"It is not this council's policy to keep anything hidden from the people," said San Marcos’ Mayor Jim Desmond to fire chief Todd Newman during the city council's October 26 meeting. "The first time I even heard about this was in the newspaper."
Desmond was referring to a October 16 North County Times article alleging that city officials withheld a 2005 fire-threat assessment map for San Marcos neighborhoods that showed two communities at "extreme" risk for threat of wildfires. The article claimed that city officials concealed the map to prevent insurance companies from raising premiums in those neighborhoods or possibly voiding policies.
Before Chief Newman had a chance to respond, City Manager Paul Malone took the microphone. "That article seriously mischaracterizes significant [aspects] of that program and does a real disservice."
Chief Newman: "There is no secret map and there never has been a secret map." Newman went on to say that the map was part of a federal government grant. He also said that fire units used the map to make "sound decisions in high-risk areas."
"It was not to hide the map," continued Chief Newman. "We certainly wanted to reduce exposure because it was one of the things we could do to help protect the people [from their insurance companies]."
Newman said the map had already been used in community presentations, but the fire chief and city manager felt it was best to shelve it.
"Did we try to protect [the map]? Yeah, we did," Newman admitted to the council.
After Newman concluded his remarks, Mayor Desmond raised concerns that city officials decided to conceal the document.
City Manager Malone then spoke to premium increases and the "hundreds" of "threats" made by insurance companies following the 2007 firestorms. "We were not about to aid and abet the efforts of those insurers engaged in those practices by publishing a map that had no context."
The council will discuss the item during its November 7 meeting.