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Schwarzenegger's record on fire reforms*

November 16, 2008 | 12:57 pm

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks to the media about the Tea Fire on November 15, 2008 in Montecito, California. The fire began last night and was fueled to more than 2,600 acres by strong erratic winds in excess of 70 miles per hour which kept firefighting aircraft grounded in the morning. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency as thousands of people evacuated the area. At least three other fires have begun today as a result of the Santa Ana Winds gusting after the Tea Fire near Santa Barbara, California burned more than 100 homes and left thirteen people injured.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the fire lines again today and signaled a possible regulatory reform out of the 2008 firestorm. 

"We should start building mobile homes with fire retardant materials," said Schwarzenegger, referring to the destruction of more than 500 mobile homes in Sylmar that he added "were like matches."

But there has been some debate about how well the state has followed through on lessons learned from previous fires. After the massive 2003 fires, the governor appointed a blue-ribbon commission designed to figure out how to prevent the huge amounts of property damage and loss of life (more than 20 dead) from those blazes. The panel came back with many suggested improvements -- with a price tag so high no one could fully calculate it. Last year, The Times' Megan Garvey and Rong-Gong Lin II investigated and found many of the recommendations from the 2003 fires went unheeded. Details:

Although some improvements have been made since, fire officials said many of the most expensive improvements suggested by various committees and organizations -– with a likely price tag in the billions of dollars -– have not been completed. We still don’t have any additional firetrucks on the road,” said Dallas Jones, who was director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services between 1999 and 2004 and is now secretary-treasurer of the California Professional Firefighters union. “How many years are we since the '03 fire siege? It takes years, sometimes, to build fleets of equipment, and so far, nothing.”

Of course adding regulations to mobile home construction is a lot less expensive than huge equipment purchases and firefighting hirings.

*Updated: Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the governor, said that Schwarzenegger proposed a fire safety package, "but the legislature didn’t include it in the final budget. This included a lot of the blue ribbon task force recommendations." More on that after the jump.

--Shelby Grad

Photo: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks to the media about the Tea Fire on Saturday in Montecito.  Credit: Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images

Governor Holds Capitol Press Conference Regarding State Budget September 19, 2008

QUESTION: Governor, your CAL FIRE budget is basically status quo despite what happened in Northern California earlier this year. You failed to get your Emergency Response Initiative through. Are you going to come back with your ERI again? And what do you tell people who are on the front lines, like in Southern California going into the Santa Ana wind season, what do you tell them, because of this failure?

GOVERNOR: Well, I have to tell them that it is sad that the safety of the people of California has to suffer over ideology. Because all we have asked for is to increase by a very, very small portion the homeowner insurance, which was like $12 in some cases, $16 a year. And just to get stuck in your ideology and say no to that and not give the firefighters and CAL FIRE and everyone the equipment and the resources that they need in order to really fight those fires -- and we have seen that these fires are increasing -- I think it's terrible.

QUESTION: Are you going to come back -- if I may follow up -- are you going to come back to that?

GOVERNOR: Oh yes, we definitely will be back. Look, there are certain things, like I said, that could not get done, maybe because of elections and other reasons. We will be back and we will be working on those things, because they are very important issues and they need to be taken care of, they need to be addressed. And especially with fire. It's not something that we are brewing up. It's the Blue Ribbon Commission that in 2003 we created with Governor Davis and myself and they had great recommendations, they did really serious work. And I think that the reason why you have commissions like this, with serious players involved, is because you want to follow through and you want to take those things seriously.

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