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Increased Security Straining City's Resources, Mayor Says

Hahn reduces staffing at emergency center and reiterates call for more federal funding.

March 25, 2003|Matea Gold, Patrick McGreevy and Jennifer Oldham | Times Staff Writers

Additional security measures Los Angeles put in place last week in response to the war in Iraq are taxing city resources, leading Mayor James K. Hahn to scale back the city's emergency operations center and renew his call for more federal assistance.

On Monday, Hahn and other city officials decided to whittle the staff in the city's 24-hour emergency operations center from 25 to two to five people. He also has asked Gov. Gray Davis to deploy the National Guard at Los Angeles International Airport to relieve some of the hundreds of police officers who check vehicles and patrol terminals. Davis plans to announce support for that request today, according to an administration official.

Last week's heightened security alert cost the city $1.7 million, most of it money for additional personnel costs to respond to large peace demonstrations, protect the Academy Awards, and patrol the airport and other facilities. Hahn estimated that it will cost the city an additional $1 million per week to stay at a minimal heightened-alert status during the rest of the war.

"Cities and states across America are facing budget problems, and we have been digging deep into our pockets to respond to what we really believe is a national security issue," Hahn said. "We need to get that help from Washington."

Hahn said he put the bulk of the emergency center staff on standby to preserve their energy, as well as to save money.

On March 18, on the eve of war, the city was forced to dip into its public works trust fund, among other sources, to buy $4.4 million worth of radiation detection devices and protective suits for police and firefighters. So far, officials said, Los Angeles has accrued more than $100 million in homeland security costs since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

City officials said Los Angeles needs an additional $103 million worth of equipment and training to prepare for a large-scale attack, including a system to allow police and firefighters to communicate with one another during emergencies.

"The problem has been that the federal government has all but ignored the needs of our first responders," said City Councilman Jack Weiss, who went to Washington this week to lobby lawmakers for help.

Los Angeles isn't alone in needing federal help to pay for increased training, equipment and personnel. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge last week, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) cited a survey of city managers conducted by her office that found a "glaring lack of preparedness to respond to a terrorist attack throughout Los Angeles County."

Harman estimated that the county and the city of Los Angeles need at least $200 million to cover security needs. That does not include money required to fund the new communications system between law enforcement and fire agencies, which officials said could cost several hundred million dollars.

Harman criticized the timeliness of the federal government's response to requests from local governments for financial aid.

"We are applying a traditional grant-making process to an emergency," Harman said.

Last year, President Bush promised cities and states $3.5 billion to bolster police, fire and emergency services.

But the homeland security bill approved by Congress and signed into law by Bush in February authorized about $1.3 billion.

Bush plans to request an additional $2 billion for states and local governments in his supplemental budget request to Congress today.

"We think, especially with the president's supplemental request, that there is a substantial amount of money available for state and local governments," said Gordon Johndroe, of the Department of Homeland Security.

State and local officials disagree. California, which was hoping for $398 million for security needs, is scheduled to get $45 million for the state and local governments. California, along with its cities and counties, are applying to the Department of Homeland Security for the funds, which could be available in a month or two.

As city officials draft the budget for next year, they still have no idea when Los Angeles will see the federal funds, or how much the city will receive.

"We don't know, and that's one of the big frustrations," said Bill Fujioka, city administrative officer. "How do we plan?"

The security costs have cut deeply into the city's finances. In February, when the federal government issued its orange alert, beefed-up security at the airport cost $665,000, mostly in police overtime.

Hahn said Monday that the National Guard would relieve many of those officers and provide an additional deterrent against terrorism at the airport, which officials have identified as one of the top targets in California.

Even if the troops come, they may not ease the strain on the city's strapped finances -- Los Angeles might have to pay for their presence.

Meanwhile, the Police and Fire departments need a system to allow the agencies to communicate on the same radio wavelength.

The LAPD also hopes to get new dive boats and scuba equipment, and digital technology that will allow police helicopters to instantly transmit images to a command post.

"We have been put in a very difficult position," said John Miller of the LAPD's homeland security bureau. "We relied on the assurances of the federal government that money, in large amounts, would be coming to fund the new needs of the post-9/11 reality."

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Times staff writer Gregg Jones contributed to this report

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