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Fire Station funding ballot measure advances

Posted: 2:52 PM, Apr 11, 2016
Updated: 2016-04-11 21:52:26Z

SAN DIEGO - A proposed ballot measure to raise bond funds for fire station construction in San Diego was forwarded to the City Council Monday by the Rules Committee, though questions remain about details of the plan.

If passed by voters in the November general election, two bonds totaling $205 million would fund construction of nearly 20 fire stations designed to fill geographical gaps where response times are longer than the standard of 7 minutes, 30 seconds.

Because the bond would raise property taxes, two-thirds voter approval would be necessary for passage.

According to Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who has been meeting with community groups around San Diego in recent months to drum up support for the proposal, the average homeowner would pay $5 for every $100,000 in assessed value. That's around $25 a year, she said, calling it "a real value for greater public safety going forward here in San Diego."

A consultant found in 2010 that San Diego was in need of 19 new fire stations, of which 10 were considered critical.

The city has since opened a station in Mission Valley, started construction for another in Little Italy, and has obtained developer funding for three more -- in Black Mountain Ranch, the South Bay and University City.

The priorities and locations of the rest might not be available to San Diegans by the time they cast their votes, however. The Folsom-based consultant, Citygate, has been rehired by the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department for nearly $102,000 to provide an update, which isn't scheduled for completion until October.

SDFRD Chief Brian Fennessy said unsynchronized clocks led to erroneously reported response times in the 2010 Citygate study, and new data could result in a shift in the service gaps. Citygate also has access to better technology, including maps on how traffic congestion affects response times, he said.

"I expect there will be differences in the outcome," Fennessy said. The changes likely won't be huge, but could revise planned locations, priorities or even the number of stations needed, he said.

Since the new data would be received so close to the election, city officials wouldn't be able to provide the information to voters on the ballot.

Emerald asked that the committee pass along her planned measure so the full City Council can direct the City Attorney's Office to draft ballot language. The action passed 3-2, with Councilmen Chris Cate and Mark Kersey dissenting.

According to Emerald, the city is building a fire station every five years. At that rate, it would take nearly a century to complete the number currently needed. Funding from her bond measure would allow the stations to be built in a decade.

According to city officials, the average cost of a new fire station is $10 million -- $2 million for land acquisition and planning, and $8 million for construction. The price tag varies depending on whether the city already owns the land, property values in a given neighborhood and topography.