Monterey Park to Study Switch to County Fire Service

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

A proposal to drop the subject of transferring Monterey Park’s fire services to Los Angeles County was defeated May 2, with the council voting 3-2 to move ahead with a plan to form an ad hoc committee to study the possible transfer.

Mayor David Lau and Councilman Anthony Wong supported ending the process, and were in the minority in voting against the formation of the committee.

The council appointed Peter Chan, Christine Chandler, Paul Isozaki, Mary Betty Morin and Joseph Rubin to the committee, which will be tasked with looking through several studies on the impact closing down the city’s fire department and contracting those serves out to the county could have on the city, and making a recommendation to the city council.

“This is not an automatic train to an election,” said City Manager Paul Talbot. Several years ago, Monterey Park residents approved a measure to require any changes to fire service be put on the ballot. Talbot said the decision to put a county transfer measure on the ballot would not be up to the ad hoc committee, but rather to the city council.

In 2010, the city entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Monterey Park Firefighters Association to conduct feasibility studies on transferring services, according to Talbot. Two studies have been done, and another study will be completed next month.

Several residents who spoke at the meeting supported ending the review process, saying that fire service quality would suffer if the city gives up local control and that the county’s response time would be much slower than their current service.

“I know people that have [county-run fire service], and the difference between life and death is just a matter of a couple of minutes,” said Rita Miller, an elderly Monterey Park resident who recommended the city cut back on firefighter overtime instead.

Wong, who proposed stopping the ad hoc committee appointments, said he “loves our firefighters” and does not think that transferring to the county will actually save the city money.

Councilwoman Theresa Real Sebastian who supported continuing with the ad hoc committee appointments pointed to the city’s budget situation saying, “we’re exploring different avenues,” to closing a projected budget gap.

A recent attempt to implement an overnight parking fee was defeated. “Okay fine, then how do we balance our budget?” Sebastian asked.

She also questioned why two city council members are now proposing to stop the ad hoc committee process when it was first proposed back in January.
By now, the city has already gone through the process of soliciting and accepting applications, she said.

Real recommended the public come prepared to the committee meetings. “I really ask the residents to compile your questions, to compile your concerns.

To the extent you have facts, bring them forward so that when we have the ad hoc committee meetings, we can have an informed discussion … to shed light on how the Monterey Park Department works … to see if there are deficiencies, to see where it fails…” she said.

Initial plans were to have the ad hoc committee make recommendations to the city council by the end of June, but because the issue has been delayed for several months, they will likely have the recommendations in August or September, according to Talbot.

Several other cities that have traditionally funded their own fire services may also be looking into transferring some services to the county. Montebello considered a proposal to begin studying a transfer at Wednesday’s city council meeting, and the business chamber in Vernon is recommending the city consider outsourcing public safety services to the county in order to keep utility rates and other costs down.

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May 10, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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