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I didn’t want to touch this story about City Attorney Mike Aguirre advocating for an evacuation of the entire city of San Diego in the midst of the crisis Monday and Tuesday, but it finally got too compelling.
I called Aguirre to ask what he was thinking.
Let’s start with this: It’d be one thing if it were just presented as an option with which he would try to assist the mayor and other government leaders. It’s another thing if he were demanding that the city be evacuated and distracting people from their work. An evacuation would have the potential to itself be an obnoxious disaster. I simply cannot imagine the traffic on I-8 or I-15 if such an order was given. And if there were a fire burning through the city, I’d rather jump in the ocean than be stuck in traffic.
And anyway, it seemed like the height of unproductive hysteria.
After talking to Aguirre, it’s pretty clear to me his suggestion was more than just an option — Aguirre advocated it in early morning calls to Fire Chief Tracy Jarman, Police Chief Bill Lansdowne and Jill Olen, the city’s deputy chief operating officer for public safety.
After they declined, as the U-T described initially, Aguirre had employees personally deliver a memo to the mayor that said the plan to evacuate the whole city should be “immediately implemented.”
I asked him what he was thinking.
He said his recommendation was the “very best judgment I could give at the time.” He said, correctly, that officials said the fire was completely out of their control. If that was true, and the winds kept blowing, it could go all the way to the coast. And, officials validated that point when they started advising evacuations of Solana Beach and Del Mar.
“I gave them that advice in confidence, I didn’t say anything publicly. The mayor and police chief received it and they didn’t think an evacuation was necessary, so I left it to their discretion,” he said.
I asked why he wasn’t satisfied with their verbal rejection of his idea — why did he have to deliver a memo directly to the mayor:
“I wanted to make sure he understood the reasoning and saw it in writing. I wanted to make sure he understood that the weather conditions were so unpredictable that getting out of San Diego was an option and that if they did it, they needed to do it in a very well coordinated way,” he said.
He said he wanted San Diegans to know that getting out of the city was an option and that it was a “gamble” not to give them that choice.
I thought that was kind of weird — I didn’t think I needed the government’s permission to leave the city.
I asked if, in his view, we didn’t have that option.
“The difference was we did not bring to the public’s attention how serious it was at the time. In the end, I didn’t have an argument with what the mayor said. He told residents that if they were worried, they could leave their neighborhoods,” Aguirre said.
I asked him about rumors that he had flown to Arizona to coordinate some kind of evacuation. He said he had been in Phoenix over the weekend for a high school reunion and he didn’t leave after returning Sunday from that.
If anything, this does illustrate Aguirre’s natural instinct to determine that problems or threats have only the potentially most catastrophic consequences and that, therefore, you really should implement the most draconian measures possible to either solve the problem or avoid the consequences of the threat.
If he were mayor, that would be a downright scary instinct. But he’s not.