Julian's Fire District – What Has Been Going On?
Last updated 5/1/2019 at 11:13am
Julian is an official California Historical Landmark known for its vintage small town feel, gold mining history and of course the apple pies.
However, for the past two years, Julian has been embroiled in a heated discussion between the volunteer fire department and San Diego County.
To truly understand why a local authority in charge of fighting fires and providing emergency assistance is so engrained in the community, one needs to look back at the history of the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District.
In 1970, volunteer fire companies in rural San Diego County were established out of the result of the devasting Laguna Fire. The volunteer fire companies, including Julian Volunteer Fire and Lake Cuyamaca Volunteer Fire, were under the financial support from San Diego County. Within four years, the County removed their financial backing and the Julian and Lake Cuyamaca Volunteer Fire Companies continued to endure.
By 1981, the two fire companies merged to form the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District. As a Special Fire District, it would be able to receive funds from the County in the form of the Benefit Fee. With endorsement from voters, this tax provided the fire departments with the extra financial support they needed to continue to operate and serve the community.
The Local Authority Formation Commission (LAFCO) made the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District (JCFPD) official in 1984. During that same year, the Benefit Fee was established for the JCFPD and steps were taken to secure land and construct buildings to house the volunteers in Julian and Lake Cuyamaca.
As years followed, members within and outside of the community volunteered for the JCFPD and provided a reliable service. In 2006 with rising costs and an aging building, JCFPD sought to increase the Benefit Fee amount and voters once again agreed.
Financial issues began to arise in 2013 and the JCFPD Board of Directors at the time began to entertain the idea of allowing the County of San Diego to take over the fire district. The community was not receptive to the idea and the Board voted to remain independent. Over time, the JCFPD continued to build up reserves, improve their facilities and increase their volunteer base.
After many fundraising events, a new station in Julian was constructed by 2017 on land bequeathed by a former local resident. The County approached the Board again to offer the possibility of taking over the fire district to assist the agency financially. The public was again not in agreement and Measure QQ was created in an effort to provide additional financial support the JCFPD needed.
For Measure QQ, voters were to decide if the annual Benefit Fee for the JCFPD would be replaced with a new special tax to provide funds to cover fire suppression and emergency services.
The result was a failed response to the measure by voters due in part to the increased amount of the proposed tax. Shortly before the voters responded, LAFCO adopted a resolution to dissolve JCFPD and allow the County assume services.
The community reacted again and petitioned for Measure A. Voters were then put to the task of determining if the dissolution by LAFCO would remain in effect or not. On March 19, 2019, voters did pass Measure A with 55.56% to dissolve JCFPD and have the County expand their services into Julian and Lake Cuyamaca.
Measure A has definitely divided the community. Both sides are extremely passionate about the fire district and want what is best for Julian and Lake Cuyamaca. Being in such a volatile area for fires, making the decision to dissolve JCFPD or not was not an easy one for voters. Now that voters have confirmed the dissolution, JCFPD is not giving up. JCFPD has filed a lawsuit in the San Diego County Superior Court to declare the LAFCO proceedings illegal.
Issues surround former Board members and the entire process of considering the dissolution of JCFPD. Also, when County officials came to the move into the facilities, some members of JCFPD barricaded themselves in the building. Clearly, the community of Julian has not seen the last of the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection Fire District.
In the coming days, weeks and months, the Julian community will continue to be front and center for the turmoil surrounding the fire district.