Emergency Response – Truth is Being Told

Infrastructure is more than just roads and bridges, parks and potholes. It’s more than public works. It’s also emergency response. Yes, fire trucks and ambulances along with emergency medical teams that go screaming through neighborhoods to get to suffering individuals and burning homes in time to save lives and property.

As our population has dwindled in the past two decades, one would think that these emergency resources would be functioning under less stress with a better track record for response time. It would also make sense that the equipment that these heroic fire fighters and EMT’s are using would be cared for really well. All operations should be humming along.

Not so, for Los Angeles. The city council, instead of making a parade or hosting a party in celebration of the announcement of low response times, they instead decided to pull funding from our emergency response programs. True that the city council was given bad information. Their reaction to that information was irresponsible at best and criminal at worst.

But all this news, including the article below, highlights the current situation in Los Angeles. Now put that up against the proposed Hollywood Community Plan due to be rubber stamped on March 27 at the PLUM committee (if no one shows up to protest). In their own Statement of Overriding Considerations, they admit that emergency services will be overwhelmed. More so than they are today? Worse than now? This plan needs to go back to the drawing board. There should be no talk of attracting density to an area that is already receiving such poor service. With the current crumbling infrastructure (including emergency response systems) and empty coffers, how dare there be any plans put forward to upzone and add density to our community or Los Angeles in general?

Here’s the latest article from Steve Lopez (L.A. Times writer) on our Emergency Response situation:


Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, and Fire Chief Brian Cummings discuss response times and deployment at a March 13 news conference. (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles Times / March 13, 2012)

Weary L.A. firefighters speak up

Steve Lopez, L.A. Times

Longer runs to emergencies, a dysfunctional dispatch system and aging equipment are among dangerous problems:

Last week, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the city’s fire chief said there’s no cause for worry about slower response times after severe cutbacks at LAFD.

So why am I still worried?

Partly, it’s because there still hasn’t been a good explanation for the mumbo jumbo we’ve been fed about the different formulas used to determine response times. My colleagues Kate Linthicum, Robert Lopez and Dave Zahniser have reported that the Fire Department gave misleading information to city officials, reporting that response time was within five minutes 80% of the time when the real number was closer to 60%.

Nobody was lying, we’re told. But the Fire Department has now switched to a more accurate formula for tracking response times.

How hard can this be?

Your house is on fire, you call the Fire Department, and they show up in either four minutes, five, six, 10, whatever.

Does it have to be more complicated than that?

It was on the basis of the rosier information that the mayor and council agreed to big cuts. Now Fire Chief Brian Cummings admits the department should have made clear that it had switched to a different formula, and both he and Villaraigosa tell us both formulas were accurate.


They also said public safety hasn’t been compromised by the mothballing of equipment as part of a plan to save $200 million over three years.

How could it not be compromised?

I’ve been talking to firefighters, and they tell me they’re being run ragged to cover station closures; they say the dispatch system is on the fritz; and they say routine equipment repairs can now take months because of a shrunken maintenance crew.

“This department is being held together with bubble gum, baling wire and duct tape,” says Pat McOsker, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City.

“Forty percent of the time we are not getting there in time to prevent brain death,” said McOsker, referring to the length of time it generally takes for someone who’s not breathing to suffer lasting injury.

You’d expect that argument from a union boss, but McOsker’s not the only critic here.

Austin Beutner, a former Villaraigosa deputy who’s now running for mayor, has stirred things up by digging into response times and other dirty little secrets. He said some parts of the city aren’t getting close to a five-minute response 60% of the time, and even if they were, why would that be acceptable?

“We should be talking about why we’re not at 90%,” said Beutner, who pointed out that San Francisco is pretty close to that number.

“I heard the City Council stand up and brag when they made this last round of cuts about how this was going to make us safer,” said Beutner, who ripped his former City Hall mates — some of whom he’s now running against in the mayor’s race — for not being more inclined toward critical analysis. “The buck stops … with those who were elected to oversee all of this, and what have this council and mayor been doing the last three or four years?”

Mid-City resident Mike Eveloff has been doing his own spade work, demanding Fire Department records and crunching numbers. When you remove equipment from service and shutter or partially shutter fire stations, you’re playing a game of Russian roulette, said Eveloff.

“You see them on longer and longer runs because they don’t have as many firefighters. As an example, my station, 92, they were sent 14 miles away to the eastern part of Hollywood with red lights and siren. It’s happening all the time,” said Eveloff.

“If you look into the eyes of these guys, they are beat to death.”

And so, they tell me, is the equipment.

Tony Mastrolia, senior heavy duty mechanic, said a hiring freeze, early retirement and defections to the Department of Water and Power — which inexplicably pays mechanics far more, thanks to the agency’s union clout with elected officials — have slashed his staff by about 30%. Also, a heavy equipment repair unit in the Valley was shut down, so those trucks now have to schlep all the way downtown.

