Lessons not learned

Expect a bunch of stories over the next few days about how San Diego was not prepared for this week's firestorms - despite the area having gone through the Cedar Fire disaster in 2003. Steve Erie, the prominent UC San Diego political science professor, tells the WSJ that "the only lessons applied were those that don't cost any money. ...In terms of new fire prevention or fighting capabilities, we have barely made any progress." One central problem, Erie says, is that unlike L.A. County, San Diego doesn't have a countywide fire department. That leaves what he calls a “hodgepodge” of operations. Of course, the city isn't in great shape either. Here's more from a just-posted Journal story:

The city of San Diego has been mired in a financial crisis stemming from a pension-fund deficit. In recent years, voters twice rejected proposals to increase hotel taxes as a way to boost funding for local fire and police departments -- in part because of public concerns about how the city council would manage the extra funds. In 2006, the city's fire chief, Jeff Bowman, resigned in frustration over the city's inability to fund $100 million in new fire stations and equipment he deemed necessary. Maurice Luque, a spokesman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, said the city, which covers an area of more than 300 square miles, needs to add 22 fire stations to the current 46, and more firefighters, in order to meet its standard of responding to incidents within five minutes. The city now has fewer than 1,300 firefighters, about the same number as five years ago -- and they haven't received pay raises in three years.
The one thing that seems to be working is Reverse 911, an automated communication system that has been used to urge residents to evacuate. Meanwhile, the Insurance Information Network of California says damage from the Socal fires will reach at least $500 million, which seems to be way on the low side. (It wouldn’t be surprising if this one turns out to be more destructive than the Oakland Hills fire, when $1.7 billion in insurance claims were paid.) Farmers Insurance Group has received more than 1,000 claims as of this afternoon. Risk Management Solutions, a consulting group, puts the number of claims industrywide at 1,760. But it's still very early. (Insurance Journal)

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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