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LA Supes Deny 'Power Grab' Before Vote To Remove Sheriff As Head of Emergency Operations

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva at the graduation ceremony for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Academy on Jan. 4, 2019. (Kyle Grillot for LAist)
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Sheriff Alex Villanueva calls it "a power grab." The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors says it's just about having a more efficient emergency operations system.

Next Tuesday the supervisors are set to vote to remove Villanueva as head of the county's emergency operations center.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl today told our colleagues at KPCC's AirTalk that the move has nothing to do with the COVID-19 crisis. She said it has been in the works for more than a year.

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Kuehl said a county task force recommended late last year to make the change after what she described as a lack of communication among emergency services during the 2018 Woolsey fire. The change involves shifting a decades-old ordinance to put the Office of Emergency Management, rather than the sheriff, in charge of emergency operations during a crisis.

"It doesn't matter who the sheriff is, the sheriff is not the right person to coordinate it," Kuehl said, noting that "almost every other county in California" has done the same thing.

"I appreciate that Alex's feelings are hurt, but this is really not about him and not about anything he's done," she said.

Villanueva, who spoke to AirTalk right after Kuehl, insisted the supervisors are making a political move against him "because they want only appointed people in that unified command."

He accused the supervisors and the Department of Public Health of sidelining him during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The board of supervisors "is trying to politicize" the emergency operations command, Villanueva claimed, so there will be "no opposing points of view" during a crisis.

This is the latest clash in a long-running conflict between the board and the sheriff. They have fought over his rehiring of fired deputies, his ending of internal discipline probes, his response to secret deputy cliques, his spending, his alleged lack of transparency, and more.