By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor
Photo: JCFPD Attorney Cory Briggs talks with community supporters
April 12, 2019 (Julian-Cuyamaca) - The Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District (JCFPD) on Wednesday had hoped that it would get its day in court after the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) unanimously voted to dissolve the rural Julian fire and medical emergency district on Monday.
An ex parte hearing had been scheduled for Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. in the courtroom of San Diego Superior Court Dept. 73 before Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil. But the hearing ended up getting postponed when LAFCO attorneys requested a change of venue. In mid-afternoon, Briggs announced via Twitter that he and County counsel had spoken with Judge John S. Meyer and a hearing for JCFPD’s request for a Temporary Restraining Order would be held a week later on April 17 at 8:30 a.m. in Dept. C-64 of San Diego Superior Court in downtown San Diego.
An “ex parte” decision is one decided by a judge without requiring all of the parties to the controversy to be present.
While the attorneys involved in the case would not specifically say why a new judge was requested. According to Briggs, a different San Diego Superior Court judge, Randa Trapp, last week sided with the JCFPD in its lawsuit against the county over alleged Brown Act violations. Trapp ruled the LAFCO process nullified. That process had culminated in a ballot measure to challenge the LAFCO decision. By a slim margin, voters approved dissolving the district but some contend the wording was confusing. JCFPD attorney Cory Briggs argues that nullification of the LAFCO process should void the election as well.
At Monday’s contentious meeting, Briggs requested that the commission delay the vote for at least a week before dissolving the district to allow the legal process to continue. “You have zero legal authority to do what you’re proposing to do today,” Briggs said to the LAFCO commissioners.
Photo, right: John S. Meyers
But after a brief discussion by LAFCO members, the suggestion was rejected, and the vote was taken to dissolve the county’s last volunteer fire district. That prompted Briggs to immediately leave the meeting and head directly to Superior Court offices to file an injunction against LAFCO that was to have been heard on Wednesday.
Prior to the meeting, Cal Fire Chief Tony Mecham on Monday ordered a “transition team” of a locksmith, facilities manager and information technology specialist to enter JCPFD’s Station 56 south of Julian. But they were denied access by Julian volunteers inside who locked the doors. According to news reports, the team was sent in to assess the condition of the station in anticipation of county firefighters moving in to the station within the next couple of weeks.
Briggs is seeking the court action to bring about an injunction that would stop the county from taking over the JCFPD. The complaint also asks for a judgment declaring that LAFCO’s proceedings, the recent Registrar of Voters election did not comply with state law, and prohibiting the County of San Diego and LAFCO from moving on with the dissolution until all legal requirements are met as determined by the Court.
In spite of the delayed court hearing on an injunction, JCFPD’s radios have been shut off by the county and its bank accounts frozen, according to a source close to the situation. Supporters have alleged that San Diego Sheriff Department has deployed deputies wearing black military garb and is scoping Station 56 with night vision goggles.
The County of San Diego, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, was set Wednesday to obtain a court order to force access into Station 56 by Cal Fire under the jurisdiction of the County Fire Authority, but has opted to wait until after next week’s hearing on how to proceed, if it is to proceed at all with a takeovern depending on a judicial ruling.
County of San Diego Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who is being termed out of office in 2020, had hoped for the county to take control of all backcountry community volunteer emergency services. But a positive ruling by Judge Meyers on Briggs’ latest lawsuit would cause Jacob’s initiative to fall short.
In a statement released by JCFPD on Monday, it alleged that “LAFCO knew that JCFPD’s dissolution had been submitted illegally after three former board members conspired with Supervisor [and LAFCO board member] Dianne Jacob to eliminate local control over fire protection and emergency medical services.”
Last week, San Diego Superior Court judge Randa Trapp ruled in favor of the Julian Volunteer fire Company Association, Battalion Chief Brian Crouch and Eva and Mike Hatch, and Dave Southcott’s and upheld their claim that the JCFPD board at the time in 2018 violated the Brown Act relating to citizens attending a public agency meeting, disallowing a secret ballot vote, and the reporting of the results of a meeting.
Briggs has based some of his court arguments on a recent court case involving a Northern California town where a similar scenario to what occurred in Julian happened there in 2013.
In the court case Hernandez vs. Apple Valley, Gabriel Hernandez, a local citizen, alleged that the town council violated a Brown Act requirement failing to give public notice that it would be considering Walmart’s gift of payment for a proposed special election. This was after the town adopted a resolution setting up for a special election in 2013 to amend the general plan to allow for a commercial development that would include a Walmart store.
At the same meeting, the town also accepted a previously unmentioned memorandum of understand in which Walmart was to pay for the special election. After the town’s voters approved the measure, Hernandez sued the town of Apple Valley and Walmart, saying that the town’s agenda was not adequate under California’s open meeting law and that the initiative was for the benefit of Walmart in violation of the California Constitution.
The trial court ruled that the town’s approval of the measure of understanding and the initiative was invalid, void and unenforceable.
In the Julian case, Judge Trapp ruled the actions of the previous JCFPD board “shall be rendered null and void.” That board vote to transition fire protection to the County Fire Authority run by Cal Fire set in motion the LAFCO process and came after the County threatened to take away funding it had formerly provided to the JCFPD. A new JCFPD board elected in November, however, supports keeping the district independent and retaining its 60 volunteer firefighters and medical personnel.
The County’s actions to shut off the volunteers’ radios and block funding for medical personnel makes it difficult, perhaps impossible, for them to respond to emergency fire and medical calls, leaving the County Fire Authority/Cal Fire with that responsibility despite Judge Trapp’s ruling last Friday and another judicial ruling pending.
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