On a November afternoon, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti texted the city’s fire chief to ask how much destruction the Woolsey fire had caused in a wealthy gated Ventura County neighborhood.
Over the course of the next few hours, the mayor and the Fire Department chief, Ralph Terrazas, went back and forth over the fate of Bell Canyon. Eventually, the chief asked Garcetti whether he wanted any specific home checked, and the mayor provided an address, according to public records obtained by the Los Angeles Times of text messages between L.A. leaders.
The 56 pages of text messages provide a glimpse into an issue fire officials noted in a report last year: that politicians asking firefighters to check on specific addresses complicated their ability to fight the fast-growing Woolsey fire. But in a move that government accountability experts called legally questionable, L.A. officials provided The Times with heavily redacted records of the communications, obscuring key details such as specific addresses.
Both the L.A. city fire and Garcetti’s office blacked out the address of the home the mayor asked to be checked. They argued that providing it to The Times constitutes an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” and that the information is exempt from disclosure under the state records act.
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