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Roundtable: Fewer Fire Engines; More Opera Intrigue; Scarce Ensenada Water

Roundtable: Fewer Fire Engines; More Opera Intrigue; Scarce Ensenada Water
HOST: Mark SauerGUESTS: Joshua Emerson Smith, San Diego CityBeat Angela Carone, KPBS News Jill Replogle, KPBS News

Wildfires And Managed Competition

In October 2003, the Cedar Fire roared to life in the Cleveland National Forest, and swept westward, jumping Interstate-15 and whipping through the San Diego community of Scripps Ranch, killing 15 people in its path.

This year could be worse.


Realistically, fire danger has been present here since January, and summer and fall are likely to become even more of a tinderbox. But San Diego Fire and Rescue is facing the hotter, even drier months to come with a major handicap. San Diego CityBeat reports that the department has just 10 percent of its reserve fire engines in working order.

Of the 32 reserve engines available, only three are fully equipped and ready for use. Why? The complicated answer boils down to two words: Managed competition.

Fleet Maintenance Services in the city's Public Works Department has 66 vacancies out of 249 positions. These were never replaced because, due to the implementation of managed competition, the division agreed to cut $4 million from its budget and was in the process of eliminating another 22 positions.

Mayor Filner fiercely disagreed with the entire process and put managed competition on hold. This action prevented workers from being transferred to where they were needed — like fire-engine maintenance — until labor negotiations were held. Once they conclude, it will be another four to six months until managed competition can be fully implemented.

Summer, however, is not going to wait.


The Opera Lingers

The board of the San Diego Opera voted Monday to continue operation for two more weeks after the final performance of its (probably) final opera, Don Quixote. Board president Karen Cohn said the extra 14 days would give San Diegans time to buy tickets and rustle up $10 million for next season.

The announcement set off another round of questions, accusations and conspiracy theories, which have been abundant since the board voted March 19 to cease operations.

Among the questions: What happened to the internal investigation of the opera's management style? Did the board have enough notice for the “special meeting” March 19? Did the board do all it could have to keep the opera going? Could the Opera have been re-invented and survived? Were new ideas welcomed? Were CEO Ian Campbell and his wife paid too much? Why weren't the unions asked to cut salaries?

It's all sounding like the plot of an opera.

Necesitamos Mas Agua!

Unlike San Diego and Imperial counties, the city of Ensenada in Mexico gets all of its water from aquifers.

The city has no aqueduct system to carry water from the Colorado River. And since no rain has replenished its underground water system this year, the aquifers are drying up Severe rationing is now the norm.

Depending on where they are located, some residences -- especially those some distance from downtown -- get water through their taps just two or three times a week... and it’s only April.

The population of Ensenada has been growing rapidly, and the city competes for water with the wine-growing region of Valle de Guadalupe. City officials say they will dig more wells, which will help in the short term. They are also hoping that the water emergency will galvanize the state and federal governments to help.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.