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Oceanside Council Discusses Ambulance Services

City Council also takes first step toward Morro Hills development.

Oceanside residents will see no reduction in ambulance service—at least for now.

The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to pay about $150,000 in extra overtime pay to firefighters rather than take one of four municipal ambulances out of service from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to cover the costs.

Those were the options offered as the council discussed its quarterly budget report.

Fire Chief Daryl Hebert said the excess overtime was accrued as current staff had to take the place of unexpected absences of firefighters or injuries to them.

Hebert said sometimes overtime also is made necessary when the state calls on local firefighters to help out at wildfires in other locations, but that expense will be reimbursed, albeit not rapidly.

Paying overtime has proven to be cheaper than hiring another full-time employee, he said.

Councilmen Jack Feller, Gary Felien and Jerry Kern told Hebert to find ways both to control the expense and to budget his needs more carefully.

The other two members of the deeply divided council—Mayor Jim Wood and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez—vigorously defended the firefighters with Sanchez saying to shut down an ambulance would be to play with people's lives.

More than a half-dozen firefighters were in the audience to support Hebert, and four spoke.

Kern said he was particularly happy to hear the last speaker, Firefighter Jose McNally,  offer to work with the administration to bring down costs.

"We have to protect the citizens, but we also have to protect what the citizens have to pay," Kern said. "I do not want to be having the same discussion next year [about overtime overages]."

In that case, he said, he would be looking at the option of shutting down an ambulance.

Kern and Feller once considered outsourcing the city's Fire Department.

During the budget report, Teri Ferro, city finance director, gave the council the good news that it has a surplus of $2.2 million.  The total General Fund budget is $117.4 million.

Ferro described how much each department has spent of its allotment.

The focus then turned to two individual budgets which are overspent - the Fire Department and the golf courses, Oceanside Municipal and City Center.

Doug Eddow, city property manager, said golf revenues are down everywhere.

Feller, an avid golfer, said the situation "fairly breaks my heart," but he does not want to subsidize the courses.

However, the council went ahead and approved the extra expenditure for now.

Coincidentally, the sum at stake in the longest discussion of the six-hour council meeting was nearly the same—about $150,000—as that involving the firefighters' over-expenditure, and this time, the vote was the council's usual 3-2 split with Wood and Sanchez on the losing end.

The entire council was happy to spend almost $1.2 million to update the city's water, sewer and recycled-water master plans.

But Wood and Sanchez did not want to pay $148,655 for a special survey of the need as it pertained to the Morro Hills area in northeastern Oceanside where much of the land remains in agriculture. 

Wood and Sanchez said the owners who want to develop their land should pay for the study, not the taxpayers of Oceanside.

But the others said the survey will learn things of benefit to all.

The land now is zoned for lots of a minimum two and a half acres.  Most of it now uses septic tanks.

What some owners of land currently in agricultural use want to know is how much development could be accomplished before the septic tanks would have to be replaced with a city sewer system.

Speaking in favor of the study were growers Mike Mellano and Neil Nagata.

Opposed were members of he South Morro Hills Association, who said the landowners should pay for their own study and there's no need for 1,000 new homes.

"It's unfair and immoral to deny part of the city access to city services," Nagata said.

"The city has a moral obligation" to conduct the sewer study, Mellano said, adding that his family plans, however, to continue farming as long as it can.

On the other hand, "we do not need more homes," opponent Suzann Demmon said, and Chris Wilson called it a waste of public funds to spend the money when residents "do not want their area developed."

Planning Commissioner Dennis Martinek reminded the council hat "smart growth" plans for the county call for new development to occur along transportation corridors and not in isolated, rural areas.

"This is so unfair, absolutely so unfair," Sanchez said, and Wood added that an attempt was being made to "pull the wool over our eyes."

"I feel this council supports outside developervs more than our own citizens," he said.

Felien countered that he believes the study will ascertain the "full potential" of the land and said he believes Wood and Sanchez present "a demagoguery against growth."

In other business, the council clashed again over the appointments of council members to municipal and regional bodies and refused to accept Sanchez as deputy mayor.

