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Julian Firefighters Standoff

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A standoff in Julian over the future of its volunteer fire department, county supervisors want a comprehensive strategy for electric cars, and Elise Hu talks about her work as a reporter for NPR.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:01 Volunteer firefighters and Julian refused to budge. They won't give up their station even after losing a special election. Why are they, say the law is on their side, San Diego County, we'll charge you up. It's planned for electric cars, how a new roadmap fits into the region's climate goals and what will life in society be like in the year 2050 report or Elise, you talks with us about an upcoming NPR series focusing on our future. I'm mark Sauer. The KPBS round table starts now.

Speaker 2: 00:41 Okay.

Speaker 3: 00:42 Welcome to our discussion to the week stop stories. I'm mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS roundtable today. Reporter j Harry Jones of the San Diego Union Tribune reporter Charles T. Clark, also of the Union Tribune and Elise, you have corresponded and video host based in Culver City, California for National Public Radio. Well volunteer firefighters and the Julian Quia Maka fire district. I used to handling emergencies and battling blazes in the mountains of East county. Now they have quite a different kind of fight on their hands. Voters decided to disband the volunteer fire district in favor of a takeover pie professional firefighters from San Diego County. But in this instance, voters did not have the final say and j a start with what the situation right now is who's responding to emergency calls and fires there. Right now the county fire authority, which is what they contract with cal fire for services is handling all calls, medical, everything out of there, two stations that had been there for a long time in the, in the area.

Speaker 3: 01:41 Meanwhile, in the Julian volunteer station, which was built just a few years ago, really nice facility. The, there are a number long tears inside walked in, uh, fearing that the county, which was given permission to take over the department last Monday, I will come in and just sees all their stuff. The county has said that's not going to happen until a pending court case is over. And that was, there was supposed to be a request for a temporary restraining order on behalf of the volunteers district on Wednesday, but that was now continued until next Wednesday. So everything's kind of status quo right now. Volunteers can't respond because, uh, well the county cut off their dispatch service wanting things to that even though they're not getting called, right. The only thing that could happen is if somebody drove set up, I'm having a heart attack helped me. That's about it. Um, so that's where we're at and really Wednesday is the big next moment in this drama, which has been going on for years.

Speaker 3: 02:32 And we're going to get into some more details about the legalities in a minute. But it is a confusing situation as we've said, explained why the will of the voters isn't being, uh, carried out here. I mean, explain what the, with the vote called for here and why there's this conflict is happening. It is complicated. Um, very briefly, the county fire authority about 10 years was formed after the 2003 in 2007 fire storms. The idea was those fire started in the back. She burned into the urban areas causing massive destruction and death. Um, so let's professionalize all these volunteer departments that are all over the, uh, the back country. They've done that with every single volunteer department, except Julian, which has always resisted the takeover. They're very proud of their firefighters. Uh, they feel that they're, they're local people will be able to respond better to emergencies because they know where a Sally and Joe lived down down that road, take the fork to the left, to the left, and you know that she needs her medication.

Speaker 3: 03:26 And the wild that professional firefighters will be rotated in and out and just don't know the area. They have stories about. They've gotten lost. Cal Fire's gotten lost it many times in the area which are somewhat in dispute. Um, so, but the voters spoke at some point on all it, right. So the board of directors of the, of the district last year decided because of all the financial problems the department's been having for years, a volunteer department that they would ask the county to, um, to take control. And that then went to a lengthy process with a thing called the local agency formation commission, which eventually voted to make this merger or consolidation happen. Then a 26% of the people in Julian to sign of a protest petition forcing the first of its kind election ever. And the county, uh, about a special district where the mail and ballot, it ended on March 19th.

