San Diego’s three mayoral candidates agree. Disparities in emergency response times across neighborhoods must end.

“It is the city’s moral obligation to provide equitable emergency services to every community,” City Councilman Kevin Faulconer says in his neighborhoods plan.

Broadly, Faulconer, City Councilman David Alvarez and former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher agree on the solution, too.

The city should build new fire stations in neighborhoods that a 2011 report says have the greatest risk for a delayed response. This is the same as what city leaders have been promising since the report came out, even though none of the stations has been built. The candidates say they’re going to be the one to actually resolve the problem.

The Problem

City first responders are supposed to get to the scene of high-priority emergencies such as cardiac arrests within seven minutes and 30 seconds of a 911 call. The greatest risk of missing that target occurs in five city neighborhoods clustered within 9 ½ square miles south and east of downtown. Those neighborhoods – Home Avenue in City Heights, Paradise Hills, College Area, Skyline and Encanto – also happen to include some of the city’s poorest and brownest areas.

This map shows the city’s existing fire stations in red and the five most at-risk neighborhoods in blue.

Alvarez’s Solution

Alvarez points to his development of a funding plan to build new fire stations in those communities as an example of his commitment to the emergency response problem. The stations’ price tag is $49 million, including the cost of firefighters to work there. But so far the city hasn’t put any money toward them.

That might be starting to change. The city is planning to dedicate $3 million toward land and design costs for the Home Avenue and Skyline stations as part of an infrastructure loan on the City Council’s January docket.

Alvarez said he’ll fund construction of the Home Avenue fire station once it’s designed. In his first budget, Alvarez wants to put a two-person crew in Encanto through a pilot program that’s much cheaper than building a full fire station. He also supports funding a temporary fire station on city-owned land in Skyline if it takes too long to build a new one.

Faulconer’s Solution

Faulconer has the most definitive goal of the three candidates on emergency response times. He’s pledging to end response time disparities between communities by 2016.

Faulconer doesn’t know how he’s going to measure his progress. Faulconer policy adviser Matt Awbrey said Faulconer will figure it out once he gets into office. Aside from the 2011 study, the city hasn’t comprehensively reported response time risk by neighborhood.

Faulconer also uses the strongest language of the candidates to condemn response time inequalities. He says it’s “unconscionable” that the problem exists and that the city has a “moral obligation” to fix it.

Faulconer, however, has been on the Council for seven years and hasn’t addressed the issue. He said he was focused on the city’s financial crisis.

“To do that you have to have the dollars and the funds to invest,” Faulconer said. “The city wasn’t in that position.”

Like Alvarez, Faulconer supports building the full fire station on Home Avenue, installing a two-person crew in Encanto and constructing a temporary station in Skyline.

Beyond that, Faulconer’s neighborhoods plan calls for putting more ambulances on the street as an inexpensive way to deal with response time disparities in southeastern San Diego neighborhoods. This pledge also doesn’t amount to more than what the city’s already planning to do. Faulconer supports a recent decision to re-bid the city’s ambulance contract, which could result in more private ambulances citywide. Awbrey, the Faulconer adviser, said Faulconer plans no more action to fulfill that promise than implement a new ambulance contract.

Fletcher’s Solution

Fletcher doesn’t have a specific plan to resolve response time woes. He said that he’ll deal with it as mayor as part of his broad solution to infrastructure problems, which he’ll present at the end of 2014.

Fletcher also was the softest of the candidates in his embrace of the city’s 2011 response time study. He said the study already is outdated and wants another look at the issue.

Still, Fletcher said the city needed more fire stations, the solution the study proposed. He was lukewarm on the two-person fire pilot program in Encanto. Fletcher said he preferred fire units have four people, which all fire engines and trucks have now.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.