Safety concerns raised; court ruling by Judge Randa Trapp could be death knell to Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District
By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor
November 20, 2019 (Julian) -- With a stroke of a gavel, San Diego Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp on Friday morning dashed hopes of volunteers from the former Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District that the district will be resurrected anytime soon.
Judge Trapp denied the motion filed by JCFPD’s attorney Cory Briggs last April 10, which sought to invalidate the dissolution of the volunteer fire and medical protection district by the San Diego Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO). Briggs filed the motion to appeal the afternoon after LAFCO’s vote.
Within hours of Trapp’s decision Friday, despite a new appeal of Friday's judgement filed by Briggs, the County Fire Authority operated by CALFIRE raided Julian Fire Station 56, towing away or hauling off all remaining firefighting equipment of the JCFPD including fire engines and ambulances. A broker has reportedly indicated that at least some of the equipment is being put up for sale, instead of being either held for the JCFPD in case of a win on appeal, or turned over to the CFA/CALFIRE to utilize to protect Julian.
Briggs called the action a “raid.” Some Julian residents cried, while others voiced anger.
The action leaves Julian entirely dependent upon the CFA/CAL FIRE for protection, despite grave concerns raised by many residents over serious gaps in equipment and coverage since the JCFPD was dissolved.
Observers of Friday’s removal of equipment said it was much like when the CFA/CAL FIRE took over Station 56 on April 10. Also hauled out was an equipment dryer worth $28,000.
One by one all of vehicles stored in Julian Fire Station 56 were towed and brought to another location. Brian Kramer, past president of the JCFP, told ECM that Cal Fire indicated vehicles were removed from the station to be maintained and at least some are being prepped for sale. A water tender that had been purchased by the JCFPD has already have been sold by CFA/CALFIRE and delivered to a fire district in Tennessee, according to Kramer.
East County Magazine has contacted CFA/CALFIRE public information officers requesting an opportunity to inspect the vehicles at a location where they were delivered. ECM also left phone messages, seeking information on the fate of the vehicles removed. CFA/CALFIRE has not returned any calls or emails.
Even vehicles with four-wheel drive were taken, despite complaints from Julian residents earlier this year that CFA/CALFIRE vehicles in Julian lacked snow tires and that the county had not positioned a snow plowin Julian. Cal Fire denied that any engine was stuck, prompting release of drone video footage shot by a resident that appeared to show Cal Fire engines stuck in deep snow, while JCFPD volunteers were out clearing snowy roads blocked by a fallen tree, thanks to a snow plow that they owned. ECM has repeatedly asked Cal Fire and Supervisor Jacob if there are plans to provide a snow plow and/or snow tires for vehicles operated by the CFA/Cal Fire in the Julian area.
Even more frightening to residents of Julian and surrounding areas is the prospect of the community being left with no equipment at all when a fire occurs—a prospect that residents have long voiced concerns over – and that appears to have actually occurred during the Sawday Fire in Ramona.
The Sawday Fire occurred, prophetically, during Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s town hall in Julian in late October. As sirens wailed past, heading to Ramona some 30 miles away, JCFPD board chair Mike Menghini rose and announced that every piece of firefighting and medical equipment had been dispatched to the fire, leaving no one to respond if an emergency occurred in Julian.
No one disputed his claim. ECM sent email to CAL FIRE’S public information officer and Supervisor Jacob asking what the county plans to do to prevent Julian from being left bare – meaning zero protection if a house fire, other fire, or medical emergency were to occur. Jacob referred our inquiry to CFA/Cal Fire, which acknowledged receiving our email, but never provided an answer.
Also taken from the station were four breathing apparatus items belonging to the Julian Volunteer Fire Company Association. The Association says that it intends to file a report with the San Diego County Sheriff Department on what it regards as a theft of its equipment.
A CAL FIRE truck was even photographed by the Julian Times hauling away firewood that had been gathered to help people in need during the winter today, with snow blanketing the Julian area.
In his motion, Briggs argued that the dissolution of the JCFPD was invalid because it was the product of a “void” that the JCFPD cured prior to completion of the dissolution process. The initial decision by the JCFPD governing board to start dissolution proceeded violated the Brown Act, but was later rescinded. Because of that, LAFCO had no authority to continue with a proceeding was started illegally, Briggs argued, thus its decision to dissolve the district has no effect.
Trapp, in her ruling Friday, countered that the JCFPD had not shown that there were any errors in the process, and LAFCO apparently complied with all of the requirements in approving the dissolution of the JCFPD. The dissolution by LAFCO came after voters in the JCFPD narrowly approved a ballot measure supporting the dissolution, though opponents contended the wording was confusing and objected to not having a polling place in Julian for the election, which was conducted only by mail-in ballots.
On Tuesday morning, some 20 individuals who identified themselves as employees of the County of San Diego were back at Station No. 56 (the station formerly manned by the volunteer firefighters before the dissolution), making repairs throughout the building. When a JCFPD volunteer entered the station to state that the county workers were trespassing, she was told by one of the workers, “We’re just doing what we’re being told to do.”
Another unresolved issue in this controversy is legal action taken by a Kumeyaay land trust group, which claims a clause in the deed requires that the land be given back to the Native American group if Station 56 ever ceases to be a fire station run by the JCFPD. The trust’s attorney, Ted Griswold of the Procopio law firm, contends that the JCFPD has abandoned the station, albeit against their will, thus a court must ultimately decide the fate of the station and the land on which it sits.
East County Magazine sent Supervisor Jacob a set of detailed questions about concerns which had been expressed by the citizens at her recent town hall meeting in Julian.
ECM’s questions included what if anything will be done to prevent the CFA/CAL FIRE from leaving the Julian area without fire and medical protection at times amd what will be done to resolve the problem of four-wheel drive vehicles replaced with two-wheel drive vehicles. ECM also asked for elaboration on her admission that there are “glitches” in the process, a detailed explanation of her statement at the town hall that the election “was not fair” due to landowners being unable to vote, an for verifiable details of “how Julian’s fire and medical protection has been improved since the takeover,” as residents were promised by the county would occur.
To that Jacob minimally responded, “Although the court’s decision is being appealed, it’s my hope the focus can now be on coming together as a community. Julian is a special place, and I know that we will get through this challenging period. All of us want the same thing – a safer, better protected Julian.”
But she provided no details on how to accomplish that goal.
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