California Ambulance Company Seeks New Service Hearing

Orange County Care Ambulance was previously denied a permit to operate


ALICIA ROBINSON, Orange County Register | | Tuesday, July 29, 2014

An Orange-based ambulance company that was denied a permit to operate in Riverside may get a new hearing, after raising questions about the fairness of the first one.

Attorneys for Care Ambulance, which sought to provide non-emergency service in the city, argued that a June hearing, at which the City Council rejected the company's application, was tainted because Councilman Paul Davis violated the state's open meetings law two months earlier.

In a July 1 letter to Riverside's mayor and council, Care's attorneys took issue with an email Davis sent to Councilman Mike Soubirous - both are on the three-member public safety committee - before the committee met in May. The email outlined the reasons Davis intended to recommend that the full council reject Care's application.

Davis said Friday that other council members told him the city will grant Care a new hearing, and he doesn't plan to participate in the discussion or vote. Other officials could not be reached or could not confirm whether there will be a hearing.

City Attorney Cristina Talley, Care officials and their attorneys could not be reached Friday for comment.

Under the open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, the city has 30 days to respond to a request to correct an alleged violation. Failure to respond would allow the complaining party to seek a remedy in court.

Emergency ambulance service is provided throughout most of Riverside County by American Medical Response through a contract with the county. Non-emergency, or interfacility, transports are an open market with many providers in most of the county, but Riverside requires a special permit that so far has only been granted to AMR.

The permit system has been a contentious issue that some have called a de facto monopoly, leading officials to revise the rules in 2013.

Care was the first company to apply for a permit under the new rules. Interim Fire Chief Mike Esparza recommended granting the permit and so did the public safety committee, but the council in June narrowly rejected the request, with some members saying they didn't see a need for additional service.

In the letter, the company's attorneys said Davis improperly tried to advocate against the company before the committee met, and although he sat out that meeting, he should not have participated in a later vote of the full council.

Davis said the email had been written to his assistant and accidentally copied to Mike Soubirous, the committee chairman. He told the council at the June meeting that his personal attorney advised him to correct the matter by reading the email into the record.

The Brown Act aims to ensure that officials discuss public business in the open rather than behind closed doors, and to discourage officials from making decisions before a fair hearing.

Care's attorneys also argued that at the meeting, "Davis sought to undermine the reputation of Care Ambulance, and effectively dominated a long portion of that hearing," according to the letter. They alleged that Davis attempted to "clear the decks" for another ambulance company that has given Davis campaign contributions.

Davis said he has received money from Rick Hartsock, the chief operating officer of Mission Ambulance, which also has applied for a city permit, but he has not taken contributions from any ambulance company.

He said his only reason for voting against Care was that they broke the city's rules by picking up patients without a permit. Care officials told the council that they transported an ill infant that needed a specialized team and equipment.

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