A bombshell report from the City of Los Angeles Fire Department reveals that during the 2018 Woolsey Fire in Malibu, the rich and famous got special treatment at the expense of everyone else. Though the report has not yet been made public (we have requested it from the LAFD) the Los Angeles Times was given the following quote from it: “A significant number of requests by political figures to check on specific addresses of homes to ensure their protection distracted from Department leadership to accomplish priority objectives.”
Conversations with multiple senior officials at fire departments around L.A. County confirmed the city’s elite have received various kinds of special treatment during emergencies, not just additional layers of response. For example, some wealthy homeowners in Malibu, Calabasas, and elsewhere hire private contractors to protect their properties. Among other strategies these contractors spray fireproof gel onto homes. The problem is that the their equipment can end up fighting for precious road and shoulder space with city, county, and Cal Fire equipment. Despite the fact that the contractors violate evacuation zones, no official action has been taken to control them. One official described some of them as acting like “entitled cowboys.”
The stories out of Malibu are just one part of a deeply troubling trend in Los Angeles and across California: Political decisions are hurting emergency responses and public safety, with increasingly catastrophic – not to mention deadly – consequences. The All Aspect Report previously has reported on the sequence of political decisions that contributed to the destruction and death of last November’s Camp Fire in Butte County. After the disastrous 2008 Humboldt Complex Fire, a county grand jury investigation concluded the region’s narrow roads contributed to gridlock during evacuations. Mercifully no one died in that fire, but the grand jury recommended widening the shoulders of certain roads and keeping them clear of debris.
Inexplicably, the Butte County Association of Governments made a political decision to ignore the report. As part of the state’s “Complete Streets” initiative – which envisions roads and streets as not just for cars, but transit, bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and pedestrian traffic – BCAG actually narrowed dozens of miles of roads and intersections in Paradise. When the next fire came through the results were predictably catastrophic. While the road reconfigurations were not the sole cause of gridlock that contributed to at least 88 deaths and the destruction of some 14,000 homes and businesses, they absolutely played a role. As one survivor, an emergency room nurse who fled the flames on foot, said, “Even before the fire we wondered what in the hell they were thinking.”
Despite the experiences during the Camp Fire, the pressure from Sacramento and city halls continues to mount on fire fighters, police, and other first responders around the state. Counties including Shasta, Sonoma, Marin, Santa Cruz, and others continue to introduce more complete streets, “road diets,” and other changes that dramatically impact responses. Even when presented with irrefutable evidence, political leaders double down. Just this week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the city’s version of the “Green New Deal.” Among its many goals is to reduce the number of miles Angelenos drive every day from 15 to 6. It’s clear by now the only way to accomplish that is to continue to narrow streets and roads, create congestion, and force people out of their cars. In the meantime, what’s a few heart attack or crash victims?
Political malfeasance also is behind the state’s spiraling homeless crisis. Earlier this year, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin (West L.A.) was quoted in the Hollywood Reporter as saying, “I can’t accept the idea that there is an inextricable link between crime and homelessness. It is wrong, it is not backed up by the data, and it leads to bad policy.” The quote, which was widely ridiculed in the community and on social media, encapsulates the vast chasm between politicians and reality in California.
Out in the San Fernando Valley, community members have contacted Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez numerous times to ask that something be done about the homeless who camp in the San Gabriel and Verdugo Mountains. Lydia Grant, Vice President elect of the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council, says “The homeless start fires every week, sometimes everyday. We’ve had three this week, and it isn’t even fire season yet.” Thus far, the community’s pleas to their Councilwoman have fallen on deaf ears.
Political decisions also are worsening crime. City councils around California, as part of their ideological efforts to “de-criminalize” homelessness, have reduced many felonies to misdemeanors. The state legislature, meanwhile, passed a measure forbidding prosecution of property crimes valued under $850. Newly-minted Governor Newsom unilaterally suspended the death penalty. Not to be outdone, the judiciary – including the Ninth Circuit – have issued a series of decisions making it all but impossible for law enforcement to deal with minor crimes at all.
The results of this collective political abdication are everywhere: Hundreds of thousands of Walking Dead homeless, rampant petty crime, terrified residents. Ambulances stranded on “complete streets” while victims suffer.
A reckoning is coming to California. It may be the next wildfire, or a disease outbreak in a homeless camp that spreads to the general population. If things don’t change, and change quickly, California will continue to pay dearly while our political leaders tilt at ideological windmills.