So it takes longer for trucks to get serviced, said Mastrolia. And when they’re down, it means the much older reserve fleet is rolled out, “and now those are breaking down.”

E. Max Hengst, a 28-year veteran and now a captain at Station 76 in the Cahuenga Pass area, said the troops are still professionals with a lot of pride, but “morale in this department is as low as it’s ever been.” His crew has answered calls as far away as Woodland Hills, he said, and the busy pace and long runs take their toll. Hengst wrote a book, “LAFD FF/PM, Memoirs of an Outside Dog,” in which he makes a sad observation:

“When I first came on, retirement was a sad day for the retiree. Now it seems like the retiree can’t leave soon enough.”

I decided to call a recently retired captain I met under difficult circumstances. It was way back on March 5, 2004, when a cyclist took a nasty fall near the L.A. Zoo.

“You were conscious,” said Ed Banda, the now-retired captain from Station 76, whose crew rushed to my aid in about five minutes as he recalls. “But you were making repetitive statements indicating some sort of head trauma.”

They put me on a board, collared my neck, immobilized my head, and I was whipped over to County-USC Medical Center, where I suffered two seizures in ER but lived to write about it.

Banda said 76 often rolled far from home in later years, thanks to the cutbacks, so 2004 was a good year to fall off a bike.

As for me, I’ve had a full recovery, except for a throbbing pain in my head every time the mayor says don’t worry.


What’s Wrong with the Hollywood Plan?

In a Nutshell

Community plans must be based on facts, but the Hollywood Community Plan [HCP] is based on myths.

The Plan misrepresents that Hollywood is growing so fast that by 2030, we will have 250,000 residents. (249,092 rounded off to 250,000 source HCP DEIR p 4.2-5, 4.2-7)

The Plan says that we had 224,426 residents in 2005 (source HCP DEIR p 5-2) In reality in 2005, we were down to approximately 204,000 (source US 2010 Census). Rather than our population increasing to 237,000 people in 2010, our population had dropped to 198,228. (source US 2010 Census) A factual population projection for 2030 based is around 190,000 residents. (Source US 2000 and 2010 Census population and trend) That’s a 60,000 person discrepancy between US Census facts and The Plan’s myths.

In order to reach 250,000 residents by 2030, the downward trend of 6% over the prior decade would have to reverse itself and increase by 25.4%. No fact suggests our population will increase. We are in a 20 year decline from 213,883 in 1990, to 210,794 in 2000, to 204,000 in 2005, to 1998,228 in 2010. (Source US 2010 Census and HCP FEIR chart p 3.3)

What’s the Harm?

The entire Hollywood Community Plan is based on the myth of an increasing population– garbage in, garbage out. Thus, the Plan’s new commercial zoning standards bear no relation to reality, allowing developers to build anything they want without obtaining approvals. The Plan must be re-written and re-circulated so that we can plan based on facts and not on myths.

People are working very hard to have the City do the right thing and re-write the Plan based on actual population trend and population data. On Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 2:30 p.m. the City PLUM Committee is set to adopt myths as if they were true. People need to tell their councilmembers:

Community Plans must be based on facts; not on falsehoods

L.A.F.D. Admits Exaggerating Response Times

Los Angeles Fire Department officials on Friday admitted to The Times that for years the agency put out data that made it appear that firefighters were arriving at the scene of emergencies faster than they actually were.

L.A. Times 3-10-2012

The statistics snafu comes as the department is facing increased scrutiny over how budget reductions have affected service.

The dust-up began Thursday, when candidate Austin Beutner complained in a Huffington Post column that recent Fire Department budget cuts have sent response times for medical emergencies soaring. Beutner laid the blame on the City Council members who approved the cuts, singling out mayoral rivals Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry. He also criticized another opponent, City Controller Wendy Greuel, for failing to scrutinize the effect of the cuts.

Relying on Fire Department reports presented to lawmakers, Beutner said that in 2008 the department responded to medical emergencies within five minutes 86% of the time. After the cuts, the department last year met that standard just 59% of the time, he said.

Following Beutner’s critique — and a Times inquiry — the department made an awkward admission: Data showing it did so well in the past were simply wrong.

Federal guidelines call for first responders to arrive on scene in under five minutes 90% of the time. But a former department statistician counted all responses within six minutes, officials explained, which improved the record. Retired Capt. Billy Wells, who crunched the data with a hand calculator, said he followed the department’s long tradition of using a six-minute response standard.

Wells’ successor, Capt. Mark Woolf, said he reluctantly continued using the flawed formula for a time because he didn’t want to be blamed for a sudden drop in department performance. “I didn’t want to touch that [extra] minute because I knew the data would take a dump,” he said.

Corrected data generated by a new computer system shows that in 2008, the department actually hit the five-minute goal only 64% of the time, officials said. By last year, that number had fallen to about 60%.

Fire Chief Brian Cummings said his department’s performance is pretty good, given the 16% reduction to its budget in recent years, which has led to the elimination of firetrucks or ambulances at about one-fourth of the city’s 106 fire stations.

