Wednesday, October 24, 2007

San Diego Deserves Major Share of Blame for Fires

Just four years ago, in 2003, San Diego County faced devastating fires that burned neighborhoods and prompted calls for reform. (The photo at right is from 2003, not the current round of fires.)

So what did San Diego do?

NOTHING. San Diego has the smallest per capita fire department for any city of its size in the country. Nevertheless, San Diego residents voted TWICE in the past four years AGAINST a tax increase that would've been devoted entirely to expansion of the fire department.

Meanwhile, San Diego continues to issue building permits for houses and other structures in areas of high fire risk. Like the dimwitted Californians frequently seen on Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" segment (where Jay asks people on the street simple questions about which they have nary a clue), San Diegans seem to have been lobotomized when it comes to fire danger.

Take this quote, in today's WaPo, from a fellow who watched two of his neighbors' homes burn up: "You don't anticipate having winds blowing 90 miles an hour, blowing fire in front of you. You don't anticipate a drought."

That's like someone in New Orleans, or the Mississippi gulf coast, saying, "you don't anticipate a major hurricane; you don't anticipate torrential rains, howling winds and storm surges." Or a Republican legislator from Virginia, missing a meeting because of traffic, saying, "you don't anticipate a massive traffic jam on roads that haven't been improved in 20 years."

Gee, wildfires only happen EVERY YEAR in California, so who would've thunk it? (Guess that fellow was out of town in 2003.)

We saw a couple on CNN earlier today, lamenting that their home was burned down and they don't have any insurance. Duh!

So who will be asked to bailout these Jaywalkers? You and us, of course. The federal taxpayer.

We say: forget it. Let San Diego foot the tab. Maybe next time they'll decide to fund--with their tax dollars, not yours--a proper fire department, and plan for all those "unanticipated" events.
UPDATE: We changed our headline and a bit of tone in response to our commenters.


Anonymous said...


I'm a native San Diegan. While I am certainly no fan of the fiscal policies of the city or its neo-Christian navy bias, but "let it burn" is really out of line. Plenty of people with insurance and who voted for tax increases lost their homes too. My sister's neighborhood was one of the most directly hit. (Page 8 of the WaPo.) Her house survived, but the neighborhood lost 100+ houses. We have many friends who lost everything.

I doubt you would have said the same things about Katrina. To be clear, would you advocate that we just leave New Orleans under water?After all, the people of New Orleans who lived under sea level for 150 years. They should have known, right? West Coast "Jaywalkers" get what they deserve, but New Orleans needs to be rebuilt, is that what you're suggesting? By your logic, Californians should not have to pay taxes dedicated to improving air security or related to the recovery after 9/11. After all, the terrorists tried to destroy the WTC's once, so I guess the people who kept working in the towers had it coming, right? The idea the country should hold back federal resources is offensive, whether for California or Katrina or New York.

I think you have East Coast bias here, and the assumption that all Californians are idiots. When I read comments like yours, I sometimes wish the short-lived California independence movement had succeeded. Our economy alone is as strong as France. The rest of the country needs California much more than it needs the rest of the U.S.

X Curmudgeon said...

Of course, we at the Curmudgeon like to be provacative.

A couple observations. First, we don't advocate spending a penny on New Orleans rebuilding unless there is going to be reliable protection against a major hurricane--which there is not, at present. We're also opposed to subsidizing federal flood insurance programs for people to build houses where they clearly shouldn't be. And, we've had some pretty critical things to say about the citizens of New Orleans, who should have been better prepared for the inevitable Katrina disaster.

That said, we're sympathetic to folks who lose their homes, no matter why. And we're not against spending federal dollars for fighting wildfires, PROVIDED the affected citizens have taken basic steps themselves, one of which is to provide the appropriate infrastructure in their communities for fighting fires. We didn't pick on the folks in Santa Clarita and Riverside, because they didn't explicity vote down initiatives to boost their firefighting capabilities.

San Diegans send us fellows like Rep. Brian Bilbray, a notorious right wing, low tax conservative, who loads San Diego up with military bases, but complains about taxes, and then complains that the feds aren't doing enough to help out with fires. Has he voted to give the National Forest Service the resources it needs? (No.)

Governments provide services; if people vote against those services, despite an obviously demonstrated need, they shouldn't complain when those services aren't around when they need them.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr. Curmudgeon,

We just about always enjoy your "provacative" (sic) posts, but this one surely is off-the-mark and deliberately mean.

In the past you've expressed compassion for those who undergo extraordinary tests, like victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, or even those who fell for banks' sub-prime mortgage trolling. Heck, you've even felt concern for your NoVa neighbors and the trials they face regarding street traffic and paying high energy bills. And that doesn't include all the patriotic ink about what you 'went through' on 9/11. Lots of people in New York City would argue that you personally had it pretty easy.

And now it's "Let San Diego Burn". I agree with the previous anonymous poster (no relation!) You have a pro-East coast, anti-California bias. Otherwise there would be no defense of advocating that people lose their homes (and lives - the death toll is now at least 3) because of how they voted. What of the citizens who voted for the 'other guy'?

Since you fancy yourself a golfer, Mr. Curmudgeon, you should definitely take a 'Mulligan' on this one. "Let San Diego Burn". What did San Diego ever do to you? Were the golf courses there too tough for you?!

X Curmudgeon said...

Perhaps we were a little harsh on San Diego. Here in Washington we're just as unprepared for a major terrorist attack as we were in 2001, and it's bound to happen again.

But, we do think that federal aid to San Diego should be tied to a plan to locally fund appropriate fire department expansion, along with a moratorium on further building in fire prone areas until the fire department catches up.

Anonymous said...

Morotorium on building as a pre-condition to federal aid? Those anti-growth measures just sail through city councils without any opposition. (No fair commenting on the felonious record of the San Diego city council specfically.)

Maybe federal highway funds for Northern Virginia should be tied to zoning changes in Arlington, Fairfax and Loudon. Arlington's zoning code is pretty permissive. I'm sure no one will object if we just revamp that and we can tidy that up by the end of the week.

Ultimately, the scope of any tragedy can be curtailed, and the means for doing so are very clear after the fact. Do I think San Diego could have done more to be prepared. Of course; ditto for the World Trade Center, New Orleans, and 100 other examples. But that's the price we pay for living in a federation. Sometimes, we all pay for other people's bad choices. If you start holding back help based on arbitrary standards, its a pretty fast trip until no one wants to help anyone else, and the society dissolves.