, “looking at both of them, you want both of them to be changed no matter which one you go with.”

Mall clarified that while council members were choosing between the providers, they still had to complete contract negotiations. “We can negotiate the contract from there and make sure that they can comply with the demands of PARSAC and if they can’t, then we come back at the next meeting with a different provider. We may even start negotiations with the second provider if the first provider doesn’t work,” she said.

Martorana said he felt uncomfortable about making a decision without having both of the parties available to answer questions or concerns the council might have. “I had a conversation with JT from Level 1 this afternoon; (Mayor) Rick (Edge) and I both spoke about this last night, he and I both felt like this should be tabled for discussion later. I told JT that, so he did not attend tonight based on what I told him,” he said. 

“I’ve been pushing this so hard that I hate to delay it,” he added.

Edge said that while his initial thought was that the council didn't have enough information to make an agreement, PARSAC said in an email that they would be willing to work with them. 

“If that’s the case, then I feel more than comfortable with making a decision but if you would rather have both parties here then I’m in no rush,” he said. “I think that as much as we need this, we need to do it right.”

Councilman Tony Boch said he wanted to discuss both companies. Martorana agreed, saying, “I think that we should proceed with that and see where the conversation takes us.”

Edge was the first to speak about the companies. He said he has experience working with First Alarm as he contracts with security agencies to provide 24/7 security for Menlo College. After previous bad experiences with other large security agencies, the college went to First Alarm  for about a year and a half. “They made many mistakes and basically what the problem was that the manager… he was a smooth talker and he basically totally screwed up," he said.

“I think the weakness that First Alarm has is they don't always put the right people in management positions,” Edge continued.

First Alarm Security, headquartered in the Bay Area, is one of the largest security firms in the country. It provides commercial and residential security, with accounts throughout the Central Coast and Bay Area. Its staff ranges from security officers to police officers.

“They can be a very good organization, they look to be very sound financially, they have nice offices, but I think were their weakness is that they don't pick the right people," Edge said. "I think that’s a serious problem because the person that manages the account is who we’re dealing with we’re not dealing with the individual guards, the individual officers, and we shouldn’t be."

Edge said he would prefer to go with Level 1 Private Security. “The people from Level 1, they just barely started out, they appear to be very serious about what they’re doing. They appear to be very well organized, they’re local, they would probably try a little bit harder. For First Alarm we would just be another account another number,” he said.

Level 1, headquartered in Aromas, provides residential and commercial security with many of its accounts based locally. Their services include providing uniformed, un-armed and armed security, towing enforcement and citation enforcement.

“If it was up to be I would recommend Level 1,” Boch said, noting that he felt uncomfortable with First Alarm after visiting its headquarters.

Martorana said that while First Alarm had better technology than Level 1, part of his concern is that “they are hiring the lowest common denominator because they have to give them this much level of instruction.” 

“We are talking about a 30-day termination, so if it doesn't work out for whatever reason, if we are dissatisfied with either company, then it’s not like we’re stuck on some contract,” he added. “I have mixed feelings, frankly, about the decision and it’s not clear. My gut tells me that we should start with Level 1, my head tells me First Alarm. If I look at it statistically, they are a better choice because they have better capabilities. I need to differ to the majority and go with Level 1 and I am comfortable with that.” 

The council decided on Level 1 Private Security, authorizing City Manager Roger Grimsley to negotiate the contract with the city attorney and PARSAC. Once a final version of the contract has been completed, the council is expected to approve it at its next meeting.

In other council news, Assistant City Manager Rudy Luquin presented council members with an introduction and first reading of an ordinance that would help regulate home occupations and permits for home occupations.

Grimsley said his team recognized there was a “weakness in the municipal code that didn’t really cover the aspect of people starting businesses out of their houses.” 

Luquin added that the weakness in the code allowed for any type of potential business to open. 

“All they had to do was circle something on the current business license that says 'yes it’s a home occupation' without having much explanation as to what was going on,” he said. “We feel that this will help the city regulate the home occupations by getting rid of some that we really don’t want to see in the city as far as those that would cause some type of harm.” 

Lund asked what would happen to the already existing businesses and if there would be a "grandfathering" process?

Luquin said there was the potential to grandfather some businesses and the city would allow those businesses with a low environmental impact to keep operating as-is.

“As far as somebody who has been repairing cars out of their home and continues to do that, we would have to put a stop to that just because it causes nuisances and environmental factors like spilling oil onto the city streets or the city grounds which could in turn back track on us as far as an environmental audit,” Luquin said. 

Edge said, “this is great because every city has one and we don't have one. You have to regulate this sort of thing.”

While no action was taken, council members with decide if they will be adopting the ordinance at the next meeting on Sept. 20.

Laura Romero

Laura Romero has been a reporter and handled marketing/social media for BenitoLink. She has covered education and city government. Formerly, she worked as an assistant account executive at Pembroke PR in San Francisco, where she assisted with press outreach, event coordination, and social media planning. With her PR skills, she has helped to implement social media strategies and develop online giving campaigns for BenitoLink. Laura continues to contribute to BenitoLink on a freelance basis.