LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors wants to remove Sheriff Alex Villanueva as the head of the county’s emergency operations center.
Villanueva told the Los Angeles Times Wednesday night that the move being pursued during the coronavirus outbreak is a “pure power grab at the worst possible time.”
Villanueva again blasted the proposal on Thursday, calling it a misguided effort.
“Some people just don’t want to be told what the limits of their authority are or what their role is, and as the elected sheriff, I have a role as the director of emergency operations,” Villanueva said, adding that people want to hear emergency messages delivered from law enforcement and fire officials.
Villanueva said the coronavirus pandemic is not just a health crisis but a humanitarian emergency, saying the proposal to remove him as the emergency operations director “has nothing to do with somehow making emergency management somehow better.”
If the board removes him from the emergency command position, Villanueva said, “The Board of Supervisors will be the one dictating the outcome of every single incident, which they definitely don’t understand how to manage properly. They’re not trained for this. It takes a lot of time, takes a lot of energy, takes a lot of years of experience in the field doing emergency management.”
Three supervisors told the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the board’s intent, the potential move has been in the works for months and is tied to the center’s response efforts during the Woolsey fire, which killed three people and burned nearly 97,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties in 2018, before Villanueva took office.
But Villanueva said the timing of the move is payback for his decision Tuesday to close gun shops during the coronavirus pandemic, a move he initially reversed but reinstated Thursday after Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would defer to the sheriff on the gun shop issue.
“After the governor’s clarification yesterday of what my authority was on this subject, we definitely let it be known that we’re going to proceed forward and we’re going to shut down gun sales and ammunition sales outside of law enforcement and private security organizations within the county,” Villanueva said.
Earlier Thursday, during a daily update on the coronavirus from the Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Barger said “there’s really nothing to respond to” regarding the sheriff’s position on the emergency management role.
“We’re all in this together, and now is not the time to argue about who’s in charge, because all the people in our communities want to know is that we’re working together collaboratively to make sure that we control the spread (of the virus) and do what’s right for our constituents,” Barger said.
The motion to replace Villanueva as the head of the county’s emergency operations center was introduced in November, and it was supposed to be heard at the supervisors’ March 17 meeting, but that meeting was canceled in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
“I was equally surprised about the response given that this has been in the workings for months and … the sheriff was given the opportunity to provide input in November,” Barger said.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told The Times the board is not interested in “petty conflicts” with the sheriff and, instead, is focused on managing the coronavirus threat.
Villanueva and the board have clashed over issues such as hiring and spending since he took office in December 2018.
The proposal is scheduled to go before the board on Tuesday, March 31.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story was updated to include additional comments from Sheriff Villanueva and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.