Speaker 3: 04:18 The volunteers fully expected to win that thing. They thought they had this sort of community, but they didn't, they lost it by 54 46% margin. At that point. The legal wrangling really began and the volunteers hired Corey Briggs rather. You don't know what I'm talking about. Korea on the show running for mayor now as I was San Diego sit here and Michelle, um, and he has, he obtained a judgment a week ago today on Friday that from a different judge on a different case to begin a year ago, challenging the validity of the decision by the original board of directors of the district to ask for the solution. Since then in November with the new elections and then the resignation of people, all five members of the new board of directors of this volunteer department are against the takeover. So he found himself in a position of arguing against his own position earlier so that both, both, both lawyers were arguing for the same thing when his client lost this decision.

Speaker 3: 05:13 Um, he then went on Monday to Africa, which voted finally did to dissolve the apartment and said, you can't do that. It's illegal. So the county is now going to be battling this. And I, there's things developing literally today, um, which I can't get into, but there's gonna be a lot of questioning of the decision that came down last week saying that the Brown act was violated by the earlier board, even more reason to read the Union Tribune. Yeah. Yeah. I was just kinda curious how our county supervisors weighed in at all on us. Well, in a sense, yes. The LAFCO board, which is made up of a bunch of different elected officials and men and people in charge of the special districts, two of those people who voted for this dissolution just on Monday, we're a Dianne Jacob and Jim Desmond, who on the word supervisors. Um, and Dianne, Jacob has been kind of a player in this whole thing because she's the one that's been the real champion, uh, of the county fire authority for a very long time.

Speaker 3: 06:08 And, uh, and she is not well liked in Julian by the supporters of the volunteer department. Julian, by the way, is just a mess right now, um, of up there. You know, it's just like the Hatfields and McCoys there and it is vicious. I went to some of those board meetings last year and they were like screaming matches. It was, it's amazing how involved they are. No, Jay, I thought you said this was a complicated issue. That's a nice segue. What you just said to a bite. The, that we've got here, this is a, a sound bite from my, uh, a member of the new volunteer board bill ever and why he's indignant over this legal situation. Let's hear that.

Speaker 4: 06:42 But I find that it's just a shame that a Lafco and the county have such a disregard for the court. Um, it's not us. That's, that's a precipitating this, it's not our board of directors. The court has ordered this so, uh, at least until litigation is resolved. Um, they really should not be doing what they're doing to us right now.

Speaker 3: 07:04 Well, to somebody who's not as involved, but just reading your coverage of all this, isn't this really a bit of a sideshow in a legal technicality right now as opposed to the whole step back issue? Right. I mean, the voters spoke, you'd think that would be the end of it, but no, they're not going to give up and they're, they're going to pretty extreme at legal managers and we'll see. It could kind of be hanging out there just for a long time because if tro isn't granted on Wednesday, the county I think is still going to ask for a basic order that just says nobody can touch anything that the volunteers have just to keep all the firetrucks here, don't touch the finance Joe assets until this whole legal mess can be finished up. All right. Now reading your story, I think a lot of people might step back and say, why not?

Speaker 3: 07:47 The volunteers just continued to volunteer and work with the county. They're trained. They've been doing it. As you say, they know the, the nooks and crannies and the in the back go roads in the Hollers, uh, one of the, if there's a wildfire, just saying, yeah, come on in. We'll all work together. And the county have said, we welcome volunteers come in your application. They had 11, as of last Monday. People who worked for Julian were volunteers for Julian. The problem is they have to pass a pretty rigorous training requirements as well as physical fitness requirements and all these other little smaller volunteer departments had pesto. Virtually all of those volunteers went away because they couldn't have the physical fitness test or they couldn't have the training. It takes a lot of time and energy and these guys aren't getting paid. They're volunteers and it was just that some will if this happens.

