Santa Barbara Fire Chief Eric Nickel, Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow and Councilman Mike Jordan talk Tuesday.
Santa Barbara Fire Chief Eric Nickel, Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow and Councilman Mike Jordan talk Tuesday. The council voted 7-0 to approve exploration of a joint dispatch center with the county.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara hopes to save up to two minutes in response time by combining emergency dispatch services with the county to create one large regional center.

Councilman Eric Friedman cited a quote from the movie classic “Cool Hand Luke” in explaining the problem. 

“What we have here is a failure to communicate and the last thing we want on a 911 call is a failure to communicate,” Friedman said. “When you are talking one to two minutes in an emergency, you can’t really put a price on that.”

The City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to work with Santa Barbara County and explore the possibility of a regional center. 

The goal is to create a system where the nearest public safety personnel respond to a situation regardless of where the call was placed. 

From 2009 to 2019, the volume of emergency calls to the combined City Fire and SBPD Communications Center increased by 52 percent. During this period, the city’s dispatch staff has decreased from 19 full-time equivalent employees to 18. 

The problem dates back several decades. The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury recommended a regional fire and emergency medical services center in 2001. Santa Barbara city Fire Chief Eric Nickel said that several counties, including San Diego, Ventura and Orange County, have joint fire dispatch centers.

Nickel said the new system would eliminate redundant dispatching and multiple call transfer. Under the current system, the average call includes about three call transfers.

The project could be funded partially by Measure C dollars, but wouldn’t go into effect until fiscal year 2022 or 2023.

Councilwoman Alejandra Gutierrez said the fast flow of communication during an emergency is essential.

“Having something like this in place would not only save lives, but the community would really appreciate it, because the calls won’t be going to three different places,” Gutierrez said. 

Santa Barbara Water Supplies Strong

With two months left in the rainy season, Santa Barbara has enough water to last through 2022. 

The city has received about 42 percent of the normal amount of rain so far this water year, which began Oct. 1, 2019.

Lake Cachuma is 70 percent full. The city relies on water from Lake Cachuma, the state water project, Gibraltar Reservoir, desalinated water, recycled water, and some groundwater. The city is trying to use sources other than groundwater to allow the groundwater basins to recharge. 

“I do want to commend our residents for their extraordinary conservation efforts,” Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon said. “The more conservation we have, the more we are using desal, our groundwater basins are resting. Conservation is always a good idea.”

City Fighting High Sierra

The Santa Barbara City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to spend up to $250,000 to defend itself in a lawsuit involving Flightline Restaurant. 

The city is contracting with Slaughter, Reagan & Cole, LLP, for special counsel services.

“This case requires litigation support levels that we cannot sustain in-house given our other litigation,” City Attorney Ariel Calonne said in a city staff report. The city is spending money from the Airport Department Operating Reserves fund. 

High Sierra sued the city because the restaurant company tried to assign its lease to Flightline, a company owned by Warren Butler. Butler promised to revive the restaurant with a theme of aviation. The city, however, would not accept the transfer. High Sierra then closed the restaurant because it was financially unsuccessful. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at