As fire season intensifies, political sparks are flying in the Court of Law and Court of Public Opinion.
The fact that eight of San Diego's 47 engine companies are "browned out" every day is helping drive a sales tax measure that's headed for the November ballot.( Wed Aug 25 21:00:51 PDT 2010 $__output )
While the wheels of the legal process turn on that measure, Prop. D, City Council members are scrambling for money to restore engines to service.
The majority are partnering with Mayor Jerry Sanders in backing Prop. D, to help restore public safety cuts and close a $72 millon dollar budget gap projected for the fiscal year beginning next July.
"I don't think there's any more pressing issue right now than funding for public safety," says 7th District City Councilmember Marti Emerald.
"We absolutely have to find a way to get that money back in. We trusted that the fire chief had a plan. He had all the best intentions of making it work. But we're seeing the response times eroding every day."
To get at least some of those browned-out engines back on the streets, the Council's Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee -- which Emerald chairs -- wants the Mayor to tap the city's appropriated reserves.
That fund totaled about $4 million as of July 1, but various needs have drawn it down.
"Let's get that money out there, let's restore as many engines as we can," Emerald says. "It might be two, it might be three. We've got to see how much money is left, and then see where we can find some money going forward."
Councilman Kevin Faulconer wants the Mayor to run numbers and look to using overtime to bring partial engine crews to full strength.
"Right now as it stands, every day there are partial crews throughout the city -- two and three-man crews," explains Faulconer's spokesman, Tony Manolatos. "There needs to be four to have a fully staffed engine. So Kevin is saying, 'How often is this happening? What would it take to get these crews fully staffed?'."
But rank-and-file fire fighters call those Band-Aid solutions.
They're backing Prop. D, which would generate upwards of $100 million a year, as the most comprehensive approach to city budget issues.
"The chief doesn't want to have these brownouts," says Frank De Clercq, president of San Diego City Fire Fighters Local 145. "But he's got a boss; they're telling him what they need.
"He's had to shut these engines down for now. We want them totally -- we want all of them -- put back in service. And then some."
Meantime, a Superior Court judge Wednesday declined to issue a temporary restraining order sought by opponents of the sales tax measure.
Their lawsuit claims Prop. D is misleading and improper under the state Constitution, and thus is not qualified to go on the Nov. 2 ballot.
The judge, David Oberholtzer, said he will decide the case on Friday.