Bonsall resident Andy Vanderlaan to return as LAFCO chair

Bonsall resident Andy Vanderlaan will be the chair of San Diego County’s Local Agency Formation Commission for 2014.

Vanderlaan, who is the public member on the LAFCO board and was LAFCO’s chair in 2013, was re-elected December 2. The same 7-0 LAFCO board vote, with no City of San Diego representative present, also re-elected John Ingalls of the Santa Fe Irrigation District as LAFCO’s vice chair for a second consecutive year.

“I’ll do my best to serve well,” Vanderlaan said. “It’s nice to be honored by that group. They have confidence that I’m doing a pretty good job being the chair.”

Vanderlaan noted that as the public member he is appointed to four-year terms by the rest of the LAFCO board. “I’m honored by the fact that I’m even able to serve,” he said.

Normally the LAFCO vice-chair becomes chair for the following year, although sometimes LAFCO retains its chair and vice-chair to allow for continuity. “This year there will be more fire business coming along,” Vanderlaan said.

Before Vanderlaan was involved with LAFCO as the board’s public member, he worked with LAFCO as the fire chief of what was the Fallbrook Fire Protection District when he first joined the fire department and the North County Fire Protection District when he retired. Vanderlaan replaced Ed Thurber, the original chief of the Fallbrook Fire Protection District (which was officially called the Fallbrook Local Fire Protection District when it was founded in 1930), in 1976 and retired at the end of 1995. Vanderlaan grew up in West Covina and began his career with the Covina Fire Department. After 3 1/2 years with the Covina firefighters, he spent 9 1/2 years at the Huntington Beach Fire Department. In 1976 Vanderlaan came to Fallbrook as the assistant fire chief and became the fire chief when Thurber retired sooner than expected. After he retired as the NCFPD fire chief, Vanderlaan served as the executive director of the Western Fire Chiefs Association until retiring from that position in 2001.

Vanderlaan’s work with LAFCO during his time as fire chief led him to apply for the public member position when that seat had an opening in 1996. He was appointed as LAFCO’s public member that year and was re-appointed to additional four-year terms in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012.

“San Diego County LAFCO is one of the best in the state,” Vanderlaan said. “It’s a good system.”

LAFCO handles jurisdictional boundary changes including incorporations, annexations, consolidations, and detachments. The LAFCO board consists of two county supervisors (currently Dianne Jacob and Bill Horn), one San Diego City Council member (currently Lorie Zapf), two city council members from the county’s other 17 incorporated cites (currently Sam Abed of Escondido and Jim Janney of Imperial Beach), two members from special districts (currently Ingalls and Bud Pocklington of the South Bay Irrigation District), and one public member.

Vanderlaan noted that LAFCO’s function is to ensure optimal service to the citizens of local agencies. “The group that we have right now is very good at doing that,” he said.

Vanderlaan added that the board members study the background of potential jurisdictional adjustments. “The commission also does their homework,” he said.

Vanderlaan will chair LAFCO for the sixth time, and this will be the second time he has chaired LAFCO for more than one consecutive year. He initially served as the LAFCO chair in 2001, when he succeeded Julianne Nygaard (then a member of the Carlsbad City Council), and as vice-chair in 2000 he chaired one meeting in Nygaard’s absence. Vanderlaan took over as LAFCO chair from Pocklington in 2006. Because LAFCO was in the process of reorganizing fire protection and emergency medical services in unincorporated San Diego County, the retention of Vanderlaan as chair and Horn as vice-chair allowed for continuity while Vanderlaan and Horn served three consecutive years in those positions from 2006 to 2008.

“It’s an honor and a pleasure to serve,” Vanderlaan said.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors and LAFCO created the San Diego County Regional Fire Authority in 2008 to consolidate fire service in the county. The hybrid plan divided LAFCO’s first phase into three sub-phases; the first sub-phase brought territory not within the boundaries of a public agency but served by a volunteer fire department into the SDCRFA. The DeLuz, Intermountain, Ocotillo Wells, Ranchita, Shelter Valley, and Sunshine Summit volunteer fire departments retained their autonomy while working with the paid firefighters covering those areas.

“The supervisors have also been steadfast in their commitment to making it work,” Vanderlaan said. “That couldn’t have been done without them being a part of that.”

The Board of Supervisors has provided county funding for contacts with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to serve the SDCRFA territory. “That’s really made a big difference,” Vanderlaan said. “The county is totally supportive and they’re putting resources out, financial resources, to support the program.”

