Local

Closure of special Camp San Luis program would be a jolt to local economy

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A state-run specialized training program for law enforcement, firefighters and emergency responders based at Camp San Luis Obispo is slated to be eliminated at year’s end, which could result in the loss of more than 20 jobs and cost San Luis Obispo County more than $5 million.

The 40-year-old California Specialized Training Institute offers courses and certifications for first responders from throughout the state and beyond in emergency and disaster response and criminal justice.

Gov. Jerry Brown plans to eliminate the program, overseen by the California Emergency Management Agency, in December as part of a slew of budget cuts being made to help balance the state’s struggling budget.

Cal EMA is proposing to restructure and relocate portions of the program to the State Operations Center near Sacramento, according to officials with CSTI.

“We see this program as a vital role in protecting the citizens of California,” CSTI director Col. William Hatch said. “Closing this institute would be a mistake for public safety and also for the county.”

Hatch said he is concerned that law enforcement agencies would be expected to create their own training programs, something he says is financially impossible.

“Rural counties don’t have the money or the resources,” Hatch said. “This is an iconic institute and I don’t want to lose it. We have led the nation in every aspect of training. I know times are hard but this is not the program to cut.”

A group of 29 police officers from throughout the state worked their way through training Wednesday as part of the institute’s officer safety and field tactics course.

Participants at the shooting range practiced reaction techniques, fired weapons in simulated scenarios and were taught safety techniques for clearing buildings.

The hands-on training is only one of dozens of courses offered at the institute. Each year more than 4,000 people go through the training. An additional 21,000 people receive instruction in a distance-learning program taught by certified instructors through the institute.

Cal EMA has suggested that a projected $1.5 million in savings will be realized in the first six months of closing the facility and relocating services to locations in Northern and Southern California. But the actual general fund savings from the closure would save the state only $187,000.

Hatch recently gained the support of state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, in keeping the facility open.

“The senator is actively working to keep the facility open and has elevated the issue with the budget team within the Republican caucus in Sacramento,” said Erin Shaw, a Blakeslee aide. “The facility provides critical public safety training and the only impact this closure would have on the general fund is nominal.”

However, the local loss could reach nearly $5.1 million if the institute is closed. Included in that figure is more than $800,000 in estimated lost hotel and restaurant revenue, $3.8 million in lost salaries and benefits and a direct loss of $220,000 to Camp San Luis Obispo for the institute’s annual lease.

The majority of the California Specialized Training Institute’s annual budget, about $5 million, comes from federal grants and revenue raised by its courses. Only $1 million annually comes from the state’s general fund, Hatch said.

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