Julian volunteer firefighters to ask to block dissolution of fire department

JULIAN, Calif. - A court hearing will be held Wednesday regarding the recent dissolution of the county's last volunteer fire department in the mountain community of Julian, where local residents and supporters of the volunteer firefighting district protested the decision by arranging a sit-in at the town's fire station earlier this week.

Members of the Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District will ask a San Diego judge to continue allowing them to oversee firefighting operations in Julian, despite a special election that saw nearly 56 percent of voters approving handing firefighting duties over to the county.

The election results were further certified by a unanimous Monday vote by the county's Local Agency Formation Commission, though the volunteer firefighters argue that LAFCO sought to dissolve the volunteer department in violation of the Brown Act, rendering the election results and LAFCO vote "null and void."

On Monday, a county transition team arrived at the volunteer fire station but were kept out by protesters who locked themselves inside the station for much of the day.

Earlier that day, Cory Briggs, an attorney representing the Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District, said a San Diego Superior Court judge recently upheld allegations in a fire department lawsuit against the county alleging the Brown Act violations.

"You have zero legal authority to do what you're proposing to do today," Briggs told the LAFCO commission at their Monday meeting.

A JCFPD statement alleges "LAFCO knew that JCFPD's dissolution application 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."

The statement also claims that a judge "declared the three former board members' actions `null and void' because they had conceived of their dissolution plan in secret."

Further, Briggs alleges that per the language of the fire station's deed, the station transfers to a Native American Land Trust, the Kumeyaay Diegueno Land Conservancy, upon the fire district's dissolution. Briggs said that if the county attempts to take the property after dissolving the fire district is akin to trespassing.

"You are, in effect, leaving that community without lawful fire service," Briggs said.

The Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District was expected to ask Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil on Wednesday to allow the department "to continue its operations without LAFCO or County interference."

Proponents of "Measure A," which dissolved the fire department, said that having county fire crews oversee firefighting operations would increase services and lower taxes, and that the JCFPD lacked funding and was understaffed.

Opponents said dissolving the volunteer fire corps will have Julian relying on CAL Fire crews "from out of the area who are unfamiliar with our community and territory."

Several Julian residents complained at LAFCO's meeting that CAL Fire crews have previously gotten lost trying to respond to fire and medical calls in the community.

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