Hear our interview on KNSJ on these hot topics and more by clicking the audio link: Protecting residents from wildfires and frequent power outages, setting state standards to shorten ambulance response times and beef up fire protection, make healthcare more accessible, create opportunities for middle class jobs, and stop special interest influences.
By Miriam Raftery
April 15, 2018 (San Diego’s East County) – “I’ve bene fighting to save lives and protect people my entire adult life,” says Cal Fire Captain/paramedic Jeff Griffith, who is also an elected member of the Palomar Health District board. Now he’s running for the 38th State Senate district seat being vacated by Joel Anderson due to term limits, which includes most of East County’s urban, rural and mountain areas.
He’s running against Brian Jones, former Assemblyman and current Santee Councilman—and taking Jones to task for a legislative record that he says favored special interests over public health and safety.
Captain Griffith wants to solve concerns raised recently by residents in San Diego’s inland region, such as protecting residents not only from wildfires, but also from dangers posed by frequent intentional power outages. He would support legislation to improve ambulance response times, as a paramedic who has seen what happens when patients don’t get to an ER in time. He also wants legislative to put fire protection as a guarantee in our county's charter and pledges to fight for better access and affordability to healthcare, as well as opportunities for middle class jobs.
“The board of CPF (California Professional Firefighters) said they checked his [Brian Jones'] administrative record and he has voted against fire service interests numerous times during his time in the Assembly,” says Griffith.
Griffith says he’s seen fires 30 years ago that were manageable. “Today they are out of control in the intensity, the size,” he observes, adding that fire season is now year-round. He points to record-setting wildfires across California last year, as well as recurring drought. “Our rain totals are off. The type of weather patterns we’re seeing are changing,” he notes. “I spent 20 days on duty during December due to the Thomas Fire. I never had to do that before.”
He states pointedly, “A big part of why fires are getting so big is because of climate change…If nothing is done, it’s only going to get worse.”
Brian Jones, by contrast, is a climate change denier who has taken hefty campaign contributions from oil and utility companies. He voted against both major bills enacted in California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
“I believe public policy should be driven by science,” says Griffith, who favors using cap and trade funds in part to reduce fuel/dead trees in forests.
He wants to improve communications so that evacuation problems such as those that contributed to dozens of death in northern California last year won’t happen again. “Early notification will save lives,” he states.
The insurance industry was one of the biggest funders of Jones’ campaigns when he was in the Legislature previously. Griffith sees that as a conflict of interest. He wants to support package of bills backed by the state Insurance Commissioner to regulate insurance companies and improve consumers’ rights after disasters.
Those bills would give homeowners more time to rebuild, allow them to combine coverage for sheds and contents of their home and use that toward rebuilding the house if they are underinsured. The package would also require insurers to regularly advise homeowners about replacement costs to help prevent under insurance. It would also let wildfire victims claim temporary living expenses for renting an RV or staying at nontraditional options such as an air B&B, since hotels are often booked up after a major firestorm. He is troubled by “the fact that whole communities are basically going to disappear” in some fire ravaged areas and wants more done to both help prevent such disasters, and help survivors.
We asked Captain Griffith about controversies over San Diego County forcing volunteer fire districts to dissolve and join the County Fire Authority with fire crews from Cal Fire. Julian is the only free-standing volunteer district remaining, and has been under pressure to join the CFA. A key reason for community resistance is that the County previously backed out of the fire protection business, which gave rise to volunteer departments, and yet has refused to write fire protection into the county charter even now.
“It shouldn’t be dependent on who is currently in office,” says Griffith, who would support action by the state to compel counties that eliminate volunteer departments to guarantee some level of fire protection. He recalls wildfires here that jumped freeways, making supervisors realize that keeping large cash reserves on hand shouldn’t be the only priority. “They’ve since realized you need to spend money to protect county residents; that’s why you see more consolidation,” he says, but adds that “of course” he would support a guarantee in the county charter or at the state level, such as a per capita requirement. “It should be something that is standard to protect county residents.”
He also supports actions to protect rural and mountain residents from the frequent power outages that SDG&E has implemented on hot, windy days to prevent power lines from sparking wildfires.
“I understand that the power companies try to protect themselves and also try to protect residents,” he acknowledged, noting that SDG&E has sophisticated data to know which communities will be hit hardest by winds. But he also notes that power companies have other options than frequent outages. “They could put lines undergrounds, though that costs more.” Winds could be hardened to withstand fires and high winds.
He believes that threats to public safety from outages, that also cause inconvenience, loss of communications, and financial losses such as food spoilage must also be weighed. “People need power to keep insulin cold,” and for medical equipment and wells, he notes.
He would like to see hearings held in the Legislature on utility power shut-offs and other fire safety issues. “If they haven’t done anything to make it safer, then they need some regulations as to how many times they can cut off power. There’s got to be some kind of standard.”
