Glendale is dropping out of a Los Angeles County-wide public-safety communications system meant for disaster response that council members called a “cesspool” and a “black hole” for money during a city meeting this week.

The unanimous decision to leave the joint-powers authority that governs the program comes after the county has already spent roughly $20 million on the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System with little to show for it, city officials said.

“This is a lot of money going into, so far, a big black hole,” said Councilwoman Laura Friedman of the county program. “Hopefully, there will be some accountability… at some point.”

Councilman Dave Weaver concurred.

“I’m happy to get out of that cesspool of spending money,” he said.

Government officials began working to establish shared communications systems to use during disasters, such as the Los Angeles County one, after the 9/11 attacks when public-safety agencies experienced difficulties communicating with each other, Commander Theresa Goldman of the Glendale Police Department said after the City Council made its decision on Tuesday.

Although Glendale is withdrawing from the county authority, that doesn’t mean the city is forsaking regional communications, she said.

Glendale already has a working radio communications system in place that it shares with 31 other agencies, including Burbank, Pasadena and Beverly Hills. The American Red Cross is also connected to Glendale’s system, called Interagency Communications Interoperability System, or ICIS.

The county program proposes two parts: radio and broadband communications. Glendale could patch its exiting radio communications into the planned county system, but it would have to pay an undetermined amount to use the broadband part, said Patrick Mallon, executive director of the joint powers authority that governs the county communications system.

According to a city report, Glendale currently uses commercial wireless companies for data services, but future broadband coverage has yet to be determined.

While Mallon said he was disappointed that Glendale was pulling out of the county authority, he wasn’t surprised about the tart comments from council members.

“The administration of ICIS has a special interest in their existing system,” he said. “They’ve got an existing system they want to see continue.”

The ICIS radio system and user equipment initially cost $16.2 million. About two years ago, the system had a $6 million upgrade using a mixture of grant and lent funding, according to a city report.

Glendale joined the county program in 2009 because it was free, even though the city already had ICIS in place years before.

But now the Los Angeles system has proposed a funding plan that requires Glendale to pay about $4.3 million through 2032 to be part of its program.

Goldman, who is also the chair of the ICIS governing board, said she was concerned with the formula county officials were using to set Glendale’s fee and according to a city report, Glendale may have to spend even more to upgrade hand-held radio units, vehicle-mounted radio equipment and dispatch consoles if it stays with the county system.

“There is no [Los Angeles County] system right now,” Goldman said. “They haven’t built anything.”

The Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System has been hamstrung by funding and planning hurdles, including having to return more than $10 million in funding from a federal homeland security grant in 2012 after missing required deadlines.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration also placed the county program on probation earlier this year when the federal agency expressed concerns that county officials could not meet certain milestones connected to roughly $156 million in grant funding for broadband infrastructure development, according to county records.

However, Mallon said those milestones have been met and the authority plans to install 229 cell towers for its broadband system by September 2015 and about 90 radio sites that don’t have the same time constraints.

The broadband and radio components of the county communication system are forecast to cost $190 million and $205 million, respectively.

As Glendale is bowing out of the county program, other cities may follow the city’s lead, Glendale officials said. If that’s the case, the costs to the remaining agencies will rise, according to a city report.

Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said her team has been considering dropping out of the county system and joining ICIS, but the Santa Monica City Council has yet to vote on withdrawing.

“We are very much interested in ICIS because it’s an existing interoperable radio technology and it would aid Santa Monica with its communication with other law enforcement agencies in the region,” Seabrooks said.

Councilman Ara Najarian said Glendale should extend an invitation for other members of the county system to join ICIS. Each ICIS member agency pays about $46,000 annually to use the system, which Glendale hosts. The agencies must also cover their own infrastructure costs.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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