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Election 2024

Firefighters Oppose L.A. City Safe Streets Initiative Measure HLA

"I hate to tell you," California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice said, "California and Los Angeles in particular, this is a car community. You may not like it, but it is."

Firefighter unions are now campaigning against the Healthy Streets L.A. initiative Measure HLA. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog

At a press conference yesterday morning, next to Skid Row's busy Fire Station 9, firefighter union leaders announced their opposition to L.A. City Measure HLA, the Healthy Streets L.A. initiative. According to the L.A. Times, United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112 (UFLAC) leaders say they plan to spend at least $100,000 against Measure HLA.

Voting is already underway on Measure HLA which would require the city of L.A. to implement already-approved bus, bike, and walk improvements in the city Mobility Plan. Implementation would be done gradually as city repaves streets.

The firefighters' "VOTE NO ON HLA" campaign signs proclaim, "DON'T SLOW US DOWN!"

Firefighters union "Don't slow us down" sign

Those delays are the most vocal concern voiced by emergency responders: bus, bike and walk improvements cannot get in the way of fire and police vehicles. Fire Department response times are crucially important and can mean the difference between life and death.

Many Mobility Plan projects, especially bus lanes, are expected to improve response times. Making streets safer is also the difference between life and death - for all road users - including pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

It's unfortunate that there isn't more common ground here. Firefighters and street safety advocates want essentially the same thing: preventing fatalities, saving lives.

California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice speaking this morning. Note that Measure HLA supporters showed up to the event, holding up their orange Yes on HLA signs.

Several speakers from the union expressed clichéd criticisms of the kind of street safety project HLA would implement. California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice was repeatedly dismissive of bicycles and transit.

"I hate to tell you men and women, California - and Los Angeles in particular - this is a car community. You may not like it," Rice declared, "but it is." Rice derisively asked, "Do you really think you're going to see buses go faster than 12 miles an hour?"

Rice declared that "a small group of elite... Democratic Socialists" are behind Measure HLA.

UFLAC President Freddy Escobar asserted that Measure HLA "is full of lies." He pointed out the city's adjacent (still under construction) 7th Street safety improvements, bemoaning them as, "all these confusing lanes, dangerous bike lanes, pedestrian medians, and all the chaos - and nobody is using 'em."

7th Street this morning, where UFLAC President Escobar sees "chaos"

"If we pass HLA we're going to see chaos all over the city" according to Escobar.

Every firefighter speaker raised issues of firefighters not having been consulted regarding Measure HLA. This assertion rings pretty hollow in that HLA implements the city's Mobility Plan approved in 2015-16, with L.A. Fire Department involvement in many aspects of the plan.

Rice concluded his remarks emphasizing fiscal issues that firefighters don't lead with, but which appears to be among their core concerns: spending money making streets safer competes with more resources going to firefighting.

The city released a misleading cost estimate for Measure HLA implementation: $250 million annually. (Safe streets advocates can only wish that HLA gradual implementation could ever result in that kind of annual investment. Measure HLA proponents estimate annual costs to be more like one tenth of the city's estimate.) The city estimate rolls in some non-HLA costs, including the cost of the city's annual street repaving program which already has been and will continue to be in the city budget, regardless of HLA. It also inflates per-mile bikeway and bus lane cost estimates well above what the city currently spends.

Rice railed against HLA "spending money you don't have" with those costs competing with increasing firefighting budgets. "We have a public safety crisis in this city and we're talking about bicycles, about bicycle lanes" and not "taking care of my brothers and sisters who put their life on the line every day." Rice concluded, "I damn well will be first in line to get every single penny we can get to restore the health and safety of the Los Angeles Fire Department."

L.A. City Councilmember Traci Park speaking against Measure HLA at this morning's press event. Park's HLA criticism included decrying "mandatory road diets" and "road diets to nowhere" with "no community engagement."

Streetsblog endorses a yes vote on Measure HLA. Learn more and get involved via the Yes on HLA website.

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