JACOB WARNS OF POWERLINK IMPACTS ON ALPINE; SAYS SDG&E REFUSED COUNTY ACCESS TO KEY DOCUMENTS
Supervisor discusses other concerns in exlusive interview with East County Magazine
“I don’t think anybody in Alpine really understands the magnitude of this.” – Supervisor Dianne Jacob
December 10, 2009 (San Diego’s East County) – In an exclusive interview with Supervisor Dianne Jacob, East County Magazine obtained new information about the impacts of Sunrise Powerlink on Alpine. In addition, Jacobs disclosed that SDG&E has refused the County access to a new 350 page document filed with the California Public Utilities Commission disclosing potential environmental ramifications of the proposed high-voltage power line.
Supervisor Dianne Jacob was recently briefed by County staff including County Counsel, the County Planning Department, Parks, Public Works, and other agencies on how Alpine will be impacted if Sunrise Powerlink is built. “I have to tell you, I was shocked,” Jacobs told East County Magazine. “When I found that out a week or so before Thanksgiving, I said `I need to let the community know.’”
Jacob set up a briefing with key stakeholders in Alpine. “I brought in the same County staff that briefed me to brief these folks,” she said. Most attendees learned information from County staff (who independently reviewed potential impacts of Powerlink) that SDG&E had not disclosed in its meetings with community leaders, she said.
“We are talking about a six-mile section through Alpine,” Jacob said. “We’re talking about two three-foot wide trenches, each seven feet deep that would e running parallel down Alpine Boulevard. We’re talking about 40 underground vaults, each of them the size of this conference room—and the time period for this to be accomplished could be as much as two years...250 property owners along Alpine Boulevard would be affected and about 150 businesses.”
Jacob noted that the Alpine Chamber of Commerce, which initially approved the Northern Route for Sunrise Powerlink before the PUC approved an alternate Southern Route, is still on record as supporting the project. “Do they really know the scope of what they approved?” she asked. “I don’t think anybody in Alpine really understands the magnitude of this.” She recalled installation of fiberoptic lines through
East County and noted, “That was like putting straws under the ground compared to this….I have never seen a project that would have such severe impact in my district since I’ve been on the board. This is huge.”
Jacob’s goal is to stop Powerlink from being built. If she can’t accomplish that, then she hopes to mitigate damage to the maximum extend possible.
She plans to host a townhall meeting in Alpine at a date to be announced to inform community members about the negative impacts. If Powerlink does go through, Jacob hoeps to see SG&E underground utility lines in Alpine and also provide a landscaping land for Alpine Boulevard that the community wants. But her ultimate goal is to stop the line from ever being built.
“Our County staff has informed us that SDG&E has submitted about a 350 page review with additional environmental information to the PUC (Public Utilities Commission),” Jacob told ECM.”We haven’t seen it yet…Our County staff was told there would not be public review and we would not be able to get a copy. They were told this by SDG&E.” The County wants to analyze impacts of Powerlink to communities and County lands. “I want to know where the County has some control over permitting an CEQA issues, so if the line goes through we are able to mitigate to some control over permitting and CEQUA issues,” she said, adding, “understanding that my primary intent is to stop the line.”
Jacob said the County’s next step will be to aggressively pursue getting a copy of the documents, through public records requests if necessary.
She also plans a new townhall meeting in Alpine for all interested parties. “The community needs to know the truth about the impacts, particularly along Alpine Boulevard,” she said. “They also need to know what authority the count has and does not have.”
For example, if SDGUE buys land for a proposed 50 acre substation at Japatul Valley, the county wil not have any permitting authority over what SDG&E can build, Jacob said. “We cannot even prevent them from putting utilities in our roadway right of way if they have a utility easement…The utilities have really done a good job of greasing the skids in their favor.” However the County would require permits for any actions taken on County parkland or other land under the County’s jurisdiction.
Lawsuits by Utility Consumers Action Network, the Center for Biodiversity and other public interest groups are still in the administrative process, Jacob noted. Those suits follow two tracks: attacks on the environmental document, and on the decision that the state Public Utilities Commission made approving Powerilnk. The state EIR found that Powerilnk poses a severe fire threat that is unmitigatible, among other concerns. But Jacob notes, “the environmetnal review focused on the Northern route…The focus was not on the Southern Route.”
Citizens groups are attacking agencies such as the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Meanwhile, SDG&E’s website says it plans to start construction in Alpine in May of next year—even before the deadline for Wililam Metz, head of the Cleveland National Forest, to make his decision about whether or not Powerlink should be allowed to go through the forest lands.
Environmental damage includes plans to dynamite wind caves in some areas of East County. “That would be devastating,” Jacob said.
She added, “Some of the County’s concerns have to do with traffic, traffic control and groundwater. They’re talking about using 71 milion gallons of groundwater. We haven’t seen exact numbers from the environmental people, but we’re talking about groundwater dependent areas—and they’re talking about taking this much out of the ground.” She cites concerns over damage to backcountry communities including aesthetics and groundwater issues.