Speaker 3: 08:32 Okay. And I'll, I'll, I even hesitate to ask this question though. If I have a question, I'll put you on the spot. What's the likely outcome here? Is Brexit going to be decided before this thing is? I think it may, I think Brexit won't be decided before. This folks aren't going to give up. So a lot of twists and turns. You have to go. All right, we're going to move on. We'll be watching your stories going forward and see what happens in this case. Well, along with the state of California, the city and county of

Speaker 1: 08:55 San Diego have ambitious plans to counter the effects of climate change. One way is to encourage the use of electric vehicles. The state is promoting evs as they are called. Former governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order calling for 5 million zero emission vehicles on California highways by 2030 county supervisors this weekend. Anna's unanimously, I should say, approved in the electric vehicle roadmap. And let's start there with the overview of that roadmap. Uh, Charles, what does this entail?

Speaker 5: 09:24 Yeah, so the county supervisors essentially instructed staff to go and develop their plan for bolstering electric vehicle use in the county. So the roadmap, for the most part, it primarily focuses on building, charging infrastructure and increasing the number of charging stations throughout the county. Uh, also though, as part of developing this plan, they'll also work to support legislation and regulatory changes that would also serve, you know, benefiting I guess electric vehicle owners.

Speaker 1: 09:53 Okay. So some process and behind the scenes stuff. But the sexy part of this is these charging stations. And now let's start with how many, uh, are there in the county now?

Speaker 5: 10:02 Right. So I've heard a few different numbers, but for the most part, I mean, you know, for the most part what we've heard is it's about 80 charging stations, um, that comparatively is relatively low. If you look at Chula Vista a on its own, they actually have 123. Um, so, you know, I think there's a fair claim that you made that maybe the county needs to discuss it.

Speaker 1: 10:25 Yeah. Step it up here and give us a sense of the scope here. Um, you know, roughly how many electric vehicles are in the, in the county now.

Speaker 5: 10:31 So supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who proposed this kind of development of a plan, uh, he's sad that there's 30,000 electric vehicle owners in the county.

Speaker 1: 10:40 Okay. So we've got 80 stations, 30,000. You can see where the problem to here. That's the idea.

Speaker 5: 10:47 More charging stations of course. But I'm just curious, are there anything that municipalities are localities can do to incentivize ownership? Right. So that's actually one of the big things that I know the kind of experts and like Environment California they're advocating for is you know, going beyond just making, charging more accessible, which is one of the big problems they face. How do you motivate people to get out of their guests? Gas Guzzling cars. Um, I know rebates have been kind of the big thing that the state has done and still at the federal level, right? It's changing. But yeah, so that seems to be the primary way. It'll be interesting to see though where they go from there. I know certain groups certainly would like to see other things done.

Speaker 1: 11:24 No. Your story a, there was a mention that a report from Environment California, there's some problems with the existing charging stations,

Speaker 5: 11:30 right? So just last week they actually released a report kind of looking at the big issues and kind of the day to day life of an electric vehicle on her. Uh, and one of the things that jumped out was, you know, finding publicly accessible charging stations, um, which it's not only, there's not a ton of them, but also when you look at the stations themselves, they're so non uniform, you know how you even pay can vary space station to station, not all of the same ones, at the same adapters for all of your vehicles, which means, you know, finding where you're going to charge your vehicle is a bit of an adventure. Okay. In this county, the new roadmap is they're calling it, what does it do specifically to increase the number of stations. So what they would do, and you know, ultimately it's got to, they've got to come back to the board with their plan.

Speaker 5: 12:15 What they would do though is they're going to go and build more charging stations in different county properties. Um, in theory, you know, that's the easiest way to get more publicly accessible ones out there. And, uh, the, any idea what the cost is, how ambitious this is, where the budget money will come from, you know, not yet. I know that's part of what they're going to be the director and staff at this point. Yeah. I mean, one thing we do know though that was kind of stressed by the supervisors is we're going to look at every kind of funding opportunity we can. So there's a lot of publicly accessible funding and grants that maybe they can tap into the lower the cost. Okay. Now let's, uh, let's dig into the weeds here a little bit. If I'm a, I'm, uh, electric vehicle owner, which I happened to be, yeah, I have another question.