The county had seven county service areas, which have local advisory boards but whose actual governing bodies are the Board of Supervisors, which had been formed to provide fire protection and emergency medical services. The second sub-phase added the county service areas providing fire protection and emergency medical services for Boulevard, Campo, Mount Laguna, Palomar Mountain, and San Pasqual to the SDCRFA.

“The original goal was to get service in the unserved areas, and it’s certainly happened,” Vanderlaan said.

(Territory served by a volunteer fire department but not by a public agency is legally considered an unserved area.)

“The LAFCO staff, Shirley Anderson and John Traylor, have been very instrumental,” Vanderlaan said.

Anderson was LAFCO’s chief of policy research and then LAFCO’s assistant executive officer before she retired in November. Traylor, a former Coronado fire chief, is a governmental consultant for LAFCO.

“There’s credibility now in the system because the Fire Authority’s been in place,” Vanderlaan said. “The agencies that are there are stronger.”

The third sub-phase, which will be initiated during 2014, will consolidate willing independent special districts; the Pine Valley Fire Protection District and the San Diego Rural Fire Protection District have expressed interest in joining the SDCRFA in that sub-phase. Official action from the fire districts and the Board of Supervisors will be necessary before the LAFCO study and action process can take place.

“Where that goes we don’t know at this point,” Vanderlaan said about the participating agencies. “Now that there are more and more agencies moving into the Authority, I think it’s setting an example for the other agencies, fire districts and even cities for that matter.”

Two county service areas were not consolidated during the second sub-phase. The one for the Pepper Grove area outside the Santee city limits was covered by the Santee Fire Protection District prior to Santee’s incorporation and is now served through a contract agreement with the Santee fire department or by automatic aid agreements with adjacent fire departments. The other CSA not included was County Service Area No. 107, which has its own fire department and serves Elfin Forest and Harmony Grove. Ongoing discussions of CSA No. 107 consolidating with the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District preceded the creation of the SDCRFA, and consolidating the CSA with its neighboring fire district would likely optimize service better than consolidation into an area primarily served by contracts with CalFire.

Legally a consolidation between CSA No. 107 and the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District must be a separate action than the sub-phase consolidating the Pine Valley and San Diego Rural districts into the SDCRFA. The consolidation between CSA No. 107 and the Rancho Santa Fe district could take place in 2014 if funding considerations are satisfied.

“You couldn’t have a better guy running for the LAFCO position of president than Andy Vanderlaan. He’s just a great guy,” said CSA No. 107 fire chief Frank Twohy.

The second phase will determine whether the citizens of the remaining fire agencies are better served through jurisdictional consolidation into the county department or by functional consolidation, including joint powers authorities which include city fire departments.

“I don’t necessarily see that we’re going to have totally consolidated fire agencies in the county,” he said. “If consolidating functionally or full consolidation helps us do the job better, I think that’s going to be the driving force.”

Vanderlaan’s consolidation experience as fire chief included the 1986 reorganization which transitioned the Fallbrook Fire Protection District to the North County Fire Protection District after merging with the county service area which provided fire protection to Rainbow and adding the previously-unserved Gavilan Mountain area. “I think that was an example of agencies that came together for the common good,” he said. “In our discussions with Rainbow we could see that there could be some benefit for both agencies to do that.”

Rainbow maintained its volunteer fire department, which works with the paid NCFPD personnel. “It worked out,” Vanderlaan said. “It’s a credit to the board that was serving the Fallbrook district and the advisory committee in Rainbow.”

Vanderlaan worked with Fred Buck, the Rainbow fire chief and the chair of the County Service Area No. 7 advisory board, on the reorganization. “As we move forward it takes people who are willing to look at the bigger picture for agencies to come together and also be steadfast to make sure that it works,” Vanderlaan said.

The 1986 consolidation also included initial discussions about including DeLuz, but the citizens there were reluctant to annex. The Fallbrook Fire Protection District covered fewer than 60 square miles when Vanderlaan became its fire chief and now encompasses 92 square miles.

Vanderlaan was also the fire chief when LAFCO oversaw two attempts by Fallbrook citizens to incorporate as a city. Those efforts ended with rejection in 1981 and 1988 elections. Since the fire department includes part of Bonsall and LAFCO-related law does not allow conversion of a special district into a city department if a certain percentage of the population or territory is outside the new city, the fire district would have remained independent had Fallbrook become a city.

