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Two years ago, county Supervisor Ron Roberts found himself advocating for greater fire protection without the support of firefighters. He led the campaign for Proposition A, the failed 2008 ballot measure that would’ve raised $50 million annually for regional fire agencies.

He was one of the few politicians in the region who supported the effort. Now, two years later, as Roberts runs for re-election, the defeated initiative is being trumpeted as both an accomplishment (by him) and a failure (by his opponent).

Roberts calls Prop. A an example of his advocacy for improved fire protection in the region. His challenger, Democrat Stephen Whitburn, says it’s an example of Roberts failing to bring people together.

“He failed to put together a plan that even the area fire chiefs could support,” Whitburn said. “That was a serious mistake.”

Roberts called the defeat a disappointment, but said Whitburn, then a City Council candidate, didn’t advocate for the measure.

“He’s never been a part of this debate,” Roberts said. “I don’t remember him going on record and talking about Prop. A, about fire.”

I asked Whitburn today if he remembers voting for Prop. A.

“Wow,” he said, and paused for several seconds.

“There have been so many ballot measures,” he said, and paused again, shorter this time.

“I believe I voted for that, because we need to move forward on fire protection,” he said.

Whitburn said he plans to outline his plan for improving fire protection later this month. He wouldn’t talk about its specifics.

In lieu of Prop. A funding, the county created the San Diego County Regional Fire Authority, which aims to incrementally support and consolidate backcountry fire agencies. It’s already supplied some agencies with additional equipment and contracted with Cal Fire to oversee the backcountry agencies’ operations.

Roberts calls that step an achievement since the 2007 wildfires, but said it’s still not enough.

“We’re not anywhere close to where we would have been with Prop. A,” he said. “At some point we’ll have to revisit something like Prop. A.”

Whitburn wants the county to spend more on fire protection. But he wouldn’t say what the county should purchase — or where the money would come from. “We need to explore all options,” he said.

Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

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