With about 50 firefighters in the audience Tuesday night, the Long Beach City Council approved, 4-1, a plan to spend $2.1 million to purchase a new ladder fire truck to replace an aging vehicle that had been badly damaged during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Councilmember Roy Lester cast the lone no vote.
The new truck is to be purchased through the Houston-Galveston Area Council, a buying cooperative. Long Beach hopes to receive about $1 million from FEMA to buy the truck. It will take about two years to build the new vehicle.
But Lester objected, saying the truck should be purchased through a competitive bidding process, which he said might lower the cost. He also questioned what the city would do without the use of the aging truck for two years.
“I don’t like the process,” Lester said Wednesday morning, “We didn’t put this out to bid.” The firefighters on hand applauded when the council voted for the truck. Lester noted he had been a volunteer firefighter and does not oppose buying a new truck. “I was elected by the residents to watch over the money,” he said.
Lester, who was elected to the council last November and took his seat in January, has become somewhat of an outlier, abstaining on a number of issues and frequently raising questions about spending. “I’m always cheap when it comes to public money,” he said Wednesday.
He has made it clear he is not happy with the city’s proposed $95 million budget for th new fiscal year. He said the expenditures should have been cut.
City Manager Donna Gayden said she and other officials are looking into a truck fire fighters can use while the new one is being built.. “You will be hearing from us (about this) within the next few weeks,” she said.
City Council president Karen McInnis said that Long Beach’s professional staff, and the Board of Fire Commissioners, of which Lester is a member, had “done their due diligence” and showed that a new truck must be ordered.
“The process wasn’t perfect,.” She said. “But do you stop running a city because the process isn’t perfect? The Fire Department has given us ample justification that they need a new truck.”
Council vice-president Liz Treston was cheered by the firefighters when she said, “The landscape of Long Beach is changing and it is changing vertically,” referring to the construction of the Superblock, a project to build 10-story condos and apartments, and other projects.
Long Beach fire commissioner Joe Miller has said the National Fire Protection Association considers the city a “high-hazard area” because of its 61 high-rise buildings.
A new truck, Treston said, ”should have been in (a previous council’s budget) before. If it was not, that’s a shame. We are more than a beach. We are a city.”