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Ron Kaye: A partnership based on respect

February 19, 2012

Near the end of the latest bitter debate over the closure of Fire Station 39 in west Pasadena, Councilman Terry Tornek lamented: “The neighborhood has lost confidence in us.”

But like others on the City Council, he accepted that the only solution at hand for the next couple of years was to put an ambulance crew in a rented house on a narrow side street and staff it 24/7.

“The takeaway from all this is some problems don’t have great solutions,” he said.

In the 10 months since City Manager Michael Beck dropped a bombshell at a news conference that six fire stations were so antiquated they needed $59 million in upgrades, and a seventh, Station 39, needed to be closed as a safety hazard, residents west of Arroyo Seco south of the Ventura (134) Freeway have gone without fire engines or paramedics located in their community.

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To say that many of them — especially those who live near 159 Glen Summer Road, where the ambulance will soon be located — are unhappy is an understatement.

They have organized, gone to dozens of meetings, confronted city leaders, filed a long stream of public records requests and threatened to sue the city in what has become something of a case study of what happens when government disconnects with the people who pay the bills, who expect to be treated with respect and get the services they need.

My deepest belief as a journalist and community activist is this: In the 21st century, people are grown up enough to make decisions for themselves, or at least be part of the process. We don’t need patronizing officials to decide what’s good for us. We need a partnership based on mutual respect.

Last April, Beck called a news conference to announce that a seismic study completed the previous November showed that nearly all the city’s fire stations needed major upgrades and the oldest — Station 39, built in 1948 — was beyond repair.

“I tried to identify solutions, but I wasn’t able to,” he recalled. “I felt I’d be irresponsible to ask employees to come to work when I have a report on my desk that says that in a significant earthquake, the building could collapse in a pancake fashion, resulting in serious injury or death. I couldn’t wait any longer.”

Station 39 was closed without warning on the day of the press conference.

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