A parcel tax measure called “Measure FD” was on the ballot for Los Angeles County Fire District voters in Los Angeles County, California, on March 3, 2020. It was defeated in a vote of 52 percent “yes,” and 48 percent “no.” While the measure was backed by a slight majority of voters, it required a two-thirds vote for approval. The measure would have provided additional funding to fire departments in the county by establishing a 6-cents-per-square-foot parcel tax.
According to NBC Los Angeles, Fire Chief Daryl Osby told the Board of Supervisors that it was the first time the department had asked for additional dollars in more than 23 years.
On the frontlines with old, outdated equipment
The LA County Fire Department, as well as countless others across the United States, are in desperate need of equipment maintenance, replacement, and an increase in staff. In 2018, an assessment done by the country’s chief executive officer found that the department and all its stations needed $1.4 billion in order to upgrade and replace fire engines and rescue vehicles. Some of the county’s equipment is more than 20 years old, and in desperate need of modernization. Coinciding with the lack of proper equipment and staffing is the largest need for firefighters than the county has experienced in years.
50% increase in 911 emergency medical calls over 10 years
The department is increasingly called on to fight devastating wildfires, exemplified by the Woolsey Fire that devastated Malibu in 2018. Now, the firefighters are responding to an influx of 911 and paramedic calls due to COVID-19.
Before learning of the failed ballot measure, Ospy told NBC Los Angeles that “We are facing bigger, faster and more intense wildfires than ever before. At the same time, my department has seen an over 50% increase in 911 emergency medical calls over the last decade alone. Measure FD will give us the resources we need to hire more firefighters and paramedics and provide them with the equipment they need to meet these challenges and protect our communities.”
Why Measure FD failed
The ballot measure ultimately failed due to fears that raising taxes would damage the progress the county is making to solve the homeless crisis in LA.
The California Taxpayers Association opposed the measure, arguing that the cost to rent, buy, and maintain properties would significantly increase. “Adding to the financial strain of people living here, especially those already teetering on the edge of homelessness, would be irresponsible,” Robert Gutierrez, president of the association, wrote in an editorial published by the Daily News. “The measure lacks taxpayer safeguards, raises fairness concerns and would make Los Angeles even less affordable.” However, the measure would have increased by less than 2% of the California Consumer Price Index, and it would have generated $134 million annually for the department.
No budget increases for LAFD
While this ballot was struck down, countless other budget increases have been approved by the state. As the fifth-largest economy in the world, California has increasingly big demands, from a wide variety of public needs to roads and highways to parks and prisons. But by and large, the state’s two biggest services are education and health care.
In 2019, LA revealed its $32.5 billion budget. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the department had been fighting devastating and demanding fires across California, but received no increase in funding. Meanwhile, the budget designated $424 million for homelessness, an additional $27 million for the county’s fledgling jail re-entry program, an additional $35 million to develop and preserve affordable housing across the county, and an additional $2 million for 12 positions added to the Department of Consumer and Business. While all these measures undoubtedly deserve attention and funding, a functioning and efficient fire department is something that everyone in the community needs and relies on. The lack of funding for the department leads to broken equipment, longer emergency response times, and even cancer in firefighters.
Fears in raising taxes are normal, and happen frequently amongst tax payers and policy makers alike. But when looking at the programs and initiatives that deserve funding with a critical eye, fire departments should be first on the list. We all hope we never have an emergency that requires a 911 call, and when we do, they are few and far between. But the reliance we have on our emergency responders often goes under appreciated. Many feel justified in denying an increase in budget for a fire department until faced with a dangerous situation, and it’s you who needs a hero.
Help is needed
Our firefighters and EMS workers don’t ask for much – just the funding to do their jobs, so they can continue protecting and serving us. How can you help? Reach out to your local policy makers and advocate for firefighter and EMS worker protection and funding, which is needed now more than even during the COVID-19 crisis.