by Louis Russo
Back when Jacob and the County pushed for most back-country fire districts to dissolve, including Jamul-headquartered San Diego Rural Fire District (SDRF), her surrogates held a series of town halls touting the benefits should small districts dissolve and their areas be absorbed by County Fire Authority 135 (CFA 135).
Of course, the threat of losing County funding was a large inducement. That was the stick. The carrot put forth in these town halls was that dissolution “…will strengthen the command structure of the San Diego County Fire Authority (and) … improve and ensure the long-term viability of structural fire protection and emergency medical services in unincorporated San Diego County…” The residents of SDRF were told over and over how CFA 135, as a County Agency, had the money, etc. to provide us excellent fire/medical services “out in the country.”
Now that those of us in the former SDRF district have taken the “bait,” and not protested the dissolution (as was our right under State law), some of us learn that the Alpine Fire District has put in an application with the San Diego Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) to annex those portions of the former district within Alpine’s Sphere of Influence (SOI).
There are several problems with this proposal on the part of Alpine Fire. First, all the services Alpine Fire says are to the residents’ advantage in such an annexation, such as “operational efficiency,” “improved ISO” rating,” etc. are the same things Jacob’s CFA surrogates plied us with during the town halls to convince us to not protest the takeover of SDRF. In fact, with the current state of mutual aid agreements in the back country, we never know who will show up: Alpine Fire or Viejas Fire or County Fire, or even Cleveland National Forest Fire equipment and firefighters. The dispatch for the back country, Heartland Communications, automatically dispatches the closest units, regardless of agency.
The two 800-lb gorillas in the room are, first, Alpine Fire has a higher tax rate than CFA (which is EXACTLY why many in the former SDRF were ok with going to CFA) and, second, presently CFA looks over the shoulder of Alpine Fire during the development site plan approval process (as SDRF used to do).
This might not seem too important, except when one notices that a member of the Alpine Fire board is also a member of the Alpine Community Planning Group (not to mention a home builder) and the same area Alpine Fire wants to annex is part of what is going to be a contentious General Plan update in the upcoming 18-24 months. What is Alpine Fire hoping to accomplish with this annexation? Not only does the single-station district (exactly the kind of department Jacob and her surrogates hammered as inefficient, unsafe, outdated, etc. during the push for dissolution) hope to garner more tax revenue, we who have been fighting against development know that we will suddenly have no voice in the rush toward out of control, outrageous housing densities many on the planning group want.
Currently, we can be sure we are getting the lowest tax rate while at the same time we can appeal to CFA to NOT approve fire/access/other variances during the site approval process. We will lose all that, and more, if Alpine annexes us.
So, where does the “switch” part of this contention come from and what is Jacob’s role? After the sole Alpine area member of the former SDRF board left, the Jamul-area controlled board (where Jacob lives) inserted a key piece into the dissolution agreement with the County: That LAFCO would be able to determine if a future annexation on the part of Alpine Fire could occur, if so requested. (Of course, during the County town hall meetings, Jacob’s surrogate always stated CFA would NOT entertain such nibbling away at its borders.)
Jacob approved the dissolution agreement. Jacob is ALSO a member of LAFCO.
We can connect the dots as well as anyone. Why would she approve that language unless later she planned to sell us out? Why were single station departments bad then, but good now? Why was it the greatest idea in the world for us to be part of CFA, yet now there is the real possibility we will be shuttled to an inferior agency? Why change agencies AGAIN, when we are where Jacob and the County forced us to be, for our own good, THEN? When do we stop being pawns?
Maybe it’s time to drain a little swamp water at the County and in Alpine. Maybe the other LAFCO commissioners will help us do that. We certainly hope so as we hold out no hope that Jacob will protect us.
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Russo is an Alpine Community Planning Group member, a former San Diego Rural Fire Board member, and a 2016 Donald Trump delegate from the 50th District