Council: Get creative on safety funds

We understand why three City Council members couldn’t go along with the proposal to raise the city’s sales tax by a half-cent this week.

There’s a strong likelihood voters would not have backed the plan, putting mud on the faces of those who put it on the ballot. On top of that, a tax-and-spend mentality often leads to bigger problems.

But for a city facing $3.4 billion in unfunded pension and health care benefits and a growing budget deficit that seems to be putting public safety at risk, we believe the council has some tough decisions to make.

While no La Jolla fire stations are directly impacted by the “brownouts” where some stations have engines off duty on a rotating basis, our stations are still at risk of being shorthanded because resources have been spread out. (While shifting rigs to Pacific Beach and University City may lessen the threat to La Jolla, it still exists.)

Witness what happened in Mira Mesa where a 2-year-old boy died when he choked on a gumball. Although there is a fire station one block from the family’s home, it took firefighters 9 1/2 minutes to respond to the call. Even the fire chief said the cuts might have played a role in the boy’s death.

Imagine your loved one is having a heart attack. You’ve called for help and the nearest La Jolla fire crew is backing up a station in Clairemont because they’re backing up another one. And it’s rush hour and the incoming squad has to come down La Jolla Parkway.

That’s where we stand now, and it could be just the beginning. Next, we could be laying off police officers. The city’s budget analyst says the deficit is growing. So doing nothing isn’t the answer.

What they need to do is look the union leaders in the eye and ask them to help find a solution to the pension and health care dilemma. Get some concessions from them and seek their help crafting and getting backing for a “public safety” tax or fee that would go specifically to keeping them on the job.

A generic sales tax that doesn’t have a defined reason for being won’t fly, so let’s get creative and come up with a plan to protect public safety before another life is lost.

Councilwoman Donna Frye’s idea, awaiting approval at press time, for a special meeting linking tax and fiscal reform may be a step in the right direction.