Speaker 5: 12:58 I have another question on that later. But anyway, talk for a moment about the, how the stations work. How long does it take to charge, what's it cost on average? How many people, what percentage does an electric vehicle owner user public station versus the one they have in their garage? Right. So, you know, a few different aspects of that. And I know that's part of, I guess, first off, one of the big frustrations I think for electric vehicle owners is there isn't exactly a ton of publicly available information and transparency out there. You know, you ask about the actual cost per charging, we really can't know that because most of the public ones are owned by private companies. So they don't necessarily share that information. As I understand that. And just drive by like a gas station. It says gas and I was four bucks a gallon.

Speaker 5: 13:37 Right. Right into, in a minute too. But you can't do that. It's not, no, no, no. Exactly. And even, you know, if you go to a county on property, you know, I was kind of was an example in one of our stories a few weeks prior, uh, you know, they go to charge it and it says, uh, something to the effect of it's 20 cents or 8 cents per minute, 20 cents a kilowatt hour. Well, even the expert who studies the professionally, he didn't understand what the kilowatt per hour thing, even men, so we can't put that into his head. And so all of that translates to two bucks a gallon or something. Right. So that's really where I think they want to get to. At the same time though, there are charging stations and apps that you know, do say plainly $4 per hour to charge, then it kind of varies from there. Well at least, I mean we're going to talk about your technology at the moment, but it doesn't this seem like a prime thing where you can get something on your phone and, and solve a lot of these questions.

Speaker 6: 14:21 Absolutely. I mean, so much of what we're seeing in places that are arguably a little bit more futuristic are in places like China and East Asia is that everything happens by phone, right? They have that messaging APP, we chat, but we chat also can pay for your college tuition and can also get a vending machine item. And so being able to connect that to energy sources is just the next wave.

Speaker 5: 14:45 I know part of the thing kind of going on now is there are, you know, different companies have their individual apps, but then if you're out, you're from somewhere else driving, having downloads, right or not systemized. Yeah, exactly.

Speaker 1: 14:56 All right. We have a couple of soundbites here from some of the uh, supervisors and their thoughts on this. This is a Jim Desmond and Christmas Kristin gas bar from when the Wednesday's meeting. Let's hear that.

Speaker 7: 15:08 78 corridors or he's my, uh, one of my biggest pushes for transportation and a, it's originally is planned to have a Hov lanes on there. Well, quite frankly, I think technology lanes are going to be maybe the next, next, uh, if there's any freeways or roads a added, it'd be technology and lanes and maybe through induction charging just as you drive over a road or over a lane, your car, it could be charged at the same time. Just like with your phone. Sometimes you just push and put it in a docking station doesn't have to be plugged in. It just automatically charge.

Speaker 8: 15:37 It's my understanding that currently employees are charged an hourly parking fee on top of the hourly cost for electricity. And in fact that parking fee is often more than the cost per hour of the electricity. So I can say with all confidence that the parking fee actually discourages employees from utilizing our charging stations. So let's be really thoughtful as we move forward. Let's think about how we can remove the barriers and get a better understanding of human behavior that's often driving the choices that we make on a daily basis.

Speaker 1: 16:12 Well, I was going to say as I mentioned that as an electric vehicle owner, I almost exclusively kind of plan around charging it in the garage just so I don't have to deal with some of these problems that we've been talking about here. Do you think most Evie owners at this point are kind of just relying on their own

Speaker 5: 16:26 resources? I mean, the majority of people and kind of talking to Dan Jacobson is the director of Environment California. You know the analogy he uses as much like your cell phone, you charge it when you're home. You kind of go on about your day. I think the frustration here is that if you do anything off of your kind of planned routine, things can get a bit exciting and trying to find a charge. Anxiety. Exactly, exactly. I think the way he describes it is kind of like the wild west. So you really don't know what's going to happen. Um, so you know, it, it would be nice if you're able to go from your home and then if you need a boost you can just get it somewhere quick, you know?

