What’s in store for the private and public sectors when the 29 Palms Fire Department is gutted?
L to R: The Adobe station in 29 Palms and the Lear station which serves the city and Desert Heights TPWD ratepayers
Twentynine Palms, CA – At issue, a draconian-like reduction in fire services, emergency services and public safety. The City Council is throwing the dice at public safety while it continues to stay the course with its appearance of willful disregard for public and private sector safety.
If the 29 Palms City Council have their way — and they will because they are the decision-makers — public safety may be thwarted when firefighting personnel is slashed to one half if its present size, the Lear Station nearly gutted and the Lear fire engine is removed from city service.
The 29 Palms Fire Department who has protected the city for 50 years will be shown the exit door from the Morongo Basin. Local fire officials say that this will have an impact on the entire Morongo Basin.
In June 2012, the 29 Palms Water Department voted to divest itself of management of the fire department. San Bernardino Fire services should be in place and take over fire services for 29 Palms and TPWD ratepayer during the first half of 2013. However, based on property tax revenues, there is not enough funding for County Fire to carry the burden of fire services at its present level.
The most important thing a city council can do is providing for the public safety of its residents and businesses.
City hall is rolling the dice by pretending that terminating half of the firefighters in the city — and taking one of two fire engine out of service — is not a gamble with lives and property . The City hasn’t committed itself to at least helping fund County Fire for the first year during this crucial transition.
Unlike the City of San Bernardino – presently facing bankruptcy and extreme cuts to its fire services — 29 is an economically viable and thriving community with holding of millions of dollars in reserves. And it’s possible it will have some of Project Phoenix funding left over for a downsized project.
Cora Heiser, local high school educator and candidate for 29 Palms City Council, said in a telephone interview, “I think we should fund the fire department at their present level of services. I do and always will support public safety.”
Twentynine City Council at odds with Water District Officials and Local Firefighters
The county graciously stepped forward to accept transfer of the duties and responsibilities of a soon defunct 29 Palms Fire Department in order to provide fire protection services to the city and its sphere of influence (the area covering TPWD rate payers) .
The model proposed by county fire for $1.07 million is not enough to staff both the Adobe Roadstation and the Lear station at its current level. Fire Chief Jim Thompson explained in August of this year:” We have six career company officers; three will transfer to county fire and the other three the district will have to deal with terminating.”
I spoke with local fire fighters organization head, Lee Martin, who confirmed that the town will lose one half of its paid firefighters and one fire engine at the Lear station. He is greatly concerned that the terminated 29 Palms firefighters will not find other jobs in a tight firefighting market.
At the last City Council Meeting, Martin presented a plan to the city council to raise the Transient Occupancy Tax to the level of other cities in order to help the county maintain the present level of fire fighters. Per Martain’s request, elected officials will meet with the fire fighters organization to discuss the TOT tax proposal.
Similarly, former 29 Palms Planning Commissioner, Steve Whitten, expressed in Cactus Thorns: “I believe the current TOT for Hotels is 9%. The City could put an initiative on the b allot this November to increase the TOT to fall more in line with the normal 12-14% that other Cities charge.”
Twentynine Palms Water District Director Bo Bourikas has already forewarned that reduced staffing would lead to a “degradation in service.”
TPWD Vice President Sam Moore stated earlier that he has still not forgiven the city ofTwentynine Palms for its refusal to take over fire protection. He questioned if there was a way to bring it back to the table.
Moreover, TPWD Director Chancey Chambers agrees with VP Moore – “At every turn” the city has rejected any idea of funding the fire department.” He doubted that another plea would be unsuccessful.
Indeed, should the city council allow this gigantic departure from public safety, it’s time for new faces on the City Council. In fact, it’s already time. Two councilmen (Joel Klink & John Cole) are seeking reelection, challenged by one very popular high school teacher with a heart and soul, common sense and a can do spirit.
Part II continued
“Coming attractions: The public safety train-wreck in Twentynine Palms”
” Will investors invest in a town that turned the clock back by 50 years on public safety? “
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