Easy Reader Staff

El Segundo Voters douse Measure P

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After El Segundo voters last week overwhelmingly shot down Measure P that would have merged the city’s fire department with the county’s, Fire Chief Kevin Smith said there’s no remedy in sight to the department’s personnel shortfall.

“People should know these services have been reduced dramatically,” Smith said. “And the city has no intention of restoring our resources. It doesn’t fit within the structurally-balanced budget.”

City residents torched the proposal, with 89 percent voting against a merger. Only 317 voters supported merging with L.A. County while 2,878 said no.

Smith said the fire department has experienced delays in response times and had to deal with diminished capability in some situation because of fewer personnel than usual, such as yearly inspections of businesses in town.

The number of firefighters has been reduced from 19 to 14 on one shift, with the other two shifts at 15. But all shifts will be brought down to 14, said Tony Tarango, captain and president of the firefighters association.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize the cuts that have taken place in fire department and potential risk,” said Tarango, who has been with the department for 26 years. “We’re hoping word will get out more. And if people want to maintain the El Segundo Fire Department, I’d encourage them to help rebuild it to what it once was.”

The cuts over the last two years have amounted to a 30 percent reduction in staff, equaling levels last seen in El Segundo in the 1950s.

Tarango said the vote against merging with the county was a vote of confidence and support for the El Segundo Fire Department. The city is unique with a residential core, but also high-rise office buildings and a refinery as well as a new hotel going up on the east side and proposals for an assisted-living facilities on the north side, Tarango said.

All candidates running for office last week opposed Measure P, including Carl Jacobson, who was re-elected and two newly-elected city council members, Dave Atkinson and Marie Fellhauer.

“My husband and I would go out and dig ditches to save city money before losing local services,” said Fellhauer, a city planning commissioner and Los Angeles Police Department sergeant.

The possibility of merging with the county to save money and maintain services was raised by the city council in 2010. A feasibility study said merging could save the city between $39 million and $68 million over ten years.

Opponents of the measure successfully argued that merging with L.A. County would mean El Segundo would lose the ability to transport patients to the hospital. It would also mean losing control of staffing the fire department’s buildings, which might have meant empty stations. Opponents also argued that El Segundo could still rely on mutual aid from L.A. County.

The arguments went back and forth, with supporters of the measure saying the lost ambulatory revenue would be off-set by $3.9 million in savings as a result of merging, and opponents arguing the savings would be considerably less over the long term.

Smith said the measure allowed residents to decide, and they have. “The community has spoken and it’s clear they prefer to maintain an independent fire department, and it’s my intent to endeavor to provide the best services we can with the resources we have,” Smith said.

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