The first political firefight of the San Jose mayor’s race has adopted the adage “everything old is new again.” Two weeks ago, the county Board of Supervisors took a bold vote to withhold $700,000 from the city of San Jose due to its fire department’s slow—and in some cases absent—emergency response times. Contracted by the county to arrive first on the scene for high-priority “lights and sirens” emergencies within eight minutes, 90 percent of the time, SJFD has routinely showed up late and misreported its response times in the last four years.
The stink of ex-Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. has dissipated, and Santa Clara County is focused on a fresh start for 2014. “Scandal is no longer in the air,” Supervisor Ken Yeager said after Tuesday’s State of the County speech, delivered by recently sworn-in Board President Mike Wasserman. “We certainly spent most of last year changing and improving public outreach and creating much more transparency than there was before.” Wasserman’s address focused on the county’s role as a safety net for the most vulnerable, while also highlighting the little-known services it provides for residents.
For the last several months, a fight with multi-million dollar implications has quietly been waged over fire safety requirements in San Jose’s tallest buildings. The clash—featuring a tangled array of alliances between elected officials, developers, lobbyists, a monopolistic breathing device manufacturer, a union spurned and an ambivalent fire department—will come to a head Thursday afternoon, when the Public Safety, Finance & Strategic Support Committee meets to discuss the city’s tri-annual review of its fire and building codes.
San Jose Fire Chief William McDonald will step down from his position after he was selected to serve as the head of Las Vegas’ fire department. His appointment is expected to be approved by the Las Vegas City Council in July.
The San Jose Fire Department has a pretty good idea how long it takes firefighters to get to emergencies. Well, some emergencies. SJFD officials told San Jose Inside this week that thousands of emergency calls in recent years were mistakenly left out when calculating response times. In the 2011-12 fiscal year, there were 52,400 reported calls for emergency medical or fire services, according to current department statistics. But SJFD officials now acknowledge underreporting the numbers, and the total will be “significantly higher.”
Elected officials come and go, and with that so do certain priorities. It seems that with every budget cycle, certain departments have to prove their worth and their existence. But why should support seesaw when something is so important as the Social Contract? I recommend that the city should commit to a specific police budget each fiscal year. San Jose should allocate a fixed percentage of the budget to the police department that is higher than the 34.7% today of an $885.8 million general fund budget.
On Tuesday, the City Council will hear City Manager Debra Figone’s annual report of the finances of the city. Also, the city will conduct Planning Commission interviews.