SLO County vies for Homeland Security dollars

San Luis Obispo County is once again seeking federal Homeland Security dollars, despite the protests of national taxpayer and political organizations that the grants have become a repository of pork-barrel funding.

Some at the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation have been particularly critical of the way the money has been spent.

An abstract from a 2011 Heritage article, for example, argues in part that “counterproductive homeland security grants to state and local governments should be eliminated or curtailed and redesigned.”

One published report said the grants “put the ‘boon’ in boondoggle.”

Some members of Congress also have questioned the expenditures.

Nonetheless, San Luis Obispo County — home to one of California’s two nuclear power plants — has applied for and received millions of Homeland Security dollars in the decade since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The county is poised to apply again at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting. It’s asking for as much as $256,000 this time.

Ron Alsop, director of the county Office of Emergency Services, said the dozens of items purchased over the years “clearly provide for the increased safety of our citizens” throughout the region.

They are “directly related to public safety and emergency management, both for day-to-day and in the event of a homeland security event,” he wrote in response to a request for comment from The Tribune.

In addition, applications for the grants must meet state and federal guidelines, he wrote.

Alsop also made two other points: First, the amount this year is down significantly, and second, if San Luis Obispo County doesn’t spend the money, some other local government will.

He included a lengthy list of previous expenditures using Homeland Security dollars, including a reverse 911 system, a regional hazardous materials response vehicle, a bomb task force “total containment vessel/trailer that can safely transport explosive devices,” and many other projects “that are not only certainly not boondoggle purchases but that directly and absolutely tie in to protecting the public health and safety.”

This money, he wrote, has been used for maps and plans instrumental in fighting the recent Calf Fire east of Santa Margarita and for preparing tsunami warnings after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster of March 2011.

Should the county Board of Supervisors sign off on the application, and the county receive the money, it will be used to enhance public safety communications throughout the county, Alsop wrote, with the details to be worked out later, probably in October.

List of expenditures using federal Homeland Security funds

SLO OA Homeland Security Grants 1999-2012