Captain Griffith notes that California spent $1.8 billion last year fighting fires and is expected to get some money back in federal funds for disaster aid. He believes putting more money up front into disaster prevention, would be a smart investment.
In addition to protecting the public, he is driven by a desire to protect firefighters too, after several deaths last year among firefighters including an experienced Cal Fire firefighter killed in a burnover during the Thomas Fire. He says firefighting is much more dangerous than in the past, and PTSD levels for firefighters are approaching those in the military. There’s only one center in the nation for treating PTSD, on the east coast, and he would like to see a second open in California to aid firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement officers who have endured traumas.
On healthcare, as a Ramona paramedic he’s transported people long distances to multiple hospitals, for decades. “I’ve seen firsthand what having lack of access to healthcare means,” he says.
Emergency rooms are often overcrowded due to people using them as primary care, he says. He supports changes to the healthcare system to encourage preventive care. He also notes that there is a “golden hour” to get stroke patients to a stroke center to prevent permanent, debilitating damage, and is concerned about the long ambulance response times that San Diego County has in some rural areas. “I would love to change that…It shouldn’t be so fragmented. It shouldn’t be up to counties to make their own response times,” he says, noting that other California counties have done better. He would also like state certification of paramedics so they can respond across county lines.
He faults San Diego for outsourcing ambulance services to private companies. “Anytime you have a for-profit company…they want to keep service low cost to provide the biggest profit for the company. I was a firefighter-paramedic that was taxpayer paid for; I don’t think emergency services should be for profit. I think you get the best service when these services are public….One reason fire service has gone to paramedic services is we’re on the scene earlier. We provide care sooner, and we increase survival rates.”
He supports universal, single-payer healthcare but realistically doesn’t believe that will happen with the current federal administration, which may move to block California even if the state voted for such a system on its own. But he supports actions such as the state’s current effort to expand MediCal to serve more state residents. “We have two forms of single payer now – Medicare and the VA (Veterans Administration); both have good outcomes and control the cost and enjoy good reviews from people who utilize it,” he notes.
Jones, by contrast, has opposed such efforts and also took big donations from the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries.
Asked how he might fund a major healthcare overhaul in California, he says there are various options ranging from spending marijuana taxes to a “Robin Hood Tax” of 1% on national trades, as the California Nurses Association has proposed.
In his successful campaigns for the Palomar Health District board, he was backed mainly by nurses and firefighters.
Besides public safety issues, Griffith’s platform calls for increasing apprenticeship programs and job creation to provide middle class incomes, as well as reducing student debt. He wants to see more done to fight the opioid crisis and support working families.
“Brian Jones is basically my polar opposite,” he says. Jones got low and even zero ratings from environmental groups such as League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club, after taking money from oil and development interests. He’s also taken money from alcohol and tobacco industries. Griffith said he would refuse money from the tobacco industry since smoking is a “huge public health concern.”
“I’m fighting for the fact that I like to have clean air, clean water, foods that won’t make me sick and mediations that won’t kill me,” says Griffith, who believes some regulations are good –though he also supports limiting regulation of small businesses that are “the backbone of our community…small businesses drive the economic engine of the state. They shouldn’t have undue regulations that put them out of business.”
Griffith says working families can count on him. “I truly come form a blue collar family,” he says. “My dad’s side of the family, they were all miners or worked in forestry. I went to community college and picked up a paramedic license.” His daughter is now a certified welder.
He notes that Jones, an off-road vehicle enthusiast, got into politics to protect off road areas. “”In six years he only passed one bill, a minor welfare reform,” Griffith says, “and now he wants to go back to Sacramento for an additional eight years. I want to go to Sacramento to make things safer and also healthier. I have no special interests, except public safety and healthcare….I’ve been on the front lines of keeping people safe” in 30 years of service. “I’ve been fighting to save lives and protect people my entire adult life. I don’t think special interests are going to affect that.”
The vast 38th state Senate district includes most of East County, from Lemon Grove west through La Mesa, El Cajon and Alpine, north through Santee, Lakeside and our mountain areas, and west through Poway, Rancho Santa Fe and San Marcos. It’s a heavily conservative area that has traditional supported Republicans such as Jones.
“It’s a tough district here for a Democrat,” Captain Griffith, a Democrat, acknowledges. “But with my name recognition and experience, I think I have a really good chance to succeed.”
In his last election for the healthcare district, he says he received 71,000 votes to win by a 10,000 vote margin. State Senator Joel Anderson, the last candidate to win the 38th State Senate district, got 90,000 votes. “I’m right there in the neighborhood,” Griffith concludes, adding, “All I need to do is have enough people that are also interested in public safety and healthcare to support me and send me to Sacramento.”
You can read more about his candidacy at www.GriffithForSenate.com .
Note: Photos in a firefighting uniform do not imply endorsement by any goverment department or organization.