Commentary: City Council chose the wrong option for emergency services

In the wee hours of Jan. 20, the Costa Mesa City Council majority clearly demonstrated, once again, that it is willing to put personal political agendas ahead of public safety.

At just after 1 a.m., after a discussion that lasted more than 3 1/2 hours on an issue that has been percolating for more than three years, Mayor Steve Mensinger, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilman Gary Monahan voted to maintain the status quo on emergency medical services.

More than three years ago, when interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold was at the helm, he made a proposal based on his more than three decades of fire service management in Newport Beach to reorganize the Costa Mesa Fire Department. His 17-point plan included a proposal to acquire six medical transport ambulances and take over all medical transport responsibilities within the city. (Currently, CARE Ambulance — a Righeimer campaign contributor — is contracted to transport injured and ill patients within the city).

Based on the estimates at that time, the city would realize an estimated annual revenue stream of more than $4 million by taking over the transport responsibilities. The City Council approved the plan in concept.

The proposal has been carefully analyzed, massaged and presented to the council several times in different iterations. When Dan Stefano became fire chief two years ago, he continued with this plan, and the council approved the acquisition of the six transport vans to the tune of $1.6 million. They were purchased, outfitted and partially deployed.

The other elements of the plan were further analyzed to determine the proper timing of implementation. The council authorized an independent study to look at alternatives and retained a highly qualified consulting firm operated by two former fire chiefs with a combined 60 years experience.

At the end of last year they presented a 51-page report to the city. That report has been analyzed by the city staff, including Stefano, CEO Tom Hatch, and Arnold, a dedicated Costa Mesa resident with undeniable expertise.

The report presented four options.

The first was to do nothing and retain CARE Ambulance as the transportation provider with a modest annual revenue stream of nearly $650,000.

Option 2 was to have CMFD do all transportation, utilizing those already-purchased vans. This option would generate the greatest revenue stream, more than $4 million, but would cut CARE Ambulance out except as a “surge” provider.

Option 3 was described as a public-private partnership, which would generate a significant revenue stream — estimated at more than $2.5 million — but would also provide an opportunity for CARE to participate by handling the less-severely injured patients.

Option 4 would entail hiring two dozen more EMS personnel and would generate a similar revenue stream as Option 2 but would net the city less.

Stefano and Hatch recommended Option 3. Although his original proposal was to adopt a model like Option 2, Arnold agreed with Stefano and Hatch and wrote a commentary that appeared on these pages explaining his reasoning.

At the meeting, 17 members of the public spoke, and the consultants explained their methodology. They made no recommendation as to which option to choose.

After sitting through the discussions and hearing the pros and cons presented by Stefano, the consultants, members of the public and a representative of CARE Ambulance, it was clear to most that the recommended choice, Option 3, was the best. It facilitated the new deployment model, effectively utilized the new equipment, continued a modified version of our current arrangement with CARE Ambulance and was a sensible, logical and cost-effective next step in delivering outstanding emergency medical services.

However, when it came time to vote on this issue, 1 a.m., the majority basically spit in the eye of the city staff, the consultants and the residents who took the time to address this issue. The majority voted to do nothing! It was obvious that there was more at play here than what is best for the residents, businesses and visitors.

The city left millions on the table. The council has approved the steps in the 17-point plan all along the way, including purchasing the vans.

To spend the thousands of staff hours, thousands of dollars on consultants, more than $1 million on the vans, more than three years contemplating this process and 3 1/2 hours of deliberation during the meeting, only to vote to make no change is politically motivated malfeasance at best.

Residents need to understand what just happened and start paying more attention. There’s an election coming this year.

A Bubbling Cauldron blogger GEOFF WEST lives in Costa Mesa.