David Mendez

LA County fire service study approved

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Redondo Beach firefighters demonstrate a vehicle rescue during the city’s 2017 Public Safety Fair. Photo by Kevin Cody

by David Mendez

The first step in potentially replacing the Redondo Beach Fire Department with Los Angeles County fire services was taken Tuesday night. The Redondo Beach City Council approved a letter asking for a proposal of services from the LA County Fire Department, as part of an investigation into potential long-term cost-cutting measures the City is exploring.

The letter, written by City Manager Joe Hoefgen, asks County to include information about incorporating existing RBFD personnel into LACoFD, and the maximum term and pricing schedule the County will consider charging the city, among other items.

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“This is part of our duty, and I thought we should be looking at this,” Mayor Bill Brand said. “A lot of cities have gone to county to provide services, and they’ve provided better services…Palos Verdes Estates has been doing just fine with County for a long time.”

However, he joined Councilman John Gran in asking residents to keep telling elected officials what kind of service they want, and in particular, if residents want the city to go County or retain Redondo’s own fire department.

As Brand noted during the meeting, Redondo Beach is facing a structural budget deficit that continues to grow, as limited revenue sources are unable to keep pace with growing pension liabilities.

In the recently-approved Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget, City Manager Joe Hoefgen noted that Redondo’s obligations to the California Public Employee Retirement System are projected to increase by $1.9 million, and continue at a similar rate over the next four to five years.

“For us to not be looking at everything, while we have time, would be an abdication of our fiduciary duty,” Brand said.

Councilwoman Laura Emdee is concerned with the move, worrying aloud that a shift to county may lead to longer response times, possible rising fire costs from LA County and the thought that Redondo wouldn’t be able to control their fire services again should the city wish to switch back.

“Once we lose our fire department, it’s going to be nearly impossible to get back. Victorville is trying to get theirs back, but once you lose it, it’s going to take millions to get it back,” Emdee said.

Gran said that he’s not heard an outcry for a switch from District 4 residents.

“We may save money in the short term, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to save in the long term,” Gran said. “As we go through the process, I can tell you I’ll be cautious on every issue as it comes … this is a very slippery slope, I guess.”

The pair were soon chided by Council Members Todd Loewenstein and Nils Nehrenheim.

“It sounds like you’re reaching a decision long before we’ve done a study,” Loewenstein said. “There are positives to going county, I’m sure, and negatives, just like there are positives and negatives to having our own fire department…Why do this if you’ve already made up your mind?”

Nehrenheim, a part-time LA County Fire Department lifeguard, took issue with Emdee’s posit that times may increase.

“These are safety professionals. To say that times are going to increase, you’ve got to show me the data,” Nehrenheim said. “What you’re doing is playing politics and playing money with people’s lives.”

Resident Andy Lesser stated that this is both a matter of loyalty to Redondo’s existing public safety officers, as much as it is a matter of public safety. His concern was that using regional resources, as opposed to Redondo’s local public safety and dispatch services, could lengthen response times. Lesser also stated that he would personally campaign to keep Redondo’s services in-house, going so far as to say he would even support a bond measure to do so.

Resident Eugene Solomon, however, looked at the harsh realities presented by the city’s finances.

“Hope is not a plan,” he said. “When it comes to CalPERS and long-term pension obligations, we’re in a lot of trouble. Short term, [the move] will not help us; we’re still on the hook for those obligations. But long-term, those shift to the county.”

The Council voted 4-0 to approve the letter, with Emdee abstaining.

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