Representatives from the San Diego Fire Department appeared at the OB Town Council meeting last night to give their grim report on the state of San Diego’s emergency service providers. And for the first time San Diegans will start to see noticeable cuts in the department’s ability to serve the community.
San Diego Fire Chief Jeff Carle and Lifeguard Chief Rick Wurts delivered the bad news in a detailed report describing exactly how we got here, what further cuts are likely in the near future, and how it will affect Ocean Beach and beyond.
With the City of San Diego facing a $72 million budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year, the fire department (which includes the lifeguards under its umbrella) has been forced to find an additional $7.2 million in cuts. This in addition to the $11.5 million in cuts that have been achieved through the department’s rolling brownouts—the policy of shutting down stations on a rotating basis and shifting coverage responsibilities to other nearby stations as a means of cutting costs.
Chief Carle said that for the first time in 8 years, San Diegans will start seeing actual cuts to the services provided by the San Diego Fire Department. Previous cuts, he said, have been made in ways that did not affect services, and that there are no longer any areas to cut from without affecting services.
Carle pointed out that there are currently only two executive secretaries working for the entire fire department, and that as a result of having already cut the budget to the bare bones, the next round is by necessity going to have to come from services. He said that they are currently looking at closing at least one community fire station (which has not yet been chosen), and also at the possibility of shutting down the second firefighting helicopter that has been such an invaluable tool since the devastating wildfires of 2003 and 2007.
As a result of the brownouts and budget cuts, fire department response times have gone up, having already resulting in one tragic death—a choking victim that rescuers were not able to reach in time. Carle said that it would not be possible to cut training back any further, and that because of the current budget situation fire protection standards are likely to go back to pre-1972 levels.
The San Diego Lifeguards are being pinched back just as much, if not more: Chief Wurts said that there will be some painful cutbacks in lifeguard personnel, including reducing the number of two-person night crews from two to one. There will be reductions in seasonal staffing at all beaches, he said, including on Mission Bay, where he said that all lifeguard staffing will be eliminated for the spring.
Two full time lifeguard positions will be eliminated in North Pacific Beach. However, there will still be seasonal lifeguards available. Wurts said that in the last round of cuts, four full time lifeguard positions were eliminated and made into seasonal positions.
Carle also pointed out that the fire department may have to lay off as many as 60 full time firefighters.
The depth of the cuts to lifeguard services was put into perspective when Wurts pointed out that there are approximately 4,000 to 6,000 water rescues in San Diego per year, with nearly 180,000 preventative actions taken each year by lifeguards. The reduction in staffing means an increased danger at San Diego’s beaches.
There was some somewhat positive news as far as the lifeguards were concerned, however. Wurts said that San Diego will be receiving a federal grant of $385,000 to install video surveillance cameras around Mission Bay and on the Ocean Beach pier. This will compensate somewhat for the reduced staffing levels, and allow lifeguards to better locate vessel accidents and monitor crafts entering and exiting Mission Bay.
The cameras will also be linked to the Joint Harbor Operations Center, which helps to coordinate enforcement, surveillance, and rescue efforts between the Coast Guard, Harbor Police, and U.S. Customs agents.
Thyme Curtis from City Councilman Kevin Faulconer’s office offered the following tidbits:
The sewer project along Cable St. has forced MTS to relocate its bus routes along Sunset Cliffs Blvd., causing significant congestion along the main Ocean Beach thoroughfare. The work affecting Cable St. is expected to last approximately six months, at which point the bus route will be restored to Cable St., along with the bus stop signs. MTS is unable to relocate the route to Abbott St. because stops would not be convenient for riders, and the ridership numbers would be severely impacted with a move to Abbott.
The sewage project is expected to be completed within nine months.
Money has been allocated to create a new, separate small-dog park in Dusty Rhodes Park. There have been several incidents recently where smaller dogs have been attacked and killed by larger dogs using the park.
The City of San Diego is negotiating with the World Trade Center to locate a new homeless shelter at the 6th and A St. downtown site. There are tentative plans to place the shelter temporarily at Golden Hall, but there are several events already scheduled at the facility, and a homeless shelter would likely eliminate the roughly $175,000 in rent the city is due to collect.
The Ocean Beach Restaurant Walk will take place on November 9th. Tickets will go on sale this week at the Main Street Association. 650 tickets will be available, and the event is expected to sell out fast. The OB Christmas Tree is scheduled to arrive on November 30th, and the parade is planned for December 4th.
OB Parade applications are available on the OB Town Council website, www.obtowncouncil.org. Volunteers are needed: Please contact Cyndee Hanna. Contact info available on the website.
This year’s parade route will travel down Newport, turning on Abbott. T-shirts will be available at the restaurant walk, Lucy’s, the Farmer’s Market, and the Sunshine Co., among other locations.