MOST IMPORTANT EAST COUNTY ISSUES IN 2012

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this

 

By Miriam Raftery

January 1, 2013 (San Diego’s East County)- Last week we posted our most-read stories of the year—those that drew the most readers, and newsmakers of the year.   Now we present the year’s top stories/issues of most significance to our region--issues with major impact, as well as milestones for our communitie, in the view of our editorial staff. Some are individual articles, others ran a series.

In case you missed these, be sure to scroll down and click the "read more" button to see the stories we think everyone should read--including some hot topics that will continue to be debated in 2013 as major decisions impacting East County remain on the horizon.

REGULATORS DENY SDG&E REQUEST TO CHARGE RATEPAYERS FOR FIRES THAT THE UTILITY CAUSED

Hundreds of you turned out at a California Public Utilities Commission to express outrage over SDG&E’s plan, including numerous fire survivors who argued that the proposal would give SDG&E no incentive to make its lines safer.  In December, consumers won this battle, for now, when the CPUC denied SDG&E’s request  to charge consumers for past and future fires.  The CPUC left the door open for possible future claims, but made clear that “reasonableness” must be paramount. The ramifications of this decision for public safety are huge—not to mention benefits to ratepayers’ bottom lines. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11980

ECPAC SAVED: EL CAJON COUNCIL REJECTS PLAN TO TEAR DOWN THEATER AND BUILD HOTEL ON SITE

An East County Magazine article alerted the public that El Cajon’s Council was considering destroying the East County Performing Arts Center, which had been closed for two years.  Protests from citizens helped persuade Council t reject a developer’s proposal.  A Save ECPAC citizens group, city staff and council members have since done extensive research into options to restore and improve the theater. At ECM’s holiday party in December, Councilman Gary Kendrick announced his hope to reopen the theater by December 2013.  http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9768

COUNTY PLANNERS SEND WIND ORDINANCE TO SUPERVISORS

By a 4-2 vote in July, the County Planning Commission approved a wind ordinance that Supervisors are expected to consider as early as January of this year.  If passed, the measure would open vast swaths of East County’s scenic backcountry for industrial wind energy development.  The plan has attracted widespread opposition from residents of local mountain, desert and rural areas, who raise serious concerns not only about loss of views, but serious impacts to human health, wildlife,  Native American cultural resources, and property values.  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/10501

NEW ELECTED OFFICIALS REFLECT DIVERSITY

Dr. Shirley Weber will become the first African-American legislator to represent San Diego County when she is sworn into the her Assembly seat in January.  Daughter of a sharecropper, she went on to earn her PhD and become President of the San Diego Unified School District, showing that all things are possible with a quality public education Weber defeated a strong Republican challenger, business leader and former Lemon Grove Councilwoman Mary England. Lemon Grove filled England’s seat by electing the city’s first African-American councilmember, Racquel Vasquez, whose election also restores a Democratic majority to the Council. Read more about these strong women leaders here:  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/11380 ; http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/8127

“SAVE MISSION TRAILS” PREVAILS: CPUC OFFICIALS RECOMMEND DENIAL OF QUAIL BRUSH POWER PLANT

A massive citizens’ coalition waged a successful battle against the Quail Brush gas-fired “peaker” power plant proposed near Mission Trails Regional Park on the boundary of Santee and San Diego.  Citizens flooded City Council and Planning Group meetings.  Political leaders on the left and right joined together to oppose the project,  along with environmentalists, outdoor enthusiasts, Santee’s school district, and both the Santee and San Diego City Councils.  In late November, two California Public Utilities’ commissioners recommended denial of the project application,  finding the project to be “unnecessary” to meet our region’s power needs.  But stay tuned; the full CPUC or the California Energy Commission could still potentially overrule the commissioners, so this story may not yet be ended. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11800

NEW RIGHTS FOR HOMEOWNERS FACING FORECLOSURE

At year’s end, Governor Brown signed into law a homeowners’ bill of rights designed to protect homeowners facing unreasonable foreclosures. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/8966 We told you how your legislators’ voted: http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/10282. We also brought you the story of how California Attorney Kamala Harris stood alone against the big banks, walking out of negotiations when all other state attorney generals were ready to sign for a pittance.  As a result, she negotiated a whopping settlement for homeowners—and retained the right to sue predatory lenders.  http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/8708

