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Redondo Beach Names Fire Chief

Former Long Beach chief Anthon Beck will fill the interim post. Talk of consolidation with other departments surprises officials.

June 19, 2003|Jean Merl | Times Staff Writer

When Redondo Beach's city manager announced a new, interim fire chief Wednesday, he made more news than he might have intended -- by tacking on an eyebrow-raising allusion to a possible consolidation with fire departments in two neighboring cities.

In naming Anthon L. "Skip" Beck to take over the Redondo Beach Fire Department next week, City Manager Louis N. Garcia said making a temporary appointment was "the best option at this time."

Garcia's news release on Beck's appointment said the city firefighters union wants to study whether to combine their department with those in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach.

"I could not agree more enthusiastically that consolidation will save all three cities lots of money while providing better service," Garcia said. "By not filling the chief's position at this time, there will be one less obstacle for the three city councils and unions if they agreed on a consolidation."

The problem is, the consolidation talk was news to officials in the other two cities.

Garcia said he had intended to inform his fellow officials -- Steve Burrell of Hermosa Beach and Geoff Dolan of Manhattan Beach -- with letters he took to a lunch meeting of South Bay city managers Wednesday, the same day he issued his news release. Dolan, however, missed the meeting and had no idea that the Redondo Beach City Council had decided to initiate possible consolidation talks.

"First I've heard of it," Dolan said after hearing of Garcia's news release.

"We're certainly willing to listen," said a noncommittal Burrell, who did not get a chance to read the letter until after he returned to his City Hall office after the lunch meeting. "It would be a big decision for all three cities, and I imagine we'll be hearing a lot more about it" as word of the proposal gets out.

Dolan noted that a consultant studied a possible merging of the three cities' fire departments several years ago and concluded "it was not the way to go."

Although relatively small -- at least by L.A.-area standards -- Redondo Beach (population 63,000), Manhattan Beach (34,000) and Hermosa Beach (19,000) operate their own police and fire departments. Residents have long resisted giving them up, saying they prefer local control to savings that could be realized by joining with the county or other agencies.

A fire department consolidation would be a "very, very significant policy decision in this community," Dolan said, "and would require a very thorough discussion and analysis."

Given the financial straits cities are in because of the poor economy and the state's fiscal crisis, Garcia said, "it might make sense now to look at something like this."

In taking the Fire Department helm in Redondo Beach, Beck, 58, comes out of retirement after 32 years with the Long Beach Fire Department, where he served as chief from 1997 to 2002.

Garcia said Beck is a national leader in the field of emergency medical services, which the city is trying to expand to meet the needs of an aging population.

Beck replaces another interim chief, Bob Kittell, who plans to retire soon. Kittell took over for Fire Chief Pat Aust when Aust retired last year.

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