San Diego County Suffers From Chronic Underfunding of Fire Fighting Resouces

by on October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights

THE CENTER ON POLICY INITIATIVES ASKS: Does Chronic Underfunding of Safety Services Heighten Fire Risk?The wildfires that tore into our communities last week brought devastation to people of all income levels and affected everyone in the region. Our emergency responders fought heroically to contain the fires, but were they adequately equipped and prepared for this known threat?CPI’s analysis shows that San Diego’s anti-tax climate and statewide tax restrictions have combined to leave the region needlessly vulnerable. The serious underfunding of fire protection services had been well documented in a City fire service report following the Cedar fire four years ago and in a CPI study, The Bottom Line, two years ago.Today, the author that study, CPI Research and Policy Director Murtaza Baxamusa, explains in a blog how our local firefighting capacity has been damaged because we lack the political will to pay for it. Please join Murtaza and post your comments at

Chronically Underfunded Safety Services Heighten San Diego’s Fire Risk

Emergency Responders Perform Heroically Despite Official Neglect

San Diego- As wildfires devastated San Diego neighborhoods this week, chronic and systematic underfunding of public safety services left the region needlessly vulnerable to the destruction. That is the conclusion of the Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI), a nonprofit research group based in San Diego.

“Although this is a region with extreme natural fire hazards, anti-tax politics have led to an undersupply of fire stations, equipment and personnel to adequately fight fires,” said CPI president Donald Cohen. “Our 2005 study, The Bottom Line, documented that San Diego’s per capita spending on fire protection is the third lowest among large California cities, and the number of firefighters per 1,000 residents is the lowest.”

The full text of the report is available online here.

Then-San Diego Fire Chief Jeff Bowman resigned last year because the city refused to fund additional firefighters and equipment he said were needed after the disastrous Cedar fire of 2003. For the city’s size, Bowman said, San Diego is short 22 fire stations and hundreds of firefighters.

The city has failed to implement many of the recommendations for increased funding in reports following the 2003 fire by both the city’s own staff and a state Blue Ribbon Fire Commission. The city budget in 2005 identified a long-term need for $478 million in new funding for public safety services — a need that remains unfilled. Only one station and seven firefighters were added to the city budget this year.

Just this spring, Mayor of Jerry Sanders refused to give firefighters any pay raise while giving all other city employees cost of living increases.

“San Diego firefighters were beginning to look for jobs elsewhere because of low morale and inadequate resources,” Cohen said. “They have performed heroically despite repeated failures by the City to invest in public safety. Together with other emergency responders, they have done an outstanding job in responding with new systems, efficient coordination between agencies, orderly evacuations and round-the-clock shifts.”

San Diego County does not have a countywide fire department, but depends on a patchwork of 17 municipal fire departments, 28 special fire districts and many volunteer agencies. A 2003 report from the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission detailed the funding difficulties faced by these agencies because of Proposition 13 restrictions and voter reluctance to approve tax measures.

The Center on Policy Initiatives ( is a nonprofit think tank founded 10 years ago to address local policy issues affecting working people and communities in San Diego.

How You Can Help the Neediest Fire Victims

Several collection drives are underway for fire victims who have been mostly neglected by the mainstream media and relief organizations, and who need help the most. Low-income families, undocumented workers, people lacking transportation and many others without homeowners insurance or resources are desperately in need of food, clothing and other necessities.

Here are a few ways to help:

  • Send a check or grocery gift cards to the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, 3727 Camino del Rio South, Suite 100, San Diego, CA 92108. The nonprofit organization will deliver cards (for Stater Bros, Food 4 Less, Albertsons, Ralphs, Vons, Costco and Target) to affected north county workers and their families, including janitors and restaurant and hotel workers.
  • Send checks made out to United Way Department of Labor Participation to the San Diego-Imperial Counties’ Central Labor Council, 4305 University Avenue, #340, San Diego, 92105. The donations will help union workers regardless of their immigration status. Affected workers can call the Office of Labor Participation, (619) 641-0074 or 641-0095.
  • Volunteer or donate supplies — especially nonperishable food, and also toiletries, tents and blankets — at Western Service Workers Association, 3014 Imperial Ave., SD 92102. Call first, 619-238-9763, to schedule a drop-off time or to volunteer.
  • Mail a check to Border Angels, P.O. Box 86598, San Diego, CA 92138. Write “Fire Victims’ Relief” on the memo line. Contact the group at 269-7865 or .

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