Oscar Werner's backyard fence stands as a boundary between Pasadena and Altadena, a symbol, he says, of a big city bent on devouring a small, proud neighbor.
Five times in the past 40 years, Werner has led his fellow Altadena residents in successful fights against attempts by Pasadena to annex the unincorporated community to the north.
Turned away at the front door, Werner says, Pasadena is now trying a back-door approach to exercising more control over Altadena and its 43,000 residents. He says the wolf in sheep's clothing is a proposal by Pasadena city officials to take over Altadena fire protection and paramedic services from the County of Los Angeles.
1946 Annexation Fight
"Having lived here this long and seen what has happened, I can't help but think this is another attempt to chew up Altadena," said Werner, 80, who founded the East Altadena Improvement Assn. in 1946 to fight Pasadena's annexation efforts.
"Right after the war was over, they started in. They moved block by block until they got to my fence," Werner said. "That's where we have stopped them."
The Altadena Town Council, ever suspicious of renewed annexation attempts, passed a resolution in March strongly condemning the February proposal. Under the plan, two of the four county fire stations in or near Altadena would be closed. Pasadena would operate the remaining two stations, a move that could save the county $1 million and net Pasadena $500,000 in yearly revenues, according to figures cited by Pasadena.
Under County Review
The projected savings and other parts of the plan are now under review by the county, which is expected to decide on the matter within three months. While the county provides fire protection for 46 incorporated cities, county administrative staffers said, there is no precedent for a city providing such services for a county area.
Town Council President Frank Bridal said residents are concerned about a drop in fire protection. He said Altadena residents share the feeling that if Pasadena can't swallow their community whole, it would just as soon consume it bit by bit.
"Any slight encroachment like this is seen as gradual creeping annexation," Bridal said. "We are well served by the county. Our protection is very good and we don't want to risk losing that."
Pasadena City Manager Donald F. McIntyre and Fire Chief Kaya Pekerol said the proposal is not intended to encroach on Altadena. They said it is strictly a business proposition.
"Our proposal was simply a response to a request by James Hankla (Los Angeles County chief administrative officer) for ideas to cut the cost of county government," McIntyre said. "Our concept was that we could end up saving them $800,000 to $1 million a year by consolidation."
"It has nothing to do with annexation," Pekerol said. "It's strictly a business deal, a very good business deal for Pasadena and for Los Angeles County."
Pekerol said Pasadena would hire up to 12 firefighters to run the two stations in Altadena. He said equipment and firefighters posted at eight stations in Pasadena would be available to respond to major fires in Altadena.
"We have provided excellent service to the city of Pasadena. Yes, we can provide more than equitable fire service to both Pasadena and Altadena by utilizing our existing resources and adding to it a little bit," he said.