Villanueva calls vote to remove him a ‘power grab’ by county supervisors

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva
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Signal Staff Writer Tammy Murga contributed to this report.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva held a news conference Thursday in response to a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors announcement about a plan to vote on whether they should remove him as head of the county’s emergency response.

Villanueva criticized the reactions of the Public Health Department and the board, while making the argument for why he should remain in charge, during the 30-minute live broadcast on Facebook.

On the Tuesday board agenda, supervisors plan to vote on a motion that would remove Villanueva as the head of emergency operations, instead placing county CEO Sachi A. Hamai in charge of the county’s emergency response.

The ordinance would create an Emergency Management Council with Hamai as the chair, and Villanueva as the No. 2 in command.

Officials from Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office on Thursday said the move has been in the works since November, due to a report about the county’s response to the Woolsey Fire. The November 2018 blaze burned for two weeks, killing three people and destroying 96,949 acres.

“This precipitated from the Woolsey Fire and a need to re-identify how the county responds to emergency situations,” said Michelle Vega, a spokeswoman for Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley. “It kind of took a more holistic view of the county’s response to any crisis.”

However, Villanueva said Thursday that the Woosley Fire was being used as a “trojan horse” to facilitate a “power grab.”

“It definitely is about power,” said Villanueva. “It has nothing to do with somehow making emergency management somehow better, because what they’re going to do is they’re going to substitute an elected official … (with people) all appointed by the Board of Supervisors.”

Villanueva said the current system, with a coordination group that creates directives the Sheriff’s Department executes, is being circumvented by the Board of Supervisors.

“Some people just don’t want to be told what the limits of their authority are or what their role is. And as an elected sheriff, I have a role as a director of emergency operations,” Villanueva said, adding that he is a part of the Unified Coordination Group but has the role of executing what the group decision is. “What’s decided at the group level, that is how the process works. That is what teamwork is all about. So I want to encourage my counterparts on the Board of Supervisors to join the game and let’s do this the right way.

“Unfortunately, the Department of Public Health (and) the Department of Health Services was not prepared for a pandemic at the onset of this.”

The board, Villanueva said, would “be the one dictating the outcome of every single incident, which they definitely don’t understand how to handle them properly.”

Late Wednesday night, Villanueva contended this was in response to his handling of the L.A. County gun-stores policy, which as of Thursday he would consider non-essential businesses that need to be closed to the general public.

“During the closure, they shall be permitted to sell ammunition to security guard companies,” said Villanueva. “Also, I am making an exception for those who have already lawfully purchased a firearm, possess a valid California Firearms Safety certificate and simply need to take possession of their firearm.”

In a statement issued from her office on Thursday, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said that two-thirds of the counties of California had adopted council-type organizational structure, and that the Sheriff’s Department had been meeting for months to discuss how to achieve this goal.

“The change on Tuesday’s agenda will not in any way diminish the Sheriff’s Department’s authority over emergency law enforcement activities,” Kuehl said in a prepared statement. “it simply updates county codes to reflect best practices and implements one of the recommendations made in the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire.”

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