Speaker 1: 16:59 So right now that's my next question right now is somewhere quick, is it, can I go get a coffee while my car's charging or I have to go to a movie for two and a half hours,

Speaker 5: 17:07 Walmart cards charging or something in between. So it depends on the level of the charging stations. Some of these things, you know, and I'm kind of new this, they're super, super, you know, super chargers essentially, and they get you going really quick. Others, you know, it can be, you know, station to charger, which I believe is one of the most common we find in public spaces. It's like it can be anywhere from 10 to 60 miles per hour, uh, per hour of charging.

Speaker 1: 17:29 Okay. All right. Just just about the time and this segment, but a, as you said, the county is a soups. The supervisors, I shouldn't say call him, the soups are directing staff to come up with a lot of plans and a lot of the details on all of this. And uh, we're seeing gas prices now. The market could be a force in terms of encouraging people to get to electric cars over $4 a in many places. Now as you drive around town here, um, and maybe carbon tax fees, other things that that come to, to bear. Um, the county can only do so much and encouraging use. Maybe the market forces will do a lot of the job for them. They can and I think that's probably part of what they're counting on and what they're hoping is going to boost it. I think also this probably part of the reason you saw as supervisors unanimously support it, right?

Speaker 1: 18:13 What do you got to lose here? It's right. Exactly. The environment at this one. All right, we're going to move on very well. Watch more reporting on that one as we go. Well, 30 years ago, the idea of artificial intelligence controlling our electric cars or a super computer in our pocket was unthinkable. So just imagine where we'll be in 2050 NPR reporter, at least you will be exploring the future in a new monthly video series called future you. It's all about the ways technology will not simply change our lives, but the basic understanding of what it means to be human. That is a lot to tie it off here. So it's more than, it's more than cool gadgets and all. It's about vision and philosophy and all sorts of it.

Speaker 6: 18:50 It's about humanity. Mark. It's about humanity. No. Um, so my whole vision for all of this was, you know, when we cover the news as reporters, if there's a lot of short termism, it's a lot of, all right, what happened today? What's going to happen next week? Well, that next bill pass, you know what happens at the next supes meeting. Um, and I was in North Korea or I wasn't in north grounds in South Korea covering North Korea. And there was a time where there were missile tests and missile firings every week and I was awakened on Saturday and Sunday mornings to cover a new missile test. And so, um, while that is an existentially scary thing, um, when I had an opportunity to come back to the states and repatriate and be a domestic correspondent, I wanted to choose a beat that broadened the lens a little bit. And so we set 20, 50 at the timeline and the future as my new beat. And so when you cover 2050, you really can't be wrong.

Speaker 1: 19:45 You know, I won't be around to check, go check me. Um,

Speaker 6: 19:51 but the future is vast. And so you got to start somewhere. And I wanted to start with the most sophisticated computer that exists, which is our brains. And neuroscientists don't know how all of these billions of neurons work in concert with one another, but they are starting and working with engineers to crack the code on this. And so the first exploration that I'm really diving into is the future of the human brain and how brain activity and external devices are now getting linked. So for example, um, paraplegics helping paraplegics walk again in robot suits, exoskeletons, uh, and these robot suits you can essentially control with your brain. So I got to try out a mind controlled exoskeleton, which is really powerful, right? Because there's millions of people living with disability that by 2050 might not have to face the same situation, like being wheelchair bound.

Speaker 1: 20:44 So it's some of the things that are being developed in research now may not be really online till far in the future, but you can see where we're going with a lot of it.

Speaker 6: 20:52 Yeah, yeah. There's that quote that technology has are the future has already arrived. It's just not evenly distributed. That often gets attributed to William Gibson. And so that's the idea. So we're trying to go into the labs, go into the places where some of these tools and these, um, places where mind and machine are merging really aren't to market yet. This isn't a consumer facing stuff, right? This is happening in research labs or it's just being talked about, but we're trying to go to places like that to get a ground zero look at what could be the next frontier of evolution. I know, I know that sounds lofty, but the next way that humans will adapt, we'll likely to likely be adapting with the technology, not only outside our bodies but putting it inside our bodies.

