The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors could remove Sheriff Alex Villanueva as the county’s top official in charge of managing emergencies next week while the number of local coronavirus cases swells.
The board will vote Tuesday, March 31, on whether to shift the duties from the sheriff to the county’s CEO, Sachi Hamai.
Villanueva called the move a “power grab. … It’s a silent coup is what it amounts to,” he told Fox 11. “It’s retaliation.”
The sheriff says he’s being stripped of his power because of his criticisms over the county’s coronavirus response.
He also suggested the board was moving now because of a subsequent blowup over his talk of possibly closing gun stores across the county. Villanueva said he has the authority to force them to close under California’s coronavirus response guidelines, while the county’s head lawyer disagrees.
The supervisors, however, consider the change in leadership already underway, dating back months.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who has been out front for the board in daily coronavirus briefings, said the panel’s move was made because an audit found public agencies had failed to cooperate during the Woolsey fire in Malibu in 2018, hampering the response.
She said the board started to move toward handing over emergency management to the CEO in November 2019.
“The sheriff was provided with an opportunity to talk about this in November,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, I have moved on.”
The change the board will vote on next week would create the Emergency Management Council, with CEO Hamai as the chairwoman. Sheriff Villanueva would be the vice chairman.
The council will include a supervisor, the county’s fire chief and the county’s public health director among others.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, who represents much of the San Gabriel Valley and East L.A., declined to comment on the sheriff’s remarks.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.