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Fire Bond Backers Fear Ballot Spot Hurts Issue

Times Staff Writer

Backers of a multimillion-dollar bond measure to upgrade the Los Angeles Fire Department’s radio and dispatching system are hoping that the bulky ballot in the Nov. 8 general election won’t discourage city voters before they get to Proposition N.

To reach it, Los Angeles voters will have to slog through 32 other proposals, including 29 state issues, a county item and two other city measures--after, that is, they have considered all the candidates on the ballot. Only then will they come to Proposition N, a revenue-raising proposal requiring a two-thirds margin for approval.

“Getting voters to go all the way down may be a heck of a task,” said Craig Steele of Cerrell Associates, a consulting firm hired by Citizens for a Safer Los Angeles, chaired by Joseph Pinola, chief executive officer of First Interstate Bancorp. “We don’t see any organized opposition, but the problem is you have to get a two-thirds vote.”

To do that, supporters are mounting a $150,000 appeal by direct mail and radio commercials to say that Proposition N means saving lives and property by cutting Fire Department response times in emergencies. The campaign is being financed by First Interstate and other downtown businesses.

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The campaign to sell Los Angeles residents on the proposal opened late last month with a demonstration of state-of-the-art radio equipment at the First Interstate Building, where firefighters were hampered by radio transmission problems at a disastrous fire in May.

“The First Interstate blaze taught the city a valuable lesson,” Mayor Tom Bradley said. “That is, communications during an active fire emergency, where lives are at stake, is an essential component to this city’s firefighting capabilities. I urge voters to support Proposition N.”

Fire Chief Donald O. Manning said the Fire Department’s radio and dispatching equipment, purchased in the 1950s and updated in the 1960s, is overburdened with more than 260,000 calls a year. The system was designed for 30,000 calls.

Seeking a remedy earlier this year, the City Council first committed the city to spending the money required to update the system, then voted to ask Los Angeles residents whether the project should be financed with a special property tax assessment to raise the $67 million over the next 10 years.

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If Proposition N passes, backers estimate, the assessment--to be levied according to the value of improvements on each piece of property in the city--will cost the average owner of a 1,500-square-foot home $8.02 a year.

And, if the proposition fails to pass, they said, the city will be forced to cut $10 million a year from other services to finance the project.

The money raised through Proposition N would repay bonds issued to refurbish the Fire Department’s command and control system, including the fire safety and paramedic communications and dispatch equipment.

The project calls for spending approximately $27 million on a new radio system, about $22.5 million on a dispatch system and about $2.5 million to remodel the dispatch center in City Hall East. The remainder of the $67 million would be held in reserve.

As planned, the radio network will provide a complete system operating on the 800 megahertz frequency band, improving coverage and eliminating most transmission “dead spots.” Each firefighter and paramedic would have a portable radio while on duty.


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