Unsafe Skyscrapers for Hollywood

Did you know that the Hollywood Community Plan proposes amendments to the Fire/Building Code (public safety) to allow High-Rise Buildings with NO Emergency Helicopter Landing Facilities?

“If this provision in the Hollywood Community Plan survives,” Los Angeles Planning Commissioner Michael K. Woo said in an email last Friday, “then that will be very significant.”

“The City Planning Commission action on the Hollywood Community Plan included an amendment which would encourage a more spectacular skyline in Hollywood,” Woo said, “by allowing mid-rise and high-rise building to have more visually striking, three-dimensional building tops such as the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building in New York, the Transamerica pyramid in San Francisco, or City Hall” – constructed in 1928, nearly a half-century prior to the 1974 Code update – in Los Angeles.”

There’s only one problem: If you are trapped on an upper floor in a life-threatening fire you will have no escape!

For the full article, go to:

Laws That Shaped L.A.: Why is the Los Angeles Skyline So Bland?


LAFD Deployment Plan Under Fire

Response time ideally in Los Angeles is 5 minutes. That first 5 minutes are critical to save a life, prevent the roof from collapsing and to halt a brush fire. Yet the City of Los Angeles has cut back on fire fighting resources and manpower causing many fire stations to close and fire trucks to go off line. Watch the video below to see how far Los Angeles is slipping from its stated response goal.

This is the first of a three part segment on NBC Los Angeles, Robert Kovacik Reports


The Dilemma

By James O’Sullivan

The update to the Hollywood community plan is posing a real dilemma for neighborhood councils. Long used to dealing with liquor licenses and individual projects in their areas, this update deals with the entire community plan area and many Neighborhood Councils are stuck within their self-imposed boundaries while others are not. The issue will be whether to approach the plan update from their individual boundaries or examine the plan holistically to determine the impact up zoning will have on the entire area. An extra added challenge is that what happens in Hollywood doesn’t stay in the Hollywood! The impacts of this plan for better or for worse will not be contained within the Hollywood boundary.

If these neighborhood councils follow the charter, there will be no dilemma. The charter is very clear in that it gives to neighborhood councils the responsibility to monitor city services. However there is already friction between neighborhood councils primarily in the hills and those in the flats. This is unfortunate because city infrastructure is not separated that way. When a water pipe breaks on Hollywood Boulevard, there is a good likelihood that it will affect service in upper Beachwood Canyon as well as Melrose Avenue. If you need an ambulance up on Outpost and the roads down below are clogged with commuters or partygoers, the fact that your streets are passable may be of little consequence if the ambulance is delayed.


High winds up in the hills or fires that race up the canyons threatened power services of those living far below. So individual neighborhood councils may on paper experience very little change in this new Hollywood community plan update but they still have to look at basic services and how this new update will affect police, fire, water, power, sewers, streets, libraries, parks, and all of the components of the city’s infrastructure system. I would argue that the Hollywood neighborhood councils have an obligation not only to their residents and businesses but also to the plan areas beyond their boundaries. Already some of Hollywood’s infrastructure services are not self-sufficient and the city cannibalizes resources from other community plan areas to service Hollywood. A recent Case in point is the rescue ambulance removed from Rancho Park and placed in Hollywood for 3 days during Halloween 2011. This effectively left sections of Century City in the West Los Angeles community plan area without a rescue ambulance. Hollywood’s neighborhood councils must monitor city services.

This is the heart of the debate over the Hollywood community plan update. It is not about tall buildings, transit oriented districts, the CRA, or any number of other issues being debated today. They are important issues but the core issue is our infrastructure. Do we have enough? Do we need more? Are serious environmental impacts adequately addressed in this new plan update or is the city taking the field of dreams approach? Build it and they will come! Or not.

Sadly this is the Field of dreams with no good ending. If you read the Statement of Overriding Considerations (SOC) in the Final Environmental Impact Report, you will see that this plan acknowledges that it will cause an increase in Green House Gasses in Hollywood but blames that on commuters traveling through Hollywood and not all the new development this plan endorses. The SOC acknowledges that there could be issues with police, fire and other services and promises to do nexus studies and hire more police and fire should there become a need. Does anyone seriously believe the City has the money to do that? Or to build new facilities if needed? Listing mitigations for serious environmental impacts without funding is a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. The City knows this but typically they take the position that they can do whatever they want and if you don’t like it, sue them! We don’t want to do that. What we want is a government that is responsive to the people and not special interest.

So this is the crux of the of the dilemma Hollywood’s Neighborhood Councils will face. The Charter created them and charged them with bringing government closer to the people and monitoring City services. Will they do that or take the approach – we got ours, you need to get yours?  I honestly don’t know. Each Neighborhood Council will have to choose between approving this plan with all its Environmental deficiencies or tell the City to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that protects the lives and safety of those that live, work and play in Hollywood.

Posted at FixLosAngeles.com