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LA sheriff removed as head of emergency operations

LA sheriff removed as head of emergency operations

Sheriff Alex Villanueva has repeatedly called the decision a ‘power grab’; officials have said the decision was months in the making

Alene Tchekmedyian
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to effectively remove Sheriff Alex Villanueva as the head of the county’s emergency operations center, citing a need to centralize disaster operations after shortcomings in the response to the deadly Woolsey fire.

Villanueva called the move irresponsible, criticizing the timing during a global coronavirus pandemic as “a brazen attempt to consolidate power” with the board.

“It’s not gonna add more ventilators, it’s not gonna add more masks out there to first responders, it definitely does not improve functions,” he said at Tuesday’s virtual meeting. “When it comes to life and death matters, I don’t take it lightly.”

Supervisors said the proposed change is months in the making and stems from an audit that revealed the county was unprepared for the deadly Woolsey fire, which killed three people and burned nearly 97,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties in 2018. Supervisor Kathryn Barger pointed to a November board motion that sought the change.

The change would place the county’s chief executive in charge of coordinating disaster preparedness as well as the activation and operation of the emergency center.

“This is not about him,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said at the virtual meeting. “It’s really about the safety of the 10 million people in L.A. County. … He was not really elected to represent county residents, the five of us were.”

The move highlighted a long-running power struggle between the sheriff and the board. They have clashed over a variety of issues since he took office in December 2018.

Villanueva said last week that the timing suggests retaliation for his decision to close gun shops during the pandemic, viewing them as nonessential businesses. He has since reneged on that decision, pointing on Monday to an advisory from the federal government classifying gun shops as essential businesses.

“The federal memorandum is persuasive given its national scope,” Villanueva said in a statement. “Based on this further input from the federal government, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will not order or recommend closure of businesses that sell or repair firearms or sell ammunition.”

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