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Going for Broke on Extra Security

Finances: State agencies warn legislators they'll need lots more money to keep their guards up.

November 21, 2001|TIM REITERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — California, already beset by a projected $12-billion budget deficit, cannot sustain massive security upgrades to help deter terrorism on the state's bridges, roadways and waterfronts without spending many more millions of dollars, lawmakers were warned on Tuesday.

Agencies ranging from the Highway Patrol and National Guard to bridge districts and mass transit systems told a legislative hearing here that their resources are rapidly being sapped by security measures following the Sept. 11 attacks. Some said their staffs are putting in long days, retirees and reservists are being pressed into service, and money is being poured into fencing, security cameras and lighting.

The Highway Patrol alone said its anti-terrorism effort already has cost more than $12 million and is projected to top $40 million this fiscal year.

The total tab for heightened security on the transportation network so vital to the state's economy and lifestyle could be as much as $1 billion this year, according to Assemblyman John Dutra (D-Fremont), who headed a Transportation Committee hearing on the problem.

"We have to find the money," Dutra said in an interview. "The need is there. . . . This security is going to be a wartime necessity, but it's not going to be easy" for the governor and lawmakers to make the big budget cuts necessary to pay for it.

Many of the emergency security measures taken recently to protect the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the country's potential targets for terrorism, are not sustainable for the long run, said Kary Witt, deputy general manager of the Golden Gate Bridge District. Noting that staffers are putting in 12-hour shifts and vacations have been canceled, he said, "You can only work people so long."

The bridge district, which also runs a ferry system, needs $13.5 million in capital improvements such as construction, security cameras and lighting, Witt said. But it needs almost that much annually to expand and maintain its security force. "You need people to watch the cameras and respond to what the cameras see," he said.

Most of the extra cost to the Highway Patrol, said CHP Commissioner Spike Helmick, is for overtime for patrol officers working 12-hour shifts and fuel for increased air patrols. To help save money, he said, the CHP has stopped training programs and nonessential construction.

Caltrans officials said they already have spent almost $40 million on lighting, security cameras and other hardware such as fencing and razor wire installed around vulnerable locations on the Bay Bridge. Labor costs for security improvements are expected to run many times that much.

The cost also is rising rapidly for more than 1,000 National Guard troops stationed at 29 airports and other locations throughout the state. Officials said the federal government is expected to help with the airport duty, which already has cost $36 million.

Major ports, transit systems and airports have been spending increasing amounts on security too. Officials said they have been preparing for innumerable terrorist scenarios but can only afford to focus on a limited number in the future.

The Port of Los Angeles reported that it had spent $1 million in overtime to date, but needs 15 more port police officers at a cost of $1 million to maintain the high level of security.

Many asked the legislators to help secure some federal assistance or to help provide state funding.

But Dutra was not encouraging: "Where do we find the money to pay for this?"

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