Loss of Security Funding Blasted

Times Staff Writer

Mayor Jerry Sanders, backed by a passel of local government officials, said Thursday that the city will appeal the decision by the Department of Homeland Security to remove the San Diego region from its list of "high risk" areas eligible for federal money to prevent terrorist attacks.

Leaving San Diego off the list of 35 areas facing the greatest risk of attack "is not in the best interests of national security," Sanders told a news conference after meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Sanders noted that the city has one of the busiest international borders in the world, a major seaport, the largest concentration of military bases in the country and tourist attractions that draw millions of people each year.

The city will remain on a second-tier list of cities that can receive a year of "bridge" funding to complete projects already underway.

Talking to reporters after touring the San Ysidro border crossing, Chertoff said San Diego can still apply for other federal funds and also possibly prove that the demotion was not justified.

But Sanders and local Homeland Security Director Augie Ghio said that is not good enough.

Ghio said without continued federal funding the region will not be able to expand its effort to detect threats, be ready to treat mass casualties and improve communications between overlapping fire and police agencies.

Communication problems among fire, police and various government agencies were cited as a major problem after the massive Cedar and Paradise brush fires raged for nearly two weeks in fall 2003, destroying more than 2,500 homes in the city and county.

Sanders rejected a suggestion that the city is seeking a bailout from the federal government to compensate for its long history of refusing to fund its police and fire departments at the same level as other major cities.

"We need to fight for our fair share of that [federal] money," Sanders said.

The Cedar fire, which destroyed more than 300 homes in two pricey neighborhoods in San Diego, did little to change the anti-tax mood of the electorate. Four months later, a measure to boost the city's hotel-motel tax to improve fire protection failed to win voter approval. No other ballot measures are pending.

Under the new Homeland Security lists, urban areas considered to be at greater risk, such as Los Angeles and Long Beach, are given priority over those considered to be at less risk.

Sanders said that in their private discussion, Chertoff told him that the presence of the military should work as a deterrent against terrorism in San Diego, decreasing the need for federal funds. But Sanders said the military's priority is protecting its own bases, not the civilian population.

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