Redondo Beach Fire Department Truck (Photo courtesy of RBFD)

The question of whether Redondo Beach should switch to Los Angeles County for its fire department services is back, following a 4-1 city council vote Tuesday night.

L.A. County Fire will now proceed to Phase Two of its study of Redondo Beach and its fire department/paramedics/harbor patrol.

The city will hire a third party consultant to evaluate the study.

At the request of the council, the county presented a three-page proposal in February, and then an update Tuesday.

“The numbers the county has given us looks to be $1 million annually in savings, however it’s not like for like,” said newly elected Councilmember Paige Kaluderovic, who cast the lone vote against continuing the study. “By that argument we could reduce our own services and save money.”

City Manager Mike Witzansky and staff aim to present options to the council to hire a consultant by May 2.

Three L.A. County Fire representatives were in attendance at Tuesday’s council meeting, along with RBFD firefighters’ union president Kenny Campos.

“Once and for all, we would like a decision of what badge we put on,” Campos said. “Put the facts on the table, take politics and emotion out of it, and decide. It’s imperative that we do that in a timely manner. We’re on this roller coaster ride.”

The fire union has not taken a position on the issue.

“To the extent possible, to be devoid of emotion,” Witzansky said in support of his recommendation to hire a third-party consultant. “This is a generational decision. At the conclusion of a third party contract, we’ll be in an optimal position to make a decision.”

The Redondo Beach Fire Department’s $24.5 million budget is the city’s second largest.

“Nobody wants to willy-nilly drop this fire department,” Councilman Zein Obagi, Jr. said.

“It’s our fiduciary duty to look at running the city as safely and responsibly as possible,” Councilman Todd Loewenstein added.

Councilman Nils Nehrenheim gave a presentation that focused on infrastructure needs of the city’s three fire stations. Jon O’ Brien, L.A. County acting chief deputy/emergency operations, answered questions from the council.

“County Fire is not here to sell anything, we’re just providing a proposal,” he said.

L.A. County Fire has 11 fee-for-service cities, including Hermosa Beach, which made the change from its one-station, city-run department in 2016.

Chief O’Brien explained that, in the event Redondo Beach wants to switch to the county for fire coverage, each RBFD member would be offered a job with the county. Redondo firefighters would then be moved to another district for one year, to learn County practices, and then would bid for spots in Redondo Beach, or elsewhere, by seniority.

Worker compensation claims at the time of a transfer to county would remain the responsibility of the city. Claims after the transfer would be the county responsibility. All 911 calls would still first go to the Redondo Beach Police Department.

A total of 17 e-comments were sent to the city for Tuesday’s meeting. Deputy City Clerk Vicki Kroneberger announced that two were in support of the study and/or a move to county fire, and 15 opposed.

The council vote Tuesday included the formation of a working group to advise the council.

Kaluderovic asked about possibly sending the matter to voters.

It is an option, Witzansky replied, while the focus at the moment, per city council direction, is on the gathering of information, and seeking a consultant.

Last year, former interim fire chief Keith Kauffman led an internal assessment of the Redondo Fire Department, which praised many elements, and called for many changes as well.

Campos said the union agreed with a majority of the report’s findings.

Interim Fire Chief Pat Butler, in answer to a question Tuesday night from newly-elected councilmember Scott Behrendt, said he disagreed with Kauffman’s opinion that the department over-responds to certain calls.

Obagi said Tuesday that he is “so impressed” with changes at the department since the assessment.

“We’ve done a lot, and there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Campos said.

Shortly after the Kauffman report was complete, Redondo’s fire department earned a Class 1 rating from the National Insurance Services Office. This put Redondo Beach among the nation’s top 400 fire departments.

The question of whether Redondo Beach fire coverage and infrastructure needs would be better served by contracting with the county first came up in 2018. Phase One of a study was completed, but Phase Two was voted down by the former city council.

The issue played a major role in the election of District Four councilman Obagi, in 2021, over incumbent John Gran. Obagi led a recall effort against Gran in large part over Gran’s lack of support for continuing the fire study.

“I’m hoping, while I’m not optimistic, that people will look at the facts,” said Councilman Todd Loewenstein Tuesday.

Source of this Article: Easy Reader News

Photo: Redondo Beach Fire Department