“None have been discussed in detail in the environmental document,” she said. “It will be real interesting to see what’s in this 350-page document.”
The Environmental Impact Report already submitted to the state is very clear, Jacob believes. “It says Powerlink is not needed and there are other cleaner, greener, safer ways to provide for our energy future.” She hopes to see the $2 billion slated for Powerlink spent instead on federal and state subsidies to allow individuals and businesses to be energy independent through installation of locally generated power. “With these big solar and wind projects, they keep us addicted to paying the utility instead of becoming energy independent,” Jacob said. “I have a much different philosophy.”
A bill signed by the Governor recently will allow homeowners and businesses to sell back surplus solar power to the power grid at a “fair and reasonable price.” But Jacob notes, “Who decides fair and reasonable? The PUC.”
Jacob has openly criticized Chambers ofCommerce for supporting Powerilnk. Asked if she has any qualms over taking on powerful supporters, she replied, “No…People who want to support me, support me for who I am. We’ve fought some pretty big interests and had some David and Goliath battles since I’ve been in office.” Those include Lake Entertainment, which hoped to build a casino on Jamul Indian lands, the Red Cross (for providing inadequate help to people in Alpine following devastating wildfires) and Sam Zell, a mobile home park owner who filed a slap suit against Jacob after she attempted to shut down his efforts to oust senior citizens after hiking their rents. “He was a greedy billionaire who cared more about his bottom line than the senior citizens,” Jacob recalled.
Jacob has also been attending meetings on SDG&E’s proposed plan to shut off power to backcountry communities during high fire risk periods. “I don’t trust SDG&E,” Jacob said bluntly. “I hope this plan is dead, but I’m not sure it’s dead. It should be.” She called on SDG&E to “do what they should’ve been doing years and years ago” such as replacing wood poles with metal in a timely manner. “I told the PUC commissioners, `You need to hold them accountable,’” Jacob said of the utility.
Asked to name her biggest concerns for the County overall, Jacob cited the County’s fiscal outlook. “What I’m hearing is we’re in for at least another year of declining revenues,” she said. “The County relies on property tax and sales tax. Those revenues are down another $140 million this year and it looks like we’re not going to see any uptick. In addition, unlike cities, over 60% of our budget comes from the state and that’s mainly for public services…Our people are trying to get more creative, using technology to try and keep the services intact.”
Jacob called for more flexibility from the state to enable the County to use funds such as mental health funds from Prop 63 to assist refugees in East County. “There are huge needs,” she said. “What’s ironic is revenues are going down and the demand is going up.”
She wants to see more efforts made to stimulate business. “It’s our small businesses that are the economic engine of our economy, and they’re the ones who really pay the taxes,” she noted. “It’s the state and feds we need help from.”
The County is going after stimulus funds, she said. “We’ll go after anything we can get.”
Next week, Supervisors will be looking at an agenda item to eliminate up-front solar costs to make it easier for residents to put solar on their roofs.
Despite budget cutbacks, there has not been any backsliding on fire protection, Jacob maintained. “We’re on course. We have three phases to a County Fire Authority…By the end of phase three, there will be 1.5 mililon acres, about half the geographic size of the County, so it’s a big deal and it’s in the areas that have the most need.” Those regions will have brush clearing and consolidated firefighting capability under a single county-wide entity. “Most of this area consists of volunteer firefighting departments,” Jacob noted. “What we’ve already done through a stipend program is that over 50 stations that were all volunteer are not staffed 24/7, 365 days a year, so fatser response times to emergencies and to fires; training has been increased, there are background checks and a higher level of service, quicker respose times and greater coordination.”
Asked about criticisms from La Mesa Councilman David Allan and others over the County spending Proposition 172 funds on law enforcement but not fire protection, Jacob explained that Prop 172 was passed by voters to replace funds taken from counties by the state due to a budget shortfall. “The state decided it would take property tax revenues from local governments, close to $120 million that one year, compounded each year,” she noted. While some counties had funds raided from firefighting, San Diego did not have a County firefighting department at that time, but did lose funds from the Sheriff, District Attorney and probation departments. Jacob contends that Prop 172 funds were never intended for firefighting in San Diego, but merely to replace funds raided by the State from law enforcement agencies.
“Average annual growth in Prop 172 has tanked now,” she added. “Most of the crimes are committed in cities, not unincorporated areas.” If the County were to divert Prop 172 funds for firefighting, Jacob said, it would have to charge cities such as La Mesa for law enforcement costs. “The estimates of that are far greater than what they pay for Prop 172,” she said, adding that San Diego has already agreed to give cities within the County more money than other Counties have done.
With a term limits initiative for Supervisors likely to qualify for the June ballot, we asked Jacob whether she plans to run again. “I’m planning on it,” she said, noting that even if the term limits measure passes, she could still run for two more terms (eight years). “I’m here as long as people want me to be here,” she said. “I love serving people. My goal is to try to make a difference in East County. It’s the best—and I’d like to keep it that way.”