The Lakewood Plan, it came along in the early 1950's. Without this plan you would probably not be reading this. Yes, that is really true. In the very early 1950's the incorporated cities in Los Angeles County began to look at the unincorporated area of the county as dollars. That is correct, tax dollars. If they annexed the adjacent county areas into their incorporated city, they would then get the tax dollars. This caused some furious jurisdictional battles, some for, and some against.
This story will be narrated by retired B.C., Don Borthwick, a vital part of it all, and who speaks as the voice of many others. Without these far looking men, the LACoFD would be nothing like what you see today.
The story begins:
Ron King has been bugging me to record some of the trials and tribulations that we endured during the dark days of the 40's, 50, and 60's.
This is the result , but I'm certain that there will be errors, omissions, and mistakes due to my leaky memory banks and many intervening years. But the story is too important to let die without at least trying to leave a lasting story.
I began my career with the L.A. Co. F.D. on February 8th, 1951, after a quick interview down on Spring Street, with an old Deputy Chief who sent me out to station 7 with the warning - "keep your nose clean and you'll do OK." There was no recruit class, the Engineer, (no one spoke to the Captain, he was only one step under God) told me, "this is the tailboard, stand there and hang on tight, " One of the first things the Captain said to me, when he finally spoke, was, "did you take the L.A.City exam? You'd better, because this department won't last long! (This was repeated many times, by, and to many new firemen.)
He was , of course , referring to the fact that the old line cities were annexing all of the lucrative areas away from the districts and leaving only non-cost effective properties.
Those were pretty lean times , we had just received a raise - $240.00 a month, and we were required to purchase all of our safety equipment ourselves, This included our turn-out gear, all uniforms, etc. Fortunately, there was good old Myles Wilcox, operating his credit union out of a closet and a cigar box just down the hall, and of course the wandering merchant, Lefty Zink , who could get you anything, keeping his records in Readers Digests, and offering endless credit. $240.00 was not a lot, but it was steady income, we worked a 72 hour schedule, and many of us worked a second job to put beans on the table. Add night courses at the local college, and little time was left for wives and family.
Jump ahead a few years, annexations were taking their toll, we were beginning to look like we would end up back in the hills, putting out grass and brush fires with hand tools, backpacks, shovels and wet sacks. ( I have been known to exaggerate a little.) It started with local 1014 getting in the act locally, and in Sacramento, and adding a committee called "Boundaries." The work of the committee was not limited to it's members, but to the entire board of Directors, the inhabitants of "The Hill," and many volunteers in the field. At first , we concentrated on defeating any and all annexation attempts, suffering some losses, but scoring many victories.
During this time, we began to get a little smarter, and latched onto a thesis written by one of our alumni, Milt Farrell, who had graduated, and had become a City Manager. Jim Heywood, and I plagiarized his work unmercifully when we participated in the publication of a book entitled, "A Study of Fire Protection Services in Los Angeles County (1972)." a report by the fire services sub-committee, L.A. County Citizens Economy, and Efficiency Committee. Some of the other contributors whose names you might recognize are -Dick Houts, Earl Dunn, John Harris, Ron Mathis, Everett Millicann, John Stephens, and Al Whitehead. All of this ultimately led to to legislation allowing cities to incorporate while retaining certain services provided by the county through contract - which would later extend to contracts with cities with existing fire departments. The Lakewood Plan was born.
During the heat of battle, prior to the Lakewood Plan, when we were actually fighting for our very existence, there was a virtual army of volunteers working to preserve what we had. Besides those already listed were - Paul Schnieder, Joe Rotella, Keith Klinger, Ken Larson, Ben Seymour, Leon Bodnar, Art Clensay, Bob Hanson, Charley Wells, Charley Weist, Bill Wright, Dick Friend, Noel Manchester, Oscar Castorina, Fred Smith, Harry Muench, our friends in Sacramento, and a host of others whose names escape me after all these years. This part of the story is difficult, because there were so many involved in so many divergent areas, walking the streets, stuffing envelopes, writing, printing, finding funding, attending community affairs, countless hours copying tax rolls, meeting with community leaders, off-duty cover for union workers, the list goes on. I am also somewhat restricted, even after all these years, because some of our activities were, at that time, borderline illegal. When I was on duty, Joan had a book of instructions regarding annexation and incorporation law next to the phone, so she could answer questions from community leaders asking for assistance.
Glen Hyde, was the union President for part of this period, and the very first Contract Cities Conference hospitality room was held at his second home in La Quinta. Ernie Hanson was my mentor, my predecessor on the boundaries committee, and I was always in awe of his abilities and mentality.
The Lakewood Plan was our savior, but the thing that really saved us was the foresight, the ideas, and the hard work of the many in and out of the fire service, all ranks, who worked so diligently for so long to bring it all to fruition.
I cannot stop without thanking all the people of all ranks who donated cash money to the cause. The Local, 1014, leadership asked for, and got a vote for all members of Local 1014, to contribute a sum of money, graduated by rank. Firemen, paying the lowest rate, and Captains the highest. Most of the rank and file, paid the assessment. Tough on everybody, but it paid off "big time."
I am so proud of what we all accomplished, and I sincerely hope that all those who have taken our places, appreciate what we achieved, and that the new members will continually strive to make it even better than we left it . It looks very much like they already have.