City Grant Applications Highlight Fire Department "Gutting", Raise Questions , & Setting up Residents for Tax Increase

At the November 9, 2010 City Council meeting, Council Member Stan Carroll asked for an explanation of a $5,000 payment for grant applications.

As a result of his inquiry, a Public Records Request was submitted to the City to see those Grant Applications, linked below.

Grant Applications Submitted Under Signed Attestation

In September 2010, the City of La Habra Heights submitted two grant applications to FEMA to pay for a City Fire Marshall, Fire Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator, and equipment for new recruits.

According to the Grant Administrator at the Department of Homeland Security, the signature on the grant application indicates that the applying agency is attesting to the facts on the application being true. If you are awarded a grant, and the information turns out to be false, then the grant would be cancelled.
She said that they find out about false applications from neighboring communities and concerned citizens.

Unprecedented Gutting of Fire Department Revealed

The documents reveal new information regarding the extent to which the City Council has reduced the fire department, reduced fire prevention and weed abatement.

From the Grant Applications:
"Fire prevention has declined sharply over the last three years as the City
has eliminated its previous Fire Marshal, the Weed Abatement Coordinator, and reduced the Chief s hours from 40
to 20 per week. These cutbacks have harmed the City's fire prevention and disaster preparedness to the point where
time spent on fire prevention is dwindling down to zero."

"the City of La Habra Heights is at greater risk of being consumed by a wild land fire than at any other time in its thirty-year history."

" The ability to perform this critical service, as well as our effectiveness at protecting public safety, will be severely compromised without the benefit of grant assistance."

"If we do not succeed in this funding request, the department is in serious jeopardy of being unable to staff at current levels."


The Grant Application states, "The LHHFD in-house fire academy was forced to close due to budget restrictions". The Academy was an important part of the Department, with class sizes and testing dates announced at Council meetings and graduations regulary announced and attended by Councilmembers over the years. There was no mention of the academy closing made in the 2010 Budget memo to the City Council, nor was it discussed at the budget hearing. When queried in June 2010, a member of the business department at Rio Hondo College, with which the city contracted in fire fighter training, expressed surprise when asked if they knew the academy was ending.(See 2008 Agreement with Rio Hondo College)
When asked about lack of Fire Academy classes, the prior interim Fire Chief said that the classes were not needed because of plentiful availablity of candidates due to the poor economy.

The Application says federal funds are needed to man two engines. Up until June 2010, the City website (see screen shot in linked story) advertised that the City WAS manning 2 engines.

From Grant Application, stating benefits provided from Grant funds:
• "Ensure ability to staff and equip two engines with required 4-firefighter crew"
• Requested turnouts; "this will allow the department to come significantly closer to its
goal of constant staffing of a second engine with four crew members.

Resident Volunteers Removed

The applications show the harm done by the Council's elimination of resident volunteers, including Volunteers on Patrol and the Emergency Preparedness Committee (referenced in the City General Plan), intended by the city's founders to help the city survive.

From the Grant Application:
"...the founders promised that the lack of sales tax and other traditional revenues would be overcome by maintaining a rural lifestyle and providing services through Volunteerism. "

From the General Plan:
"Regional fire or seismic events can damage large areas of the City within a short time.
Essential services such as water, fire protection, and even access to supplies could be significantly diminished for extended periods.
Furthermore, emergency services may be overburdened or totally unavailable from outside sources.

Safety Element Policy 35. The City shall actively promote and support the continued operation of the La Habra Heights Emergency Preparedness Committee."

Safety Element Policy 31. The City shall continue to support active volunteer programs to assist law enforcement officials in crime prevention and law enforcement throughout the City, including in open space areas.

Steep Decline in Property Values Denied in Public - Confirmed in Grant Application

At the September 7, 2010 Council meeting, the City Manager downplayed and tried to refute the Assessor's announcement of record decline in City assessed property values, claiming the Assessor made a mistake.

The Grant Application, signed September 16th, touts the record decline:

"With the unprecedented decline in housing values ($45 million or more than 6 percent of AV just this fiscal year), the City lost its ability to supplement the Fire budget." (Page 28 - Recruitment Coordinator Grant Application)

In a September 23, 2010 Whittier Daily News Article, the City Manager appears to accept the loss of tax revenue, but an October 4, 2010 La Habra Journal article said of the $5 million decline in utility property, "The city is hoping that is a mistake."

By the October Council Meeting, the City Manager provided the Assessor's breakdown itemizing how the values declined.

Request for Grant Money to influence "Voter Receptivity" to Raise Fire Tax

In earlier stories, it was shown that the Council reworked financial figures for the past six years budgets. Revenues historically provided to the Fire Department were removed, leaving only the Fire Tax. This rework made the Fire Department look "bankrupt" with revenues significantly falling below expenses, whereas the original way showed the Department with consistent surpluses or minor shortfalls.

The revenue historically designated to the Fire Department was relocated to the City's General Fund and provided back to the Fire Department as a "subsidy".

The Council used these new figures as reason to propose raising the Fire Tax.

The grant applications reveal that the City Council will try to use new funding to justify a fire tax increase to residents.

