John Byrne is district administrator for the Valley Center Fire Protection district. On Thursday night, his wardrobe probably won’t endear himself to frustrated residents. He’ll be wearing a shirt that says “Happiness is Positive Cash Flow.”
Byrne has championed a controversial plan he says will save hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it will also reduce the role of Cal Fire in one of the county’s most fire prone areas. The plan, which is expected to be approved Thursday night, will mean big changes at Fire Station 73 in Valley Center.
The station is currently manned by Cal Fire. But under the proposal, the station will be taken over by the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians Fire Department.
Residents have expressed concern that fire protection services will be compromised. They also feel they’ve been provided little information. They voiced strong opposition when the issue was put up for vote in May.
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“I’m very sadly disappointed in the board that we elected that they have kept this information from us. We put our trust in the people we elect, our officials and I think they’ve really let us down,” said Lori Roach, who lost a daughter in the 2003 Paradise Fire.
The vote was postponed until June 20, but Byrne says nothing has changed and the board plans to move forward with the change. But the union representative for Cal Fire insists it’s a bad decision.
“You’re looking at one paid guy and three reserves that are basically rookies on the engine. Every day,” said Randy Scales, who admits he’s also looking to protect the 11 Cal Fire jobs that would be eliminated.
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And while Byrne says his agency will save up to $1.4 million with the change, Scales says the money figures are misleading.
“Mr. Byrne is being very deceitful on what information is actually being portrayed out there and what the dollar figures are,” said Scales.
Byrnes insists his numbers are a “100 percent objectively determinable fact.”
“If he wants to label it as deceit, he’s welcome to call it whatever he wants,” said Byrnes.
Some residents have voiced concerns that their homeowner’s insurance plans could change or be cancelled. Byrnes was blunt when asked about that possibility.
“It’s a bogus issue. It’s a non-issue because fire station locations haven’t changed, topography hasn’t changed, water delivery capability hasn’t changed. Nothing’s changed,” he added.
One resident showed up to Thursday's meeting with a petition in hand asking the Valley Center Fire Protection District for a one year extension of the current contract with Cal Fire.
The resident told NBC 7 he anticipates that the petition will be rejected. If so, the resident said he will start a new petition to recall all of the board members, who are elected officials.