City Council – Redondo presses on with County Fire survey
by David Mendez
The Redondo Beach City Council is moving toward potentially replacing its longstanding municipal fire department with Los Angeles County Fire services. In a 3-2 vote, the Council instructed City staff to proceed to the next step in LACoFD’s process, wherein the City begins negotiating a service agreement while the Fire District surveys City vehicles, equipment and facilities to estimate a potential “conversion” cost. The City is expected to pay LACoFD $24,000 to repay costs for the upcoming survey.
Redondo began exploring the move last year as a potential solution to rising costs. Switching to County services would help stem the growing tide of pension costs; the City’s pension liabilities are expected to increase by $2 million annually. Going County would also solve the City’s current pay dispute: Redondo’s firefighters have been operating under an expired memorandum of understanding since last July. After a year of negotiating, Redondo Beach Firefighters Association’s talks with the City have slowed to a crawl in recent months.
From the outset, there was distrust among both the skeptical public and members of RBFA as to the biases — or lack thereof — in the City staff report produced by RBFD Chief Robert Metzger. In his report, Metzger concluded that the County’s initial study would not provide significant cost savings to the City.
The County study, released in mid-February, outlines two potential options for service if the City fire department is replaced by the County. Option A, as it was named in the study, would reduce daily fire staffing down to 16 uniformed personnel in Redondo Beach each day, including two engines, one ladder truck, two paramedic squads and one harbor patrol squad. Option B would maintain RBFD’s current levels of daily staffing: 19 personnel, including a third paramedic squad.
County Option A, with reduced staffing levels, was estimated to cost $15.01 million for Fiscal Year 2018-19. County Option B, matching current staffing, was estimated at $18.16 million.
For FY 18-19, the City budgeted $22.1 million toward the Fire Department, indicating an initial savings no matter the County option used. However, Metzger’s report also subtracted $6.1 million in what he called “costs remaining with the City,” which includes overhead costs, legacy pension costs, worker’s compensation costs and lost revenue, “as the City would continue to have these expenses under all fire service scenarios.” By removing those costs from the assessment, the City’s FY 18-19 operational costs would run $15.95 million.
Therefore, according to Metzger’s report, Redondo would pay less for the same amount of staffing (with Option B), and more for lesser staffing (Option A).
RBFA was unmoved, submitting a series of questions in response, and noting they believed the Fire Chief to be biased against switching to County. According to RBFA President Greg Allen, 70 percent of its surveyed members preferred the City move forward in the process. Nearly all of the City’s current sworn personnel — save for top brass, including Metzger and the City’s three division chiefs — would be absorbed by County in the move.
“We’re not here to advocate. We’re here to ask you what you set out to do in the first place; that’s to complete the study,” Allen said.
Council members Nils Nehrenheim and Todd Loewenstein were also concerned that the report was done in-house — their previous attempt to use an outside consultant died for lack of support by their colleagues.
“There are a lot of unknowns; relying on our own knowledge base can be very dangerous,” Nehrenheim said, shortly after clarifying the difference between County Lifeguard and County Fire budgets to Metzger. “We don’t know what we don’t know.”
“Here’s the thing: I can’t personally find a reason to go on when I go through this report,” said Councilman Christian Horvath, before recalling a statement by firefighter Kenny Campos, who argued that the City’s staffing is at “bare bones” levels. “If we’re already at bare bones, why would we want to have less?”
But Mayor Bill Brand followed the argument that the City — in attempting to interpret the report by itself — “doesn’t know what it doesn’t know.”
“It’s out there; you have to go outside the walls of City Hall and get the information,” Brand said. “$24,000 is a pittance.”
Councilman John Gran agreed with Brand, Nehrenheim and Loewenstein, moving to press on, winning a 3-2 vote, with Horvath and Councilwoman Laura Emdee against.