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Simon Outlines Plan for Homeland Defense

Politics: The GOP candidate would spend $400 million. Aides to Gov. Davis say some of the ideas are already being implemented.

July 10, 2002|MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr. laid out a $400-million plan Tuesday to strengthen California's homeland defense with a proposal that echoes President Bush's emphasis on improving the training and equipment of police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel.

Saying Democratic Gov. Gray Davis has not done enough to sharpen the skills of the state's first line of response, Simon proposed requiring terrorism awareness training for all emergency workers and upgrading their equipment to cope with new weapons.

"Local public safety agents must be outfitted with the tools that are needed to respond to a biological, chemical or even nuclear attack," Simon said during a 30-minute lunchtime speech to a group of San Diego civic leaders. "It is they who are on the front lines of our war against terrorism, and we need to ensure that they are prepared for the battles of the future."

Aides to Davis called the GOP candidate's ideas redundant. Many of the items listed in Simon's plan have already been implemented, and the others will be rolled out after the state receives its share of federal money for homeland security, they said.

"He's ill informed, or he hasn't looked into this issue deeply," said the governor's security advisor, George Vinson. "To be frank, this is more of a press release than a plan."

Vinson said he and other law enforcement officials have been working on a strategic plan for California for the last six months. He added that many of the state's current procedures have been copied by federal officials as they design the Office of Homeland Security.

Simon noted that the state has yet to submit a proposal to the federal government for California's share of the $3.5 billion that Bush has earmarked to help state and local governments improve their security and emergency responses.

In January, the president said he wants that money to be spent on equipment for local rescue personnel, as well as training to deal with chemical and biological attacks. Vinson said the state's proposal, which is due by July 31, will be submitted soon.

Simon's plan, which an aide said was crafted with input from White House officials, is designed to maximize the amount of money California will get to enhance its emergency response and protection, the candidate said.

More than half of the $400-million plan would be financed with that federal money, Simon said. The remainder would come from state funds, although he did not specify how he would cover those costs at a time when the state faces a $23.6-billion deficit.

Simon said Tuesday that he would fill the state's funding gap by cutting spending instead of raising taxes, but he has not laid out a specific budget plan to cover all of the shortfall.

"I believe public safety is a priority," he told reporters after his speech. "And I believe that in a $100-billion budget, there has got to be room for the expenditures that will be necessary to implement my plan."

Several of Simon's proposals have already been put in place by the state, including the development of a curriculum to train emergency workers, the creation of a stockpile of equipment and medical supplies, and a cabinet-level office to coordinate emergency responses.

"The governor's plan is in action; he doesn't have to produce a piece of paper," said Davis campaign strategist Garry South. "Obviously, this was put together by somebody who doesn't understand what the government is doing right now."

The Republican candidate also proposed recruiting a volunteer corps of citizens and building a database of their skills so they could assist in cases of emergency. He said he would also create three specially trained National Guard battalions that could be deployed quickly to serve as police at scenes of terrorist attacks.

"It might not be possible to prevent all future attacks," Simon said. "This makes our thorough preparations all the more imperative. We must plan now so that if the time does come--God forbid--we can respond to any threat, overwhelm any attacker and direct successful rescue efforts."

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