Bonny Doon Volunteer Fire/Rescue, Inc. v. Santa Cruz Cnty. Local Agency Formation Comm'n, H036492

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtELIA
Decision Date09 July 2012
Docket NumberH036492




Filed: July 9, 2012


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

(Santa Cruz County
Super. Ct. No. CV162743)

An application proposing the formation of the Bonny Doon Fire Protection District ("FPD") and detachment of the Bonny Doon area from the County Service Area 48 ("CSA 48") came before the Local Agency Formation Commission of Santa Cruz County ("LAFCO"), which disapproved it by formal resolution. Bonny Doon Volunteer Fire/Rescue, Inc., a California non-profit public benefit corporation and the proponent of the application, unsuccessfully sought a writ of mandate compelling LAFCO to (1) set aside Resolution No. 913 disapproving the proposal, (2) comply with the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 ("the Act") (Gov. Code, § 56000 et seq.)1 and the Fire Protection District Law of 1987 ("Fire Protection District

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Law") (Health & Saf. Code, § 13800 et seq.), and (3) adopt a new resolution supported by substantial evidence. It now appeals the superior court's denial of its writ petition.

Appellant argues that LAFCO's Resolution No. 913 is not supported by substantial evidence and LAFCO prejudicially abused its discretion by failing proceed in the manner required by the Act and applicable law. Our thorough review of the record does not show that appellant is entitled to writ relief. Accordingly, we affirm.


Procedural Background

A. Administrative Proceedings

1. Proposed Fire Protection District

In October 2006, LAFCO received a proposal application for formation of a Bonny Doon Fire Protection District and concurrent detachment of the new service territory from CSA 48, which funds the Santa Cruz County Fire Department ("County Fire"), from appellant. This application is referred to as Application No. 913.

A registered voter petition for formation of a new Bonny Doon Fire Protection District was also filed with LAFCO's Executive Officer Patrick McCormick and then certified by the elections official of Santa Cruz County ("County") in December 2006. The petition stated: "District formation will significantly improve fire and medical emergency services to the Bonny Doon community" by eliminating dispatch delays, improving response time, designing training to "better accommodate volunteer schedules and improve recruitment and retention," and supplementing volunteer efforts with "some paid staffing, stipends, paid call, etc."

Appellant's emergency services plan, dated January 15, 2007 and submitted to LAFCO, laid out the details of the proposed district's governance and management, administration, facilities, apparatus, and equipment, service delivery strategy, and other aspects of its operation.

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2. Executive Officer's Report

Executive Officer McCormick reviewed Application No. 913 and prepared a report that included his recommendations to LAFCO for a September 22, 2008 public hearing on the application. This Executive Officer's Report, dated September 8, 2008, described the proposed reorganization, the existing fire protection and emergency services, evaluated the proposal, and recommended that LAFCO disapprove it. Numerous attachments accompanied the report.

Among other things, the report explained the provision of current services: "Fire protection and first response to emergencies in Bonny Doon is the responsibility of CAL FIRE (the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection). Under State law, CAL FIRE is stationed in the County during the fire season to provide wildland fire protection. In addition, CAL FIRE provides structural fire and emergency responses year round on contracts with the County of Santa Cruz. This contract arrangement has existed since 1948, and is known as the Santa Cruz County Fire Department, or simply as 'County Fire.' County Service Area 48 coincides with the County Fire service area. County Service Area 48 funds the County Fire contracts through property taxes and fire suppression assessments collected within the County Services Area 48. The contract covers the 286 square miles of Santa Cruz County outside cities, fire protection districts, and County Service Area 4 (Pajaro Dunes), which has its own contract with CAL FIRE."2

"The State of California provides wildland fire suppression to areas that meet its criteria for 'State Responsibility Area.' " The County "contracts with CAL FIRE to respond to emergencies both during the fire season and outside the fire season." That response includes "paid CAL FIRE companies and volunteers who are trained and supported by CAL FIRE." They support the five volunteer companies, including the

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Bonny Doon Fire and Rescue, which had a roster of 19 volunteers. The County's contract with CAL FIRE covered four year-round CAL FIRE stations in the County and four seasonal CAL FIRE stations, including one in Felton.

"Fire protection and emergency response in Bonny Doon is currently provided by a combined response of volunteers, CAL FIRE/County Fire paid companies, and mutual aid from nearby fire agencies." "Fire protection and emergency response in Bonny Doon is currently funded by State and County Service Area 48 (County Fire) funds."

The proposed Bonny Doon FPD would encompass a 49 square mile area. "The subject territory is within the Sphere of Influence that LAFCO has adopted for County Service Area 48 (County Fire)" and the proposal would exclude that area from CSA 48's sphere of influence. "The proposal area generally coincides with the response area into which the Bonny Doon volunteers currently provide initial emergency response."

In Bonny Doon, there are two all-volunteer stations, both owned by the County, but no CAL FIRE stations. "The volunteers are trained, insured, and dispatched by CAL FIRE/County Fire." "Under the current CAL FIRE/County Fire operational plan, [Bonny Doon firefighter] volunteers sleep at their homes each night and respond to pages." The proposal contemplated around-the-clock staffing of the McDermott Station utilizing a combination of paid firefighters, who would be paid "significantly below market rate," and volunteers or interns called "sleepers."

The application "proposed purchasing from the County the vehicles, equipment, and two fire stations that are now used to serve Bonny Doon" for a purchase price of one dollar. In an October 30, 2006 letter to Executive Officer McCormick attached to the report, appellant argues that, in conjunction with formation of the proposed district, Santa Cruz County should transfer two fire station properties, the station on Martin Road and the McDermott Station and residence on Empire Grade Road, and four County-owned vehicles to the new district for a nominal cost of one dollar each.

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When a 911 call is received by a Santa Cruz Consolidated Emergency Communications Center (SCCECC) dispatcher, the dispatcher sends "an alphanumeric pre-alert page" for a County Fire/CAL FIRE incident. The dispatcher then transfers the call to the CAL FIRE dispatcher, who makes the formal radio dispatch and dispatches the nearest paid company, which proceeds to the incident.

In the summer of 2008, there were four major wildfires in Santa Cruz County, including the Martin fire in Boony Doon. CAL FIRE failed to dispatch the Bonny Doon volunteers to the Martin fire. The County's investigation found that the SCCECC did properly pre-alert the Bonny Doon volunteers, those volunteers did respond in substantially the same time frame and numbers as they would have if "CAL FIRE had properly completed the radio dispatch," and "[t]he CAL FIRE dispatch center was aware that the Bonny Doon Volunteers were responding to the Martin Fire based on the Volunteers' radio reports that they were in route."

Two ameliorative steps were taken in response to Martin Fire dispatch failure. CAL FIRE changed their dispatch procedures to reduce the likelihood of future error. In addition, the County had "formed a task force to report on the feasibility of the [SCCECC] directly dispatching all CAL FIRE/County Fire volunteer companies."

3. Hearing on the Proposal

On September 22, 2008, a public hearing was held on Application No. 913. At the end of the hearing, LAFCO's commissioners passed, by a roll call vote of four to three, a motion to follow the staff recommendation to disapprove the application. LAFCO adjourned to its next regularly scheduled meeting on October 1, 2008.

On October 1, 2008, the matter of a resolution implementing disapproval of the proposed reorganization was continued until November 5, 2008.

4. Resolution No. 913

By Resolution No. 913, adopted November 5, 2008, LAFCO disapproved the proposal for formation of the Bonny Doon Fire Protection District and detachment of the

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Bonny Doon area from CSA 48....

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