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San Diego City Councilman Tony Young called on Mayor Jerry Sanders to end the idling of city fire engines following the Fire Department’s slow response to a two-year-old who choked to death Tuesday night.

Young said he was “deeply disturbed” by fire officials’ statements in the Union-Tribune that indicated that a shut down or “browned out” fire crew could have been a factor in Bentley Do’s death.

Do choked to death on a gumball. Fire crews, strained by other calls, didn’t arrive to help Do for nine-and-a-half minutes, though police officers arrived sooner. Fire Chief Javier Mainar said the brownouts were a factor in the department’s slow response.

“Having read these statements, I cannot in good conscience stand by and not ask you to end the ‘brownouts’ in the San Diego Fire Department immediately,” Young wrote in a memo to Sanders.

As we noted yesterday, Do’s death already is becoming a political issue as City Council debates a potential sales tax increase to help end the city’s persistent budget deficits. Last December, the city closed a $179 million budget deficit in part by temporarily idling up to eight city fire engines. The move saved $11.5 million. The city faces at least a $73 million deficit next year.

Young, chairman of the city’s Budget and Finance Committee, recommended the mayor restore the fire services by using reserves, reducing costs in non-public safety departments and cutting the budget for city contracts.

Should the sales tax increase either not make the ballot or fail in November, Young said he would recommend revenue increases that didn’t require a public vote. He identified parking fees at the beach, bay, Balboa Park and San Diego Zoo, emergency response fees and false fire alarm fees. Those revenue increases, Young said, could total $30 million annually.

I have a call in to Young for more details.

Earlier today, Councilwoman Marti Emerald told KPBS her Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee had asked the mayor to use reserves to restore some of the browned out engines.

“This is the worst case scenario and what we had feared,” Emerald said of Do’s death.


Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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