Tuesday, November 23, 2021

City of Oxnard v. County of Ventura (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 23, 2021)

Justice Tangeman may well be right that this is what California's EMS statute requires. That's what the trial court thought, and on appeal, the panel unanimously agreed.

But, if so, my intuition is that the principle behind the statute might be silly.

The EMS Act says, essentially, that after 1980, if a city joins a joint powers arrangement with another city or county for the provision of ambulance services, it can't withdraw from that agreement.  Ever -- at least according to the Court of Appeal.

So no matter how terrible the ambulance company, no matter how abysmal the service, and no matter how deprived residents of the City are for ambulances, the City has no recourse.  Only the relevant county can decide -- and as long as the county is happy, that's the end of the matter.

Here, the City of Oxnard is understandably doesn't like the existing ambulance provider.  The city has a lot of poor people, whereas the county has a lot of rich people.  The ambulance company (allegedly) loves to hang out in the rich areas, and hate to pick up people in the poor areas.  The response time for calls in the city is a lot longer than the response time for calls in the county.  The "floater" ambulances were twice as likely to be located in rich areas than in poorer areas.  Delays in responding to city calls were twice the number of delays in responding to calls in the county.  Stuff like that.

No matter.  The county loves the ambulance company.  (Perhaps you can see why.)  But the city can't ever withdraw from the agreement and hire its own provider.  Again:  Ever.

I get the principle that there needs to be some stability in ambulance services so that companies can make investments and the like.  But it'd be more than sufficient for the statute to allow cities to leave after five or ten years or so.  That's more than enough time to recoup your investment.  Plus, the statute allows the county to leave whenever it wants, so that's hardly proof that companies need an infinite contractual period for sufficient stability.

Seems to me the statute should be amended.  The Court of Appeal didn't (at all) suggest that, so I thought I would.  Seems to me like there's a classic agency problem here; cities have limited input, so get hosed.

Good luck getting an amendment through the lobbyists for counties and ambulance companies, though.  Yet another agency problem.