This afternoon, Supervisor Ron Roberts, Mayor Jerry Sanders and assorted public safety officials stood in front of a blackened tree, within spitting distance of burned-down homes that are being rebuilt in Rancho Bernardo, and asked San Diego taxpayers to back Proposition A, a ballot measure that would introduce a parcel tax countywide to pay for increased fire protection.

It was the first press conference the assorted bigwigs have held specifically to support the measure, which, as I reported last week, has been supported by a pretty lackluster campaign to date.

Fronted by Roberts, the officials, including San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Tracy Jarman and Bill Metcalf, chief of the North County Fire Protection District in Fallbrook, pledged their support for the measure, which they said would inject vital dollars into the county’s aging firefighting infrastructure. It would also spur the formation of a regional fire authority.

“Fires don’t obey any political boundaries, they cross from one area to another irrespective of the politics or the drawing of the city boundaries,” Roberts said. “Proposition A brings a much-needed regional effort to assist us in preventing, and minimizing, the damage from fires.”

Roberts said three times during the press conference that “firefighters back Prop. A.” Last week, I wrote this story about the lack of support of the measure from the two largest firefighting labor organizations in the county, Local 145, which represents San Diego Fire-Rescue Department firefighters, and the San Diego County Council of Firefighters, which represents more than 30 local firefighting unions.

At today’s press conference, however, Tom Gardner, a past president of the local CDF Firefighters union, Local 2881, announced that the San Diego chapter of the state firefighters’ union is backing the measure. The group is the first organized labor group to actively back the measure.

I asked Gardner why his union chapter decided to back the proposition.

“I’ve been going to committees for five years, since the ’03 fires,” Gardner said. “Most of CalFire’s districts are rural fire districts — Campo, Pine Valley — 50 percent of each dollar raised by this proposition will go directly to those districts, that’s a good funding source.”

I also asked Roberts about the criticism from other local firefighter groups. He passed the microphone over to Augie Ghio, president of the San Diego Fire Chiefs Association, who is acting as the county’s point man on the measure. Ghio spoke emphatically about Proposition A.

“It boils down to one thing: If not now, when?” Ghio said. “If we don’t do Proposition A then we’re going to miss a golden opportunity to give the firefighters the tools and the support we need and they need to save lives and to reduce property loss.”


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