The Morning Report
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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all —

I expect we will be talking about city politics and issues during the day but I would like to start today talking about the move to consolidate the various special district fire departments into one San Diego County Fire Department.

I spent four years on the Valley Center Fire Protection District board of directors and was president of the board for three-and-a-half years. During that time there was a proposal by, I believe, Supervisor Ron Roberts to consolidate the fire districts and I testified against the proposal on behalf of the Valley Center Board. In spite of both the Cedar and Guejito fires, I did not think it was a good idea before and I don’t think it is a good idea now.

Here is why:

To begin with, there is in place a very sophisticated and efficient system of mutual and automatic aid between the fire departments. When the bell rings, people and equipment move. CAlFire — it was the California Department of Forestry when I was on the board and we contracted with them for service — is one of the premier fire fighting organizations in the world. Consolidating does not increase either manpower or equipment.

In addition, each community decides what level of fire protection they can both afford and desire. There is a balance decided locally.

If you consolidate, what is the standard of service? Take Valley Center as an example. It was about 28 square miles. It had two stations staffed 24 hours a day.

So if they merge, what is the standard of service adopted by the new fire department? Is the standard so many stations per square mile? Valley Center would probably rate more stations and people. Who pays?

Is the standard so many stations per population? Valley Center would probably lose a station.

Is the standard response time? Say 10 minutes from call in to arrival? Valley Center would probably need a dozen stations. Even then there are some pretty remote places back there that might be outside the service standard. And who would pay for that level of service?

Right now the people in Valley Center decide how much they are willing to pay for “x” amount of service. It is a rural area and people understand — or they should — that fire and emergency response times just are not what they are in the city. It is the price you pay for living in the country.

The fact is the consolidation of special districts in not a new idea. it was one of the issues when I was a reporter covering Governor Ronald Reagan more than 35 years ago. The cry then was: Look at all those special districts. They are inefficient and wasteful. They have to be because there are so many of them!

On the surface it always looks good. The organization chart looks great when it is all mapped out. Get rid of all those levels of government. But the fact is, although special districts look inefficient on an org chart, they are in fact the most efficient level of government. They are single purpose. They keep their eye on the ball. They are easily monitored. Screw ups are easily detected. There is no overlap. Fire districts stop at their border and some other district takes over. Same with water districts, mosquito abatement districts, library districts, cemetery districts, etc etc. (Yes, Virginia, there are cemetery districts).

They work and they work well. Say no to consolidation.

— JOHN KERN

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