Sunday, March 21, 2010

Starving The Hand That...

San Diego, like cities across the nation, has a huge budget problem; namely a $179 million hole in a $750 million budget, or about a 24% shortfall. Sales tax and property tax revenues have sunk like the proverbial rock in the millpond. The result is that the city has had to make cuts everywhere, including fire and police protection.

The San Diego Union-Tribune is not particularly understanding of what city officials have been required to do. In writing of a fire that occurred on Friday, where an elderly man died, they use phrases like, “[a] cost-cutting plan that idles fire equipment” and “taking fire engines out of service last month to save money.”

How about “taking fire engines out of service last month because there is no money to pay for them” as an operative phrase? It isn’t about “saving money,” the City of San Diego cannot spend money that it does not have.

The article makes much of the fact that the “fire engine three blocks away” from the fire was “out of service due to budget cuts.” Actually it was in service, but was unmanned on that day because the City does not have the money to pay enough firefighters to fully man all of our equipment.

The fire station itself was open, which the article does not make very clear, its fire trucks were manned, and the fire truck from that station responded to the fire, arriving within one minute. To oversimplify slightly, fire trucks rescue people, fire engines put out fires; so the rescue people and equipment were on scene, from the nearest fire station, within one minute of the fire being reported. The fire engine responded later, from a more distant station.

That doesn’t keep the family of the victim, and the Firefighter Union president, from blaming the unmanned engine for the death. Nor does it prevent the Union-Tribune from making the entire article a feature about those accusations. It briefly mentions unnamed “officials” having said that the death was not caused by the unmanned engine, but promptly returns to lengthy quotations from and discussions about the accusers.

The article does mention, very briefly, that the fire alarm system in the apartment building malfunctioned, and that it may have delayed reporting the fire to the fire department. It does not suggest that this in any way might possibly have contributed to the man's death.

To complicate the issue, the ladder operator of the fire truck that first responded did not know how to operate the ladder, which may have delayed the rescue. The family would have a valid complaint if that is the case, but it would not be that the response was too slow, which is what the article repeatedly claims.

People are lining up at the Tax Assessor’s office to have their property taxes reduced, but they want the City to continue to furnish services at the same level. Where do they think the money comes from to pay for those services? If you want your taxes lowered, then you must be prepared to suffer a reduction in services, and that includes protective services.

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