Traditionally, the mayor has made most appointments, with the concurrence of the council, but his three opponents have removed Wood from his seat on the San Diego Association of Governments.

An ordinance taking the appointing power from the mayor and giving it to the council is to become effective next month.

The council majority says Wood does not fight hard enough to get money for Oceanside when he attends regional bodies.  Specifically, they favor funds for the extension of Melrose Drive and an interchange at Rancho del Oro Drive and state Route 78, and he does not.

So on Wednesday, the council delayed action on naming appointments to the boards of the San Diego Association of Governments and North County Transit District until after the new ordinance kicks in.

It did approve Wood's appointments of council liaisons to various municipal boards and commissions.

With a different-from-usual split vote, the council decided against a proposed vehicle-towing yard at 1833 Oceanside Blvd.  This time, Feller sided with Wood and Sanchez , Kern voted no, and Felien, who wanted the matter postponed for further study, abstained. 

The council also honored Lori Lawson and Carl Henger and the Liberty Tax Service as business of the month.

Mike Croghan January 31, 2013 at 04:31 PM
Hmm, let's see what the council majority decided. But first let's remember that highest priority among city services is the one that provides efficient and timely emergency services. Three expenditures of $150,000.00 were considered during the meetings yesterday; paramedic service for the entire city, support for a group of residents who play a game, and payments to a consulting firm that will drill holes in the ground in order to provide useless data about whether a pipe or a pit is the best way to get rid of human waste produced by a tiny group of rural dwellers on the edge of the city. Worthy of note is that these rural dwellers are currently able to process a healthy and efficient system for getting rid of their pee and poop. The tiny group of putative athletes who use giant clubs to swat a small ball found themselves wanting of the $150,000.00 to support their game. The paramedic service that saves lives all across the city was given support. But grudgingly and not without some councilmembers' stern warnings. Those same council members were most happy and willing to spend taxpayer money on a study that wouldn't tell much about whether to pipe or pit poop for a few hundred residents of the city. Oh, well, those same residents will have the value of their property increase and future developers won't have to purchase the service that the residents of Oceanside are purchasing for them. It's enough to give a guy a stroke. Hello? Paramedics?
Mandy Barre January 31, 2013 at 05:04 PM
Great article fairly representing what happened at the meeting: The Feller, Felien, Kern (FFK) troika as usual stomped on the taxpayers by voting to use public funds for private developer's benefits! Crazy!
Linda Walshaw January 31, 2013 at 05:17 PM
Oceanside's Fire Dept. will be reimbursed from surrounding cities for their assistance to those areas. Those funds have not yet been factored in. 9-1-1 calls have increased in recent months over 9% and the OFD is already short-staffed. Results: Overtime. Which 9-1-1 call would you have them not answer? Re Morro Hills: Only 3 landowners want to develop. Why should ALL Oceanside taxpayers pay for 3 property owners so they and developers don't have to meet their obligation to pay when land is developed? Water rates will skyrocket for Oceanside taxpayers for sewers, treatment plant, etc. Residents don't want development!
Linda Sills January 31, 2013 at 06:05 PM
I was at yesterday's meeting at City Council. The arguments are almost comical. On the one hand, you have people wanting to develop (which I am against-because of the location), and then you have the "smart growth" nonsense herding people along the transit corridors. The agricultural area of Morro Hills should remain farm land for as long as possible. We truly do not need more development there. At the same time, I am adamantly opposed to any smart growth, sustainable development, herding people into high rise density (especially along the rail lines) because of the outcome and the end game of this scheme. For more information www.democratsagainstunagenda21.com
FOBESQ February 01, 2013 at 02:09 AM
Everyone knows that Kern never saw a developer he didn't like....one of the reasons for the attempted recall. i would like to attempt to recall all three.......Kern, Feller & Felien who should have never been appointed to the council. We need to get rid of these jokers.
Mandy Barre February 01, 2013 at 05:55 PM
Hate to tell you, Linda, but smart growth is not nonsense. It makes better use of our public services, like police/fire/schools and transportation. Some of us don't like it but it's going to be here whether we like it or not because it makes sense.

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