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VALLEY PERSPECTIVE

We Need Updated Public Safety Facilities Now

Whether the area secedes or not, it should have modern fire and emergency protection.

September 17, 2000|MIKE FEUER and DAVID W. FLEMING | Mike Feuer is a Los Angeles City Councilman. David W. Fleming is city Fire Commission president

When disaster strikes and seconds count, having fire and rescue vehicles nearby can mean the difference between life and death. But with long distances and aging fire stations that can't house enough modern emergency vehicles, the San Fernando Valley endures response times that are just too slow.

Proposition F, the fire and animal safety facility bond on the November ballot, would get firefighters and paramedics to Valley emergencies faster. The measure also would get lost or wild animals off our streets and reduce animal cruelty. Proposition F would tackle pet overpopulation by creating spay and neuter clinics. It would dramatically expand kennel space now so limited that 70% of impounded dogs and cats are killed because there is no place to keep them.

The Los Angeles Fire Department tries to respond to the scene within five minutes of the time an emergency call reaches the dispatch center. In reality, responses in the Valley average 6.1 minutes. Part of the problem is a shortage of paramedics that fire officials say arises more from poor working conditions than lack of funds.

Regardless of this significant staffing challenge, many Valley fire stations are so old and small that modern fire and rescue vehicles must be stationed elsewhere. Fire Station 84 in Woodland Hills, for example, is a house with a detached garage only large enough for a single fire engine. When emergency medical incidents in Woodland Hills require transport to a hospital, an ambulance must travel from Tarzana or Canoga Park.

Fire Station 78 in Studio City is a collection of temporary sheds hastily assembled after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. It also depends on other stations for emergency transport.

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Ambulances at some Valley fire stations have to park outside and run extension cords up the driveway to power the heaters for their diesel engines.

Proposition F would alleviate these problems by investing $375 million to build one new fire facilty and replace 18 old ones citywide, nearly half of them in the Valley. Those include four regional and three neighborhood fire stations plus a badly needed new emergency helicopter facility at Van Nuys Airport.

The four regional fire stations in the Valley would house more emergency vehicles than neighborhood stations and function as command posts and staging areas for major incidents such as brush fires, floods and earthquakes. Regional stations also would help speed up response times by enabling firefighters and paramedics to perform mandatory on-duty training in the areas they served instead of traveling to remote training centers as they do now.

Proposition F also would build a permanent, state-of-the-art fire, paramedic and emergency rescue helicopter center and maintenance facility at Van Nuys Airport. The existing helicopter center at Van Nuys is a temporary structure separated from the maintenance facility and lacking such fundamental resources as fuel storage tanks.

At the same time, Proposition F would greatly improve the Valley's network of animal shelters. City shelters suffer from extreme overcrowding, taking in more than 70,000 dogs, cats and other animals yearly. Tragically, three out of four must be put to death due to lack of kennel space. Nearly all shelters are too small, with inadequate ventilation, heating and air-conditioning; many have open trench drains for waste removal and lack storage space for food, equipment and cages.

These conditions lead to increased illness and injury among animals and, at their worst, are simply inhumane. Proposition F would invest $154 million in building, renovating and expanding animal shelters citywide, with nearly 40% of that coming to the Valley.

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Critics have said these projects should be built with cash from the general fund, but municipalities from New York to Hawaii typically finance large capital projects with bonds. This enables costs to be spread over 30 years, just like a mortgage. Proposition F would establish strong citizen oversight committees and tough management controls to guarantee that projects were delivered on time and within budget. This system has a track record of success on recent capital programs.

Proposition F would give us the public health and safety infrastructure we badly need for the future and yet would cost the average taxpayer only $2.80 per month. Not a penny would go for ongoing administration or overhead.

No one can predict when or where disaster will strike. Whether the Valley eventually becomes an independent city or not, its residents need modern, well-equipped public health and safety facilities today.

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