By Joe Naiman
Village News Correspondent 

NCFPD to transition to election zones


Last updated 2/21/2019 at 3:55pm

The North County Fire Protection District has begun the process of transitioning the election of NCFPD directors from at-large voting to election by zones.

“I think that it’s a necessary and welcome transition with the times to make sure that we’re accurately representing and meeting the needs of our community,” Steve Abbott, the NCFPD fire chief, said.

City councils and school districts have changed from at-large elections to elections by territorial area. The procedure is relatively new for San Diego County’s fire protection districts.

“I believe that they are considering moving that direction. I know Bonita just finished it,” Abbott said.

Abbott was raised in Bonita but never worked for the Bonita-Sunnyside Fire Protection District.

In 2002, the state Legislature and former Gov. Gray Davis amended the California Elections Code to prohibit the use of at-large elections for public agencies with elected board members if the at-large elections impair the ability of a politically protected class to elect candidates of its choice or to influence the outcome of an election. School districts have changed their election procedure due to the threat of lawsuits, but fire protection districts have not been subject to such legal challenges. While law enforcement makes race a potential issue in city council election procedures and matters such as curricula and discipline bring race into school boards, Hispanics and African-Americans have not complained about discrimination in fire and emergency medical service.

“Our standards of coverage are based on population density and response time. We think that’s a pretty universal way of delivering service throughout the district,” Abbott said. “None of our services are really predicated on any criteria other than that.”

The one area in which race can be a factor for a special district is in employment. The fire district had a dual objective when in December 2017 the board approved the reclassification of ambulance staff positions from safety to non-safety personnel.

“We transitioned our ambulance delivery system,” Abbott said.

Allowing paramedic and emergency medical technician personnel who are not firefighters and who are paid comparable to what paramedics receive in the private sector cuts costs for the district, and the change also allows the district to hire personnel who have emergency medical but not firefighting skills.

“One of the reasons was to save money in order to be able to afford a third ambulance to put into service. Another reason was to help address the diversity issue,” Abbott said.

Recruiting within the community and recruiting more diversity were reasons for the district to hire emergency medical personnel without firefighter qualifications.

“The goal was to bring people into the organization at that level,” Abbott said. “We certainly have more diversity among those ranks.”

That could also enable Hispanics, Luiseno Indians and other community members to receive firefighter training after they join the fire district. “This is our way of attempting to create a community incentive program,” Abbott said. “We’re not really yet bearing the fruit of that, but we have faith that that will certainly improve with time.”

The board’s Jan. 22 action to approve a resolution to transition to election by territorial unit also authorized Abbott to confer with NCFPD’s legal counsel and to hire independent consultants who can produce draft maps. At least two public hearings on the draft map scenarios will be held before the district board approves the map of board member areas.


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