After hours of debate, future of Urban Shield, disaster training remains uncertain

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern repeatedly warned county supervisors that approval of a number of recommended reforms to Urban Shield will result in the loss of $5 million in funding for local disaster preparedness training.

A majority of recommendations by an Alameda County ad hoc committee for reforming Urban Shield, the controversial annual regional law enforcement emergency training event in Pleasanton, was approved Tuesday by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. But disagreement remains whether some outstanding items on the ad hoc committee’s list puts the county at risk for losing $5 million in federal funding for emergency training.

Discussion on the Urban Shield agenda item at Tuesday’s meeting included six hours of public testimony and discussion among county supervisors and Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern.

Last March, the Board of Supervisors voted to end county funding for Urban Shield starting in 2019. But the decision was not intended to eliminate the event, but seek reforms. A five-person ad hoc committee was formed and met 11 times to study Urban Shield and offer recommendations. A report from the committee this month offered 63 recommendations, a vast majority receiving unanimous support.

I can’t support a motion that is going to jeopardize money and jeopardize training for first responders.-Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley on Urban Shield

Alameda County Board President Richard Valle, in a bid to reach early consensus between the board, ad hoc committee and Ahern, was able to find agreement on over 30 recommendations, which the board approved in one fell swoop. Supervisor Keith Carson voted no, while Supervisor Wilma Chan abstained.

But comity quickly disintegrated after Ahern said a number of remaining recommendation, if approved, by the board, would be “problematic” and likely represent a violation of the sheriff department’s memorandum of understanding with the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) federal program, and the forfeiture of $5 million in funding.

Ahern repeated the warning to county supervisors on several occasions Tuesday afternoon, although he later admitted the claim was only his personal opinion.

The point of contention surrounded recommendations to exclude training exercises that involve SWAT teams, and others that seek disaster preparedness funding for various county social services. The second motion for approving the recommendations came from Chan, but failed to garner a vote.

“I wouldn’t make the motion if the consequences is to lose all the UASI money,” said Chan. “I understand the need for security.” She called the process that followed the ad hoc committee’s recommendations as flawed. “Objections came out late and didn’t allow the committee to express full debate power. That really disturbs me,” she said. “I think it was poor form.”

Although Urban Shield is vastly unpopular among progressives in the East Bay, there was very little testimony calling for the total elimination of Urban Shield’s underlining value for training law enforcement to respond to natural disasters and terrorist threats. “Nobody on this board or anyone in the audience said that want to get rid of this thing,” said Chan.

Supervisor Nate Miley, a supporter of Urban Shield, acknowledged the push back toward the event has been beneficial and forced needed reforms. But he added, “I can’t support a motion that is going to jeopardize money and jeopardize training for first responders.”

“There are evil people in the world and would need to address those evil people,” said Miley.

Tuesday’s lengthy hearing will likely resume next month after the board directed the ad hoc committee to reconvene for an emergency meeting, along with Ahern, in order to modify some recommendations and explore compromise. Said Valle, “If common ground cannot be reached. It cannot be reached.”

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