San Bernardino Seal

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 01/21/15, 12:24 PM PST | Updated: 7 hrs ago

SAN BERNARDINO >> City officials are pursuing a possible lawsuit against Cal Fire to force that state agency to bid on providing fire and EMS services for the city.

City Attorney Gary Saenz said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting that, during closed session, the council had added an item to the closed-session agenda and voted 5-1 to provide “direction” regarding Cal Fire. He confirmed afterward that the council was trying to force a bid for services and plans to file a lawsuit by the end of next week.

With less than five months until the deadline by which the city must file its bankruptcy exit plan, the city is looking for every opportunity to save money, Saenz said.

“We need to look at all possibilities of contracting out our services rather than providing them in-house,” Saenz said Wednesday. “The reason for that is sometimes an equal level of service — or a greater level — can be achieved by contracting out, and if that’s the case, the bankruptcy creditors that we’re impairing (by not paying everything they’re owed) are going to require that we achieve those efficiencies.”

Such information is important for the city’s Plan of Adjustment, which will detail what the city plans to pay creditors as well as how it will provide services to residents, Saenz said. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Jury gave the city a May 30 deadline to file that plan.

That might be too soon for the city to learn how much could be saved by contracting out, Saenz said, but to the extent it can be learned the city has a responsibility.

The City Council voted in August to authorize City Manager Allen Parker to seek bids that might allow the city to outsource fire services, including to the county or to Cal Fire.

That same month, Parker asked Cal Fire to seek “consideration of a cooperative fire protection agreement,” and Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott declined.

Nothing had changed since Pimlott’s November 2013 letter saying the city didn’t fit Cal Fire’s criteria, the chief wrote.

“As public agencies look for models of good government to leverage the financial and operational benefits of working together to provide integrated public safety functions, CAL FIRE will continue to evaluate requests where appropriate and mutually desired,” Pimlott wrote in 2013. “However, given the current fiscal instability faced by the City of San Bernardino, it does not meet the criteria to be considered for a cooperative agreement.”

Parker didn’t return a phone call Wednesday, but in an earlier meeting he said the city needed to look into potential savings.

“Cal Fire isn’t giving us any help,” he said. “It’s union politics.”

Saenz said he wouldn’t discuss the city’s legal rationale for strategic reasons but added the argument would be public once the lawsuit was filed.

Pimlott’s 2013 letter was addressed to Councilman Fred Shorett in response to his letter to the editor saying he “understand(s)” that contracting with Cal Fire could save San Bernardino $8 million to $12 million per year. No such estimate had been given, according to the letter.

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