When Vanderlaan was fire chief the Fallbrook agency obtained automatic aid agreements with Vista and Camp Pendleton (the Camp Pendleton fire station at the Naval Weapons Station is within a mile of the NCFPD boundary and often helps on fires in the Downtown Fallbrook area). The fire department also added paramedic service, expanded from two to five stations, transitioned from volunteers to reserves, implemented the Explorer program, and survived financial changes due to Proposition 13 and the state ERAF shift of funds from special districts to education.

When Vanderlaan took over as LAFCO president for 2013, he cited the most recent funding crisis and its impact on the ability of local governments to provide service as one of the agency’s challenges last year. “We’re not out of the difficult times as it relates to the funding,” he said.

In 1999 LAFCO addressed the issue of property tax transfer to fire protection districts annexing property by forming the Task Force on Fire Protection Funding, which also addressed other funding needs involving the fire service. In 2000 the task force became independent from LAFCO in order to allow for the advocacy of recommendations, and the task force was renamed as the Task Force on Fire Protection and Emergency Medical Services. Most of the task force’s objectives have been accomplished and its current primary duty is to make recommendations on applications for the $400,000 the county now commits annually to the needs of the fire service. Vanderlaan has served as the vice-chair of the task force for its entire existence.

LAFCO’s expected 2014 actions also include the Meadowood annexation. Pardee Homes’ Meadowood project is within the San Luis Rey Municipal Water District, which is not part of the San Diego County Water Authority, and the Board of Supervisors’ January 2012 approval of Meadowood included a condition that the property be annexed into the SDCWA. Meadowood is also within the SDCRFA boundaries, but it is within the NCFPD sphere of influence area. The prerequisite appropriate agencies have approved the reorganization which would detach Meadowood from the San Luis Rey Municipal Water District and the SDCRFA while annexing that area into the NCFPD, the SDCWA, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the Valley Center Municipal Water District.

The Rainbow Municipal Water District, where Vanderlaan lives, and the Fallbrook Public Utility District are expected to send an application to LAFCO during 2014 which would begin the process of merging those two water districts.

In 2013 the Rainbow and FPUD districts formed a joint powers authority to test how well the agencies could work together and achieve functional consolidation. One other joint powers authority serves two water agencies in San Diego County: the Sweetwater Authority consists of the South Bay Irrigation District and the National City water department which as a city department cannot be consolidated. Even if Rainbow and FPUD were to merge, the North County Joint Powers Authority would still be able to add the City of Oceanside’s water department to work together on San Luis Rey River and sewer ocean outfall issues. That creates the possibility that the South Bay Irrigation District, which serves part of Chula Vista, and the Otay Water District, which serves the rest of Chula Vista as well as Jamul and Spring Valley, could merge while still maintaining a joint powers authority with National City.

“I think it will,” Vanderlaan said of a merger between the two Fallbrook districts leading to a possible consolidation between the two Chula Vista agencies. “The bottom line is providing service to our customers.”

During Vanderlaan’s tenure as fire chief, FPUD merged with the DeLuz Heights Municipal Water District in 1990 and with the Fallbrook Sanitary District in 1994.

“It takes the right people, it takes the right timing,” Vanderlaan said of a consolidation being successful. “Quality of service is the prime factor.”

Vanderlaan noted that water supply as well as financial resources are determinations in how an area can best be served. “I think water is still going to be a very strong issue,” he said. “The financial issues are always going to be there, but when you talk about a resource like water there’s only so much of it.”

Although consolidations have occurred infrequently in recent years and no city has incorporated since Encinitas and Solana Beach in 1986, small annexations and detachments result in San Diego LAFCO processing numerous boundary changes each year.

“It could be a pretty exciting year,” Vanderlaan said.

The state LAFCO organization, which consists of the 58 county LAFCO agencies and focuses on sharing experience and on monitoring state legislation and making recommendations, restructured its board in 2010 to elect a city council member, a county supervisor, a special district board member, and a public board member from each region. Vanderlaan was selected as the Southern Region’s public member and served a two-year term for 2011 and 2012 (the Southern Region rotates its terms on the CALAFCO board, so Vanderlaan could not be re-elected to that position).

Vanderlaan’s post-retirement activities included a year as president of the Boys and Girls Club. He has also coached basketball at the Boys and Girls Club and for the Fallbrook High School junior varsity girls team and the Potter Junior High School girls basketball team, and he currently coaches the Zion Lutheran junior high school boys team. Vanderlaan is also on Zion Lutheran School’s Board of Education.

“I’m just delighted to serve. It’s not about me. I’m just there to serve,” he said. “It’s really a labor of love, I guess you can say. It’s an opportunity to do something.”

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