FRESH LOCAL FOODS, DELIVERED STRAIGHT TO YOU

One of the hottest trends this year is the rise in community support agriculture (CSA) programs – farms that deliver their fresh, healthy foods directly to your doorstep or a pickup location in your community.  Check out our guide to CSAs in East County and San Diego’s inland region here:  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/8530

BETRAYAL OF NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS

The sound of wind turbines on his ancestor’s grave will be like “beating on somebody’s soul,” Viejas tribal member Charlie Brown testified.  But his words fell on deaf ears; Imperial County Supervisors approved the Ocotillo Express Wind project despite clearly  severe impacts on sites considered sacred by numerous tribes in our region, including an ancient spoke wheel geoglyph listed on the National Regiser of Historic Places:   http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/8724  Tribes held a mourning ceremony and in a rare move, invited the public to join them:  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/10162 . They protested outside Pattern Energy’s corporate headquarters in La Jolla to announce a lawsuithttp://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9679  , but a judge later refused to grant a temporary restraining order:   http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9771 They hired forensic dog teams to prove that ancient remains were on the site in large numbers, with ECM on their heels:   http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/10446  Viejas Chairman Anthony Pico (left) even sent a letter imploring President Obama to help save these sites from desecration.  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9104 The developer made token concessions to move a handful of turbines, but the place known as the Valley of the Dead is now destroyed – and for Native Americans betrayed so often by our government in the past, history has repeated itself in a shameful fashion.   

CENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS HONOR OUR HERITAGE

The cities of El Cajon and La Mesa each held a year-long centennial celebration including centennial parades and more, building pride in our region’s historic heritage.  La Mesa’s festivities aren’t over yet—a gala January 12 will conclude the centennial year.  Also in 2012, the East County Chamber of Commerce turned 100, hosting a centennial gala of its own.  Here are some highlights of our coverage:

La Mesa Centennial parade: http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9901

El Cajon Centennial celebration: http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11701

Chamber gala: http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/8407

COMPLETION OF SUNRISE POWERLNK

No project has been more contentious or impacted more communities in East County than Sunrise Powerlink, SDG&E’s high-voltage power line.  In July, Governor Jerry Brown and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined together to celebrate completion of the line and pull the switch powering the new Japatul substation.  Supporters say the line will help fill our region’s energy needs, while opponents contend the line was unnecessary and environmentally destructive.  Governor Brown drew the ire of many East County residents protesting outside his appearance when he vowed to “crush the opposition” to large-scale renewable power projects.  http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/10539

STATE SIGNS DEAL TO KEEP PALOMAR MOUNTAIN  STATE PARK OPEN

East County Magazine played a key role in efforts to save Palomar Mountain State Park from permanent closure, teaming up with Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park to get word out about a fundraising drive. Not only did our readers help raise $70,000 to save our local park, but the State Parks Service also embraced the concept of a public-private partnership, ultimately seeking out nonprofits and keeping open 68 of the 70 state parks.  http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9857

LA MESA REJECTS PBID

Backers of a Planned Business Improvement District in La Mesa failed to win enough to support for adoption with a majority of merchants and other property owners. The City ultimately nixed the project, with Council deciding it should not cast the deciding vote since the City owned substantial property in the district to be assessed.  ECM ran an in-depth three –part series on the pros and cons of the PBID proposal to fully inform La Mesa readers on this important issue.

Part I: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/6980

Part II http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/7105,

 Part III: http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/7750

PLANNING GROUPS SPARED AFTER CITIZENS SPEAK OUT

East County Magazine got the word out to our readers about a proposal from a developer-backed “Red Tape Reduction Task Force” calling for elimination of all community planning groups countywide.  Our readers flooded Supervisors with objections and ultimately, Supervisors turned down the developers’ plan.   While some changes were made to planning groups’ roles and powers, these important forums for citizens to learn about developments proposed in their communities—and have their voices heard—were spared. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9218

SHOCKEY FIRE LEAVES CHARRED A TRAGIC TRAIL

East County had several major fires this year, including the Old Fire, Ranchita Fire, and Vallecitos Lightning Complex Fires.  The worst, however, was the Shockey Fire,  which claimed the life of an elderly resident and burned numerous homes, as well as charring more than 2,850 acres.  We kept you informed with numerous wildfire alerts  and live reporting at the fire scene, also attending a fundraiser for Shockey Fire victims and getting word out about families in need. Our readers responded with generosity, providing significant help to those who lost everything.   Here are a few highlights of our coverage: http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11152 ; http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11150 ; http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11153 ; http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11430

