Public Comment

Commentary: City Council Puts Public Safety on Back Burner

By Marie Bowman
Friday July 07, 2006

Last year while making the rounds at various budget-related events, Mayor Bates made a point of asking the community to help prioritize how City of Berkeley funds should be spent. Needless to say, the activities presented to choose among were skewed towards validating the “usual suspects” favored by the mayor, which one supposes was the reason for the survey to begin with. All the same, residents managed to sift down to the lower reaches of the mayor’s list to find public safety (police and fire services), which they identified as their overall top priority. Despite making their priorities clear, the community has been largely ignored by the City Council.  

This year the city’s actual revenues were more than $7 million above projections. With that amount of unexpected revenues, there is simply no excuse for undercutting public safety. Yet infuriatingly, the City Council continues to put the public at risk by leaving fire stations unmanned 286 days out of 330 under so-called “Flexible Deployment.” Why are we back at square one insisting that the City Council fund public safety first?  

Here are some pertinent aspects of the problem: 

• Fire season was officially declared as of Monday, June 12.  

• The heavy, late rains this year have yielded abnormally abundant fuels in City Council Districts 5, 6, 7 and 8.  

• Every precaution must be taken to avoid the devastation of another firestorm.  

• Engine companies were closed for 286 (24-hour periods) out of 330 days.  

• In council Districts 1, 5, 6, 7 and 8, whenever an engine company is closed under Flexible Deployment, its fire station is unmanned and closed for that 24 hour period.  

• Four of Berkeley’s seven fire stations (3, 4, 6 and 7) are left unmanned when that station’s engine company is closed under the Flexible Deployment program. 

• Property insurance rates are likely to increase as insurers learn that the city continues to take resources from the Fire Department.  

Already this fire season, the cities of Livermore, Napa and Antioch have had wildfires. Tragically, a residential fire in Richmond claimed the lives of three children due to a delay in the arrival of emergency personnel because of inadequate staffing (see San Francisco Chronicle, June 12).  

No city ever wants to experience disasters. Having a prepared Fire Department with adequate resources is the best way to reduce loss of life and property. Fires and other life threatening emergencies will continue to occur in our city, regardless of budget concerns or staffing levels.  

The City Council needs to stop playing Russian roulette with our safety and reject the false security of the Flexible Deployment program. It shouldn’t take a disaster to make the council realize that public safety benefits everyone. 


Marie Bowman is a member of Berkeleyans Against Soaring Taxes (BASTA).