From the Grant Application:
"The City Council is considering retuming to the voters to request an increase in the fire assessment to
achieve constant staffing of two engines. If we can secure funding to perform a staffing needs assessment, and
delineate exact costs, there is a greater likelihood of voter receptivity."

"The economic and political climate makes it nearly impossible to raise fire assessments without an excellent
staffing analysis showing the exact costs to each household for staffing a second engine."

Financial Mismanagement?

The Grant application states:
"The City is laboring under increasing revenue shortfalls, and having to draw from reserves just to provide basic city services."

Continuing to operate with increasing revenue shortfalls and drawing from reserves could eventually bankrupt the city, leading to questions of how finances are being managed.

Brown Act Violations ?

The application suggests that the City Council has made decisions out of public view. Majority decisions made outside of a noticed meeting can be a violation of the Brown Act. The Applications state that the "governing body", aka City Council, knows the content of the Grant Application and has approved required non-grant spending. However, the grant applications and Council acceptance of its long term commitments, were not on any Council agenda prior to the September 16, 2010 submittal.
Were decisions were made out of public view, or did the Application not represent City actions?

From the Grant Application:
"Have you, as the applicant, discussed this application and its long-term obligations with your governing body
and is your governing body willing to accept this long term commitment?
"Yes"

At the November 9, 2010 Council meeting, responding to Councilmember Stan Carroll's question about the payments to the Grant writer, City Manager Shauna Clark explains what the grants are for, and that they got the grant writer at "the last minute."

City Manager Shauna Clark explains the Grants and Grant Writer selection at November 2010 Council Meeting
Quicktime WMV


In contrast, in April 2008, the City Council Agenda included the following:

"RESOLUTION NO. 2008–06: APPROVING AND SUPPORTING THE APPLICATION OF THE
2008 ASSISTANCE TO FIREFIGHTERS GRANT, ADMINISTERED BY THE US FIRE
ADMINISTRATION AND DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

RECOMMENDATION: Approve Resolution and authorize the Fire Chief to submit
the application for Grant Funds"


Actual Excerpts from the Applications:


"The City is laboring under increasing revenue shortfalls, and having to draw from reserves just to provide basic city
services."

"The City Council is considering retuming to the voters to request an increase in the fire assessment to
achieve constant staffing of two engines. If we can secure funding to perform a staffing needs assessment, and
delineate exact costs, there is a greater likelihood of voter receptivity."

"The economic and political climate makes it nearly impossible to raise fire assessments without an excellent
staffing analysis showing the exact costs to each household for staffing a second engine."

"the City of La Habra Heights is at greater risk of
being consumed by a wild land fire than at any other time in its thirty-year history."

" The ability to perform this critical service, as well as
our effectiveness at protecting public safety, will be severely compromised without the benefit of grant assistance."

"If we do not succeed in this funding request, the department is in serious jeopardy of being unable to staff at current levels."


"Have you, as the applicant, discussed this
application and its long-term obligations with your governining body
and is your governing body willing to accept this long term
commitment?
"Yes"

"Funding a Fire Marshal position will breathe life into the City' s fire prevention efforts which have become
progressively hindered each budget year. Fire prevention has declined sharply over the last three years as the City
has eliminated its previous Fire Marshal, the Weed Abatement Coordinator, and reduced the Chief s hours from 40
to 20 per week. These cutbacks have harmed the City' s fire prevention and disaster preparedness to the point where
time spent on fire prevention is dwindling down to zero."

"We would let it burn."

One former LHHFD Chief stated publicly that, "350 homes would burn in a wind-driven [Santa Ana] firestorm."

"LHHFD desperately needs to restore its fire
inspections, weed abatement, and fire-safety education programs. No amount of suppression will compensate for a
city overgrown with weeds and whose residents are not prepared."

Fact: As recently as November 9, 2010, City Council member Howard Vipperman praised the City's Weed Abatement enforcement during a Weed Abatement Lien Hearing. Listen to him here:

Quicktime | WMV

"...the founders promised that the lack of sales tax and other traditional revenues would be overcome by maintaining a rural lifestyle and providing services through Volunteerism. "

"... stress and fatigue of current firefighting force and the part-time Fire Chief"

" Federal assistance is the only means by which the LHHFD can restore its fire prevention and
education program."

"The department abandoned the on-call Volunteer model as the number of trained and
willing resident Volunteers dwindled."

"Today, the Fire Department does not have a full time employee and fire prevention efforts are becoming non-existent."

"Moreover, our ability to adequately serve the adjacent communities is increasingly at risk."

"To further complicate the situation, the neighboring City of Brea is on the brink of fiscal
meltdown, and may soon request the City of Fullerton to take over its firefighting services. The likelihood that
LHHFD will be asked to stretch its firefighting capacity beyond its borders is higher than ever-and this will push the
safety standard beyond its limits and slow response time to fires and other emergencies."

"With less suppression power and a slow-down of weed abatement efforts, it's far more likely that a wild land fire will
have the ability to catch and spread."

"In general, since FY 2006-07, City revenues declined by 10 percent while expenditures increased by 22 percent."





Grant Applications

See Fire Marshall Grant Application -- Complete Application --- Application with highlights and boilerplate removed.

See Fire Recruitment Coordinator and Equipment Grant Application -- Complete Application --- Application with highlights and boilerplate removed.

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