42,000 ACRES PROPOSED AS ROADLESS WILDERNESS IN EAST COUNTY

Cleveland National Forest Supervisor Will Metz revealed a proposal to designate 42,000 of Cleveland National Forest as roadless wilderness, including scenic areas around Cedar Creek Falls and other scenic places.  If approved by Congress, the proposal would protect these vast tracts in East County not only from damage by vehicles, but would also protect them from industrial wind developers who have been eyeing federal forest lands. http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/12065

CONVICTED COUNCILWOMAN SPENT EMBEZZLED FUNDS ON CHARITIES, PERSONAL LUXURIES, AND  LAVISH TRIPS FOR CITY EMPLOYEES

El Cajon Councilwoman Jillian Hanson-Cox was once named Citizen of the Year, known for her generosity in doling out large sums to local charities including the Mother Goose Parade.  Colleagues were shocked when an FBI probe revealed that Hanson-Cox paid those bills with  money embezzled from her employer, also helping herself to funds for an extravagant personal lifestyle, campaign expenses and lavish trips for city employees.  She pled guilty to federal crimes and is now imprisoned after being sentenced to 30 months behind bars and ordered to pay $4.8 million in restitution.   http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/11968  ;  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/11890

REFUGEES TO HELP START FARMER’S MARKET IN EL CAJON

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for life, as the saying goes. The International Rescue Committee has donated grant funds to teach refugees in El Cajon how to raise fish and vegetables with aquaponics, using no soil, on the city’s vacant lots.  Classes were held in December. In 2013, local refugees aim to start a farmer’s market in El Cajon, selling extra foods to help feed the entire community.  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/11798

LOSS OF OUR PUBLIC LANDS

What are the cumulative impacts of wildfires, Sunrise Powerlink, wind energy projects and other factors on our public lands?  In one of our most significant projects of the year, ECM examined multiple factors, even commissioning a photographer to hike the length of Sunrise Powerlink through Cleveland National Forest to document its effects. Instead of evaluating projects in a vacuum, perhaps assessments of impacts should take into account the thousands of acres of our public lands that have already been lost or irreparably damaged.  http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/8876

TULE WIND PROJECT APPROVED IN SCENIC MCCAIN VALLEY

Ignoring dire warnings from Supervisor Dianne Jacob, her colleagues rammed through approval of the Tule Wind Project in East County’s scenic McCain Valley by a 3-2 vote, also approving cross-border transmission lines to import wind energy from Mexico. “This will impede firefighting efforts to a frightening degree…a wind-drive fire is not going to stay in the backcountry. We must not roll the dice,” Jacob implored. “There are other, safer alternatives….I also have serious problems about an energy policy that depends on the stability of Mexico.”  Approving the portion of Tule Wind on county land also cleared away the last remaining hurdle for the federal government, which previously approved many more turbines for the Tule Wind project on Bureau of Land Management property that is popular with campers and is the gateway to three federal wilderness areas.  http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/10673

HOT CONTROVERSY OVER FIRE FEES

Many rural residents were hot under the collar over the state’s new fire parcel fee, intended to improve funding for firefighting.  Opponents contend the fees unfairly assessed rural residents already paying fees in other fire districts.  While the state moved forward to impose fees, state regulators also heeded citizens’ outcries and reduced fees across East County. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11928

SAN MIGUEL FIRE OUTSOURCES FIREFIGHTING

In one of the most telling signs of the times,  cash-strapped San Miguel Fire District first shut down a fire station, then voted to outsource its firefighting services to Cal Fire.  The move sparked controversy and consternation among both residents and firefighters. http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9460 ; For earlier coverage including testimony to planners, see http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9651

MAYOR FILNER’S VISION: TAKE SAN DIEGO OFF-GRID AND BECOME ENERGY INDEPENDENT

San Diego’s new mayor controls 40% of the votes on the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). Thus by joining with just a couple of mayors of other cities in the region he would wield vast influence on policies that impact East County, such as energy and transportation issues.  One of his most bold initiatives is a vision to create a utility owned by the people, drawing power primarily from locally produced solar energy. His plan would create competition for SDG&E and provide our region with energy independence and increased security against blackouts, if Filner can overcome daunting challenges to make it happen. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/8796

