EAST COUNTY NEWSMAKERS OF THE YEAR 2011

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By Miriam Raftery

 
January 5, 2012 (San Diego's East County) -- Who were the movers and shakers in East County and San Diego’s inland regions during the past year? 
 
Below, we bring you our picks in the fields of agriculture, arts, business, community activism, education, fire safety, heroes, humanitarians, labor, notorious newsmakers, politics, sports, tribal leadership, and veterans’ issues.

 

 

AGRICULTURE
 
Greg Maness:  Jamul vintner Greg Maness isn’t resting easy on the fruits of his labors. Instead, he’s set up a vineyard design and consulting business to help other would-be vineyard owners start businesses in East County.  A new boutique winery ordinance in San Diego County provides added incentive for local farmers, who are rapidly turning East County into a wine-growing region. The owner of Maness Vineyards offers a handy “vineyard in a box” as well as cuttings of grape varietals—and he’s even introduced the original grapes once grown by Spanish friars back into our region. Vine planting parties are the new barn raisings in East County, as neighbors gather to help neighbors—and give a potent boost to our local economy.  
 
ARTS
 
Richard Breceda:  His artistic career is an amazing story, starting with a construction accident that injured his back—but unleashed his creative talents. Breceda launched a new career as a sculptor. Using primitive welding techniques learned in Mexico, the artist created 129 life-size sculptures across the  Anza-Borrego desert, ranging from dinosaurs to mustangs.  His story is chronicled in a book published in 2011 titled Richard Breceda: Accidental Artist.  
 
BUSINESS
 
Scott Alevy:  San Diego’s East County Chamber of Commerce started 2011 off by celebrating its centennial and ushering in new leadership with Scott Alevy as president/CEO.  “There’s a lot that we’ve done during the past year; we’re proud of what we’ve achieved,” Alevy told ECM. Under his leadership, the Chamber grew membership from 690 to 840 members, increased event revenues 16% and cut expenses. The Chamber also added committees on healthcare reform and infrastructure/land use, beefed up its legislative advocacy for businesses, started a “dine and dial up” lunch with elected officials, and launched certified education programs on topics ranging from tax law to using social media. Next Up? “We’re gearing up for our 100th year gala on February 4th at the U.S. Grant Hotel,” said Alevy, who added, “We’ve grown so much that there’s no place big enough in East County!”
 
Valerie Harrison: Working with the intensity of the Energizer Bunny, the founder and president of the Rancho San Diego Chamber of Commerce started the year off strong by graduating students from a Women’s Higher Educational and Entrepreneurial Leadership program she established, following three years of successful events. But by summer, when a beer festival fundraiser went bust, Harrison folded the fledgling Chamber. The incident raised oversight questions initially, but subsequently exposed serious concerns over the city’s payment demands at odds with the Chamber’s contract—demands that forced cancellation of the festival, left some vendors in the lurch and merchants in Rancho San Diego without the organization known as “the little Chamber that could.”
 
COMMUNITY ACTIVISM
 
Donna Tisdale:  Some say she’s tilting at windmills. But Tisdale, cofounder of the Protect Our Communities Foundation and chair of the Boulevard Planning Group, has been the leading voice standing up against what she calls “industrialization of rural America”. In the past year, she’s led fights against massive wind farms in East County and is a plaintiff in the only lawsuit still viable in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals challenging Sunrise Powerlink.  Next up, she hopes to persuade San Diego Supervisors to block the 600-foot-tall wind turbines proposed for McCain Valley, a project she fears “will destroy the quiet beauty, ambiance, and value” of the region.
 
 
EDUCATION
 
Elliot Hirshman, PhD:  San Diego State University’s new president made headlines when he was given a $400,000 salary --$100,000 more than his predecessor was paid and nearly double his prior salary of $267,000 at the University of Maryland-- while steep tuition hikes are being imposed on students due to budget cuts.  Supporters say the salary is competitive with other college presidents and argue that Dr. Hirshman’s fundraising skills will prove an asset to SDSU that may more than offset his pay. Will that prediction prove true? Stay tuned to find out in 2012.  
FIRE SAFETY
 
August Ghio:  Chief of the San Miguel Fire District and head of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association, Chief Ghio found himself in the hot seat over tough budget decisions. Faced with a budget shortfall, the District under Ghio’s leadership eliminated a fire engine at its Dehesa station and cut benefits for firefighters, leaving some residents and union members hot under the collar.

 


HEROES
 
Christy Enos:  For Grant Fleener, 60, Christy Enos is a guardian angel.  The registered nurse was driving to a coffeeshop when she spotted Fleener collapsed beside a roadway where he had been running in Spring Valley while training for a marathon.  She pulled over and began CPR on Fleener, who had suffered a heart attack.  He had no pulse and was not breathing.  Firefighters and paramedics arrived soon after. Thanks to Enos being a good Samaritan, Fleener survived –and hopes to race again.  
 
Jarred Slocum:  El Cajon Police officer Jarred Slocum was shot in the head and critically wounded in a shootout August 21st during a domestic violence call. The suspect, Kevin Collier, shot and killed his infant daughter and mother-in-law before killing himself and setting fire to the family’s home.  Slocum, 28, has been described by the El Cajon Police Association as a “loving father” of two young children, with a third expected.
 
HUMANITARIANS
 
 
Clara Harris:  The Lemon Grove resident was inducted into the San Diego Women’s Hall of Fame this year. Described by the organization as a “builder of multicultural understanding, Harris won recognition for her “outstanding work improving the lives of women, promoting fair housing and speaking out against discrimination in education institutions where race and gender create disparities.”  
 
