Mayor-elect Filner pushes to redirect SDG&E settlement money to public safety

SAN DIEGO - Eight days after Bob Filner gave his victory speech after becoming the mayor-elect of San Diego, he revealed one of the specific changes he intends to make.

When there is a fire emergency and to be effective in saving lives and property, first responders need to arrive in six minutes 90 percent of the time.

In San Diego, fire units do that less than 50 percent of the time, according to a commissioned study by Citygate Associates, a nationally known consultant on fire deployment.

Filner said he wants to change that by creating more fire stations.

During a news conference Thursday, a fire call came in to Rancho Bernardo Fire Station 33. The station's truck is the only one within a 25 square miles, according to Filner.

"They cross their fingers that while they're answering a call or incident that nothing worse occurs while they're there," the mayor-elect said.

Filner is proposing redirecting much of the $27 million in settlement money from San Diego Gas & Electric after the 2007 wildfires. Roughly $22 million of that settlement would go toward beefing up public safety, including:

-- $8 million for a new, state-of-the-art 911 dispatch system
-- $500,000 for a new cliff rescue vehicle
-- $9 million for a new Home Avenue fire station

"We learned from the wildfires that we needed more resources," said San Diego City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who is taking the lead on the idea she championed.

"If we'd had more resources, perhaps there would have been less damage, less loss of property and less threat to people," Emerald added.

Right now, the money is in a public liability fund in case of lawsuits against the city and to issue new bonds for public improvements.

Would it be a problem to take money from the liability fund?

"Of course you're always concerned about reserves and liability and all that, but we have not done this job," Filner said.

Filner also announced that the city's fire chief and police chief will remain in place.

Emerald said the $22 million would jumpstart 5-year action plans to expand both police and fire services.

She said she believes the council will approve redirecting the money early next year.

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