Chula Vista City Council Adopts New Budget, Adds 12 Firefighters

Union President: "We have the worst staffed fire department in the state of California."

The Chula Vista Fire Department - which has consistently failed to meet the national response time goal for six years - will soon get new firefighters. 

On Tuesday evening, the Chula Vista City Council adopted a new budget which would add more firefighters to the department. 

Darrell Roberts, President of Chula Vista Firefighters Local 2180, has been fighting for more hands on deck for years.

"We have the worst staffed fire department in the state of California," he said.

The firefighter's union had been asking for 24 additional firefighters, but it was too much for the initial budget, brought to the council on May 23.

That budget proposal was sent back to the City Manager, and the council asked for more options to add firefighters.

Tuesday night, the council approved funds for 12 more firefighters, if the city does not receive a federal grant that would cover those positions. If they do receive the grant, the department will still only get 12.

That would make half the engines run with four firefighters instead of three, which has hindered response times in Chula Vista. For safety reasons, two firefighters must stay outside the scene of a fire while two battle the fire inside.

But many in the community feared other cuts were coming in order to make this happen.

"We hope the council finds money to not make layoffs," said one concerned resident.

Dozens also spoke out against cuts to the arts.

"We're not going to be cutting any positions," Councilmember Mike Diaz said. "I think that is what everyone wants to hear."

The City Manager was able to balance the budget, anticipating money coming in from city workers retiring.

But the whole city council agreed this year's balanced budget was a quick fix, and more revenue sources need to come into the city as soon as possible.

The new firefighters will not be on the streets until May 2018. It will take several months to hire and train them. 

The City Manager is also authorizing overtime at the city's busiest station, Engine 51, to make sure four firefighters are on each engine starting next month.

The firefighter's union had hoped there would be money in the budget to add a station on the east side of Chula Vista, an area that's rapidly growing.

But councilmembers said there simply isn't enough revenue coming into the city to make that happen.

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