Elizabeth Lou:   In 2011, Nile Sisters celebrated its 10th anniversary. Founded by Lou, a refugee from war-torn Sudan, the organization helps women refugees from Africa with literacy and healthcare programs and more. The group also provides services for children and, on occasion, men—notably the famed “lost boys of the Sudan” who found help and success in America thanks in part to Lou’s mentoring.  In 2011, Lou also rejoiced in news that the long civil war in Sudan has ended, and her homeland is finally free.
 
LABOR
 
 
Mickey Kasparian:  “If we don’t get a deal, we’ll take our fight to the streets,” the president of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 135 vowed after months of negotiations with the grocery industry left grocery workers without a contract.  Under the leadership of Kasparian, a La Mesa resident, union members voted by a 90% margin in favor of a strike. Ultimately the industry blinked, settling with the union on terms favorable to workers. The deal eliminated tiered health benefits that had forced new hires to pay more, though all employees agreed to pay a nominal sum for their healthcare benefits.  “I have the most amazing members,” the feisty union leader reflected.  “I am so proud of them for standing up for themselves and their families.”
 
NOTORIOUS NEWSMAKERS
 
 
 
Geezer Bandit:  He’s robbed at least 16 banks on a crime spree that started in Santee in 2009.  His last heist, in San Luis Obispo December 2, went awry when a dye-packet exploded, leaving him red-handed.  Even then, with a $20,000 reward on his head, he has somehow eluded capture.  Whether he’s really a senior citizen—or merely wearing a life-like old age mask—is a matter of speculation among law enforcement and the public. He’s been featured on the FBI America’s Most Wanted TV show and inspired a following of Facebook fans, making this naughty newsmaker infamous nationwide. 
 
Martin Garrick:  The North County Assemblyman was arrested in June for driving under the influence of alcohol after running a stop sign and allegedly fleeing from two California Highway Patrol officers.  A former vice chair of the local Republican Party and past GOP Assembly leader, Garrick had been named as a potential candidate to run for State Senate in a redrawn district that would include portions of East County.  
 
Jesus Gandara:  Sweetwater Union High School District had the dubious distinction of winning the Grand Golden Fleece Award from San Diego Taxpayers Association in part because Superintendent Jesus Gandara invited contractors and district employees to his daughter’s bridal shower – an event that featured a "money tree" where guests could contribute cash to the newlyweds. The Superintendent also charged $11,000 on the District's credit card to pay for meals and travel –beyond his $800 monthly stipend already allocated for such expenses. 
 
POLITICS
 
Bob Filner:  After 20 years in Congress, Bob Filner is stepping down—but not to retire from public service.  Instead, he’s running for Mayor of San Diego.  Also a former Councilman and Vice Mayor, Filner says he believes that he can accomplish “more good here at home.”  As former Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, he authored and passed numerous bills to help veterans and military families, also championing civil rights and education measures. This year, his departure from Congress, opens the door for a new face to represent East County.  
 
Nathan Fletcher:   Best known as the author of Chelsea’s law, State Senator Nathan Fletcher is also a candidate for San Diego Mayor.  In the Legislature, he authored 21 bills that were signed into law, including tax and pension reforms. A former Marine who has won medals for valor and service in Iraq, his departure from the Legislature leaves an open seat, making the scramble to replace him in Sacramento a key race to watch in 2012.   
Dianne Jacob:  She helped lead efforts to form a County Fire Authority this year, aiming to increase manpower and response times for emergencies. She stood up for constituents against SDG&E on issues ranging from Sunrise Powerlink to the proposed rate hike, efforts that took backbone.  Jacob has also been outspoken on other issues, including opposing giant wind turbines in rural East County, clearly making her one of East County’s major newsmakers of the year.
 
 
 
 
SPORTS
 
Brandon Lewis:   Helix High School’s star quarterback led his team to a statewide CIF championship,  throwing for 254 yards and three touchdowns. He was named the game’s most valuable player. The La Mesa team gave East County sports fans plenty to cheer about. The Sacramento Bee described the Highlanders’  performance as “near perfect…a mixture of speed, power and fury.”   
Steve Fisher:  San Diego State University’s coach led the Aztecs basketball team to its strongest season ever, reaching the “Sweet 16” in the NCAA Tournament.  Fisher has led the Aztecs to six consecutive post-season appearances and back-to –back NCAA Tournament appearances.  The San Diego Union-Tribune concludes that Fisher “presided over what ranks among the greatest seasons in San Diego history, in any sport, at any level.”  
TRIBAL LEADERSHIP
 
Anthony Pico:  In February, Anthony was sworn in as chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyeyaay Indians, replacing outgoing chairman Bobby Barrett who chose not to seek reelection.  Pico’s more than two decades of leadership includes three terms as chairman and two as vice chairman.  He is credited with bringing the tribe national recognition for its economic and social progress in the past, also promoting inter-tribal development.  “What’s my vision? Two words: nation building,” pledged Pico at his swearing in. He promptly arranged for council leaders to meet with Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government representatives as he strives to forge a new path for his people that will be “exciting and sustainable.” 
VETERANS
 
Dan Foster:  The Alpine resident had a vision to create an Alpine Wall of Honor to honor local military veterans. He enlisted support from the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, the Alpine Community Center, Kiwanis, the VFW and the County. On Memorial Day 2011, a dedication ceremony was held for the wall, which will ultimately hold 952 tiles.