Redondo Beach city council votes to resume county fire study

The Redondo Beach Fire Department runs three stations, including one at King Harbor. Photo Courtesy of RBFD

by Garth Meyer

The question of whether Redondo Beach should contract with the county for fire services is back on after a 3-2 city council vote April 19 to resume a study on the subject – which was halted two years ago.

Councilmembers Laura Emdee and Christian Horvath voted against reviving the study.

A switch to the county is said to save money and improve some service calls. 

“The added quickness and responsiveness you might get in the northern part of Redondo Beach,” said Councilman Zein Obagi, Jr., who voted to re-start the inquiry, along with representatives Nils Nehrenheim and Todd Loewenstein. 

The benefit of the county’s equipment and resources may also be an advantage, beyond an existing mutual aid agreement. 

“It’s not like going to the county would be a downgrade,” Obagi said. 

Emdee and Horvath voted no because they believe a contract with the county does not make financial sense.

“It costs much more to go to the county,” Emdee said. “At the beginning it doesn’t.”

She cites a 2019 study done by the former city finance director that showed a county-run fire department would be more expensive over the long term than a city outfit.

Also, a 92-page assessment of the RBFD presented two weeks ago by Interim Fire Chief Keith Kauffman added to Emdee’s reasoning.

“We (now) have an internal assessment that gives us a roadmap of how to make Redondo Beach the best fire department in the nation,” she said. “Why would we go to the county to have the same services with no cost savings?”

She asserts it would cost up to $51 million more over 10 years.

“Then you have no power to negotiate a new contract,” said Emdee. 

Councilman Loewenstein points out “there were some real questions” over whether the former city finance director’s projections took into full account worker’s compensation figures and more.

“Whether it was an apples to apples comparison,” Loewenstein said. 

Horvath and Emdee also voted in 2019 to stop the original study, along with previous councilmember John Gran, because they deemed the information available at that point had shown a county contract to be more expensive.

“It didn’t make sense then; and since then,” said Horvath. 

Mayor Bill Brand emphasized that the study is to provide options for the city and suggested the matter may ultimately go to a public vote.

Last month, the RBFD was upgraded by the national Insurance Services Office to a Class 1 rating, which puts it among the nation’s top 400 fire departments. 

Another possible, related plan would be to partner with El Segundo and Manhattan Beach to share fire division chiefs to save money.

“The fire department deserves some direction from the city council,” said Ken Campos, president of the Redondo Beach Firefighters’ Association. “The council should explore all of those options to their fullest, then give us a strong direction. We just don’t want to be kept in purgatory anymore.” ER

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