CEDAR CREEK FALLS CONTROVERSIES

The U.S. Forest Service had good intentions by improving a trail to Cedar Creek Falls. But making the popular attraction more accessible also attracted partiers and hikers unprepared for a hot, steep trail.  Rescues increased and after an El Cajon teen fell to his death. The Forest Service closed the falls for nearly a year and now faces a lawsuit from the victim’s family, asserting the USFS knew of dangers and ignored them.  By year’s end, one of two trails has reopened and the USFS has proposed a permit system to restrict the number of visitors to this scenic wonder.  Here are our two most recent updates: http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11969  and http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11960

GROSSMONT UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD EMBROILED IN CONTROVERSIES

The bombshell dropped  in the heat of the fall election, when a board member revealed a Grand Jury investigation into the board majority over possible misappropriation of bond monies slated for an Alpine High School.  An ECM investigation of public records found additional controversies, including the destruction by Superintendent Ralf Swenson of a report commissioned from a lawyer to determine if the district was violating the California Voting Rights Act.  http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11383  . In October, ECM hosted a candidates forum and posted videos online:  http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11510 . We also posted a fact check on candidates’ claims: http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11500   In November, incumbent Gary Woods lost his seat to challenger Jim Stieringer, who has pledged to support an Alpine High School. 

GUHSD TAKES HEAT ON BOUNDARY CHANGES

The Grossmont Union High School District board approved changes to district boundaries without notifying district residents or parents of children in feeder districts, leaving many surprised to learn that their teen had been shifted to a different school.  Amid public outcry, the Board ultimately reached out to middle school parents and made modifications to its plan. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/8495

JUDGING THE JUDICIAL CANDIDATES

Jim Miller ran as an outsider touting his family law experience, but wound up an outcast.  After covering a judicial candidate forum, an ECM interview with Miller revealed that he had been removed as a judge pro tem by the Superior Court.  He claimed to be a victim of dirty politics.  But a peek at his Facebook page revealed some injudicious posts—including comments he made about cases before him as a  judge pro tem (an apparent violation of judicial ethics) plus some less than flattering remarks about local attorneys, judges and a law enforcement officer.  The Lincoln Club yanked its endorsement of Miller, who  lost the November election to Robert Amador, a fellow Republican and deputy district attorney. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9781 ,   http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9865  and http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11368 .

GONE TO POT: MEDICAL MARIJUANA ACCES TAKES A HIT

The owner of Mother Earth Alternative Healing in El Cajon filed a lawsuit after the U.S. Attorney’s office ordered the county’s only legally licensed medical marijuana clinic to shut down.  While at the national level, two states legalized use of recreational marijuana, local voters in several San Diego county locations turned down medical marijuana measures, including Lemon Grove, which failed to pass a measure to legalize dispensaries.  http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/10522

NOT FOR THE BIRDS

Wind energy developers locally have been touting avian radar as a solution to high rates of bird kills by turbines.  But there’s just one problem: an investigation by East County Magazine could not find a shred of evidence suggesting that these systems work.  Manufacturers’ sites show computer simulations of birds flying through wind farms and turbine blades halting, but we could not locate a single video of this occurring with real birds although the radar is installed at wind facilities in major migratory fly ways.  There are, however, plenty of videos available to show birds being sliced apart by wind turbine blades. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9424

EDUCATION FUNDS RESTORED

Last spring, leaders of our region’s community college districts warned of dire consequences if a ballot measure to increase state funding for education did not pass.  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9738  Many other district voiced similar concerns.  In November, voters approved not only Prop 30 to assure state funding for elementary through college level education, but also approved a majority of local school bond propositions, including several in East County. We provided analysis and interviews with educators on these important measures to help you make informed decisions: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/11338 and http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/11097

THE DARK SIDE OF GOING GREEN

How safe are wind turbines?  Given plans to place them in close proximity to homes, roads, and campgrounds in East County, we conducted a investigation.  The results were disturbing. We found many serious accidents involving collapsing turbines and massive blades hurled off http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9238 , including issues involving safety of equipment used by Iberdrola, developer of the planned Tule Wind farm locally. WE also identified serious health concerns globally near wind projects  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9425 including local Native Americans who believe their illnesses are related to a nearby wind project where stray voltage 1,000 times normal has been measured in their homes  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/11707  . In addition, we found  potential impacts on wildlife, and serious fire safety issues http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/10989    including wildfires caused by wind turbines filled with flammable lubricating oil .http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/10602 .

HOW MANY BIG ENERGY PROJECTS ARE TOO MANY FOR ONE SMALL TOWN TO ABSORB?

