March 6, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) – On March 4, the San Diego Rural Fire Protection District’s board majority voted to dissolve the district and join the County Fire Authority.
Board member Lou Russo (photo, left) voted against the action and says he intends to pursue a protest allowed under the Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, that would require signatures from 25% of the district’s voters in order to put the matter on the ballot.
Russo said he views the County takeover of the district as “nothing more than a power grab.” He is also asking why residents in some Alpine areas did not receive a letter about the proposed action so that they could attend the meeting.
The County has threatened to take away funding from the Rural Fire district if it would not dissolve, leaving many board members and residents feeling there was little choice but to acquiesce to the County’s wishes.
Board member R. Terry, in a previous meeting, said that if the district remained independent, they would have to do this without the $3.2 million the County provides, and they will have to rely on “the $1 million we collect.”
The County has contended that consolidation of fire districts in rural areas would lead to better coordination and improved fire protection, but not everyone agrees with that forecast.
Some communities have resisted County takeover of their fire districts, notably Julian, which raised funds from a private donor to remain independent.
Russo had asked the District to fund a meeting with the District’s consultant to discuss the LAFCO protest process, but his request was denied by Dale Amato. Amato stated in an email to Russo that board members “should all be pulling in the same direction” and that any protest spearheaded by Russo should be on his own dime, not at taxpayers’ expense.
Russo fired back, “The majority opinion is not by nature the “correct” opinion. A minority opinion is vital to democracy,” adding, “The protest process is designed to put MORE of the decision into the hands of the citizens of the district.”
Russo has asked that the matter be added to the agenda for the next RFPD meeting.