Speaker 1: 21:37 And you're going to look at the focus on education of course, which is so critical to uh, the uh, underlying all of it.

Speaker 6: 21:43 Yes. Yes. That's a good thing to bring up because, um, given the advances that we're seeing, um, not only in the way that we live but also in the way we will be. There are a lot of questions about whether the way we learn is suited right for the next generation. And what's, uh, and, um, all of the innovation to come and the very fast moving technological change to come. So that's a really good point to bring up drills. I guess one thing I'm kind of fascinated about with this is how do you look at, or are you going to look at like how we address kind of the moral questions with these new technologies and things like that? Yes. So neuro ethics are huge, right? Because, um, especially when our minds and the data from our minds can be externally received. So if computers can actually see exactly or understand exactly what we're thinking, read her mind and read our minds, um, who owns that data, you know? And if external computers can also control and send inputs to our minds, uh, what happens if there's malicious actors, governments, business, you know, could we have mind tapping? Could we have mind hacking? Um, all of these ideas are very thorny and they raise not just privacy and security concerns, but really ethical concerns. Because when our biological bodies meet machines, where do we stop? You know, where, where does man stop and where to machines begin?

Speaker 1: 23:02 Right? And of course it's been such in the news since the 2016 elections, cyber hacking, the control of this, if you can create artificial intelligence to do all these powerful things, somebody's going to figure out a way to, to have a nefarious purpose for it and take it over. So security has got to be an aspect of your coverage to image. Neuroscientists

Speaker 6: 23:19 are very concerned about this because they realize, oh, right, a dish originally we're making this for assistant purposes. We are trying to heal disease. We're trying to stop the symptoms of Parkinson's. You know, we're the end, the tumors are and the tremors by putting in chips into people's brains, um, cure blindness. But then what happens with technology as we've seen is you get it into the wrong hands and it's used for nefarious purposes. And so they're very concerned about, you know, the militarization of these tools. You know, what if you have a bunch of like Ha Cyborg soldiers and all of these questions, so

Speaker 1: 23:54 plenty to explore. Jay, the alleys, lamps, or you're, you're, you're looking at, are these mostly privately funded herbs? The government backing a lot of this stuff.

Speaker 6: 24:01 Um, there is some government backed stuff like Darpa, right. So the sort of secret government agency that came up with the Internet, Darpa, the defense research agency, they are working on ways to boost be an augment the abilities of soldiers for example, so they can memorize faster so that they have more physical ability jump higher, run faster, um, and just be strong with go without sleep. And so some of this is government is happening inside government and some of it's happening, um, privately funded. So Elon Musk has started a company that's trying to make an implantable brain machine interface for example.

Speaker 1: 24:36 Yeah. And a lot of money to be made and all of this to a lot of aspects to it. But we got a little bit of time left. Um, so how will NPR listeners, a lot of the listeners of our show, yeah, of course. How are they going to hear your features and uh, how are you going to read? Is An opportunity say the future? Yeah,

Speaker 6: 24:53 let me see. It will be on morning edition. So the stories are going to be on morning edition on the air, but then also these are video explorations and so we are looking for partners now, but as we launch we will be on npr.org and on Youtube and all the ways that typically people share video on social media.

Speaker 1: 25:09 All right, and you're based in Culver city as we said. When can we expect this to start? Lunching and here your features beginning of May, beginning of May. That's coming right up. We are too busy to be here. You should have reporting and talking to some robot makers and artificial intelligence people here did. It can just be my thoughts back. There we go. All right, well we're out of time but there were very much looking forward to your, your features and your stories coming up. Well that does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Jay Harry Jones of the San Diego Union Tribune, Charles t clerk, also of the Union Tribune, and Elise, you have national public radio and a reminder, all the stories we discussed today are available on our website, kpbs.org so glad you joined us today. I'm mark Sauer. Join us again next Friday for the round table.

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Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.