That’s the question we posed when we visited Jacumba, site of multiple massive solar farms and industrial wind projects.  Read our award-winning look at how residents in one rural community are dealing with the overwhelming implications of multiple projects, any one of which could drastically change the character of this historical backcountry community.  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/8724

TRAGEDY IN CONNECTICUT SPARKS MEMORIES OF MASS SCHOOL SHOOTINGS IN EAST COUNTY

While the nation reeled over the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, we sought  Fran Zumwalt, a teacher who survived  injuries in  the Granite Hills shooting in East County. She shared her unique perspectives on what it’s like to live through such an ordeal, as well as her ideas for ways to prevent such tragedies in the future. This story has important implications for teachers, parents, and all of us in the community.  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/8724

NATIONAL WALMART PROTEST REACHES EAST COUNTY

East County isn’t known as a bastion of labor union power.  But late in the year we saw two labor protests in La Mesa. One was for contracted workers at Grossmont Hospital. The other joined a national effort to inform Walmart shoppers that the company keeps its workers part-time and encourages them to go on the public dole while taxpayers foot the bill for those benefits.  Many workers say that they want to work full time.  Some also objected to Walmart forcing them to work on Thanksgiving Day as retailers pushed to attract Black Friday shoppers a full day early this year. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/11785

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

It’s ironic that at year’s end, California passed a law to fine poachers $40,000 for killing a bighorn sheep, yet when ECM sent photos proving endangered bighorn sheep were on the site of a proposed wind project in Ocotillo,  U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar didn’t protect them—instead he issued a take permit allowing them to be killed.  Permits are being issued to authorize killing other endangered species, even eagles, our national symbol, on our public lands with our tax dollars. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9732

WIND STORM: WHISTLEBLOWER ALLEGES GAG ORDER

Mark Jorgensen, retired Superintendent of Anza Borrego Desert State Park, turned whistleblower in this exclusive interview with East County Magazine. He alleged that the Governor’s office prevented state park employees from turning in comments on potential negative impacts of the Ocotillo Express Wind project next to the park.  The Governor’s office denied this, but the Borrego Sun later confirmed the story with multiple park insiders.  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9161

OCOTILLO: THE CANARY IN THE COAL MINE?

Ocotillo is a preview of what East County residents can expect when an industrial-scale wind project is built on public lands near homes. A similar project is planned soon in East County’s McCain Valley, plus the Ocotillo project impacts sacred sites for local tribes and adjoins Anza Borrego Desert State Park.  So ECM photographers have tracked the project’s construction on a nearly daily basis. What they found was disturbing—laws and rules to protect the public were ignored as Ocotillo residents endured Dust Bowl-like conditions http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/10795  and the flooding of their properties with a flammable chemical during construction http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/10510 , when the developer graded roads three times wider than allowed and illegally diverted drainage.  No efforts were made to save century-old ocotillos that were bulldozed. After the project was built, residents are subjected to flashing red lights all night long and blade shadow flicker during the day http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/11910 , losing cherished views that residents believed would last forever, since this project is on formerly protected public land. The people protested and filed complaints with many agencies, but in the end, no one protected them. http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/11237

U.S. SUPREME COURT TO HEAR TWO SAME-SEX MARRIAGE CASES

The East County connection here is an appeal to Proposition 8 filed by our region’s former state Senator, Dennis Hollingsworth. The ramifications are vast.  The high court could opt to rule on whether the U.S. constitution protects gay marriage, or opt for a states’ rights interpretation. Depending on the outcome, wedding bells may or may not be ringing soon for same-sex couples.

http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/11898

NOTABLE ELECTIONS

It's rare for an incumbent Congressman to be defeated, but Democrat Scott Peters managed to oust Republican Brian Bilbray, potraying his opponent as a former lobbyist catering to special interests.  In another noteworthy race, Dave Roberts won a seat on the County Board of Supervisors, becoming the first Democrat to serve as a Supervisor in decades. (Not to our Republican readers:  We would have highlighted upset victories by Republicans over Democrats locally--but there weren't any in November!)

CHEERS! GROWTH IN EAST COUNTY’S WINE INDUSTRY

We saw key milestones last year in our burgeoning wine industry. A Mount Helix Wine Growers Association took root. http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9826  La Mesa approved winemaking in city limits. The Ramona Wine Region magazine is attracting visitors from outside our region to savor our local vintages. http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/10117   Ramona wineries beat the French in a blind tasting competition: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9596  Plus we rode along on this year’s Backcountry Winemaking Tour to share some vintages to savor. http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/10563