ECM Special Report reveals rural fire stations shut down for weeks, seriously under-staffed in peak fire season
By Miriam Raftery
October 10, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – An East County Magazine special investigation raises some burning issues and reveals that lives are at risk in rural East County areas.
Since the Cedar Fire a decade ago, our County has promised to improve fire preotection by consolidating rural fire agencies into a County Fire Authority. But our report exposes glaring deficiencies--and asks some critical questions:
- Could a man who died at De Anza Resort in Jacumba Hot Springs have been saved if the two closest fire stations had not been closed, dramatically delaying emergency response time?
- Why was Boulevard’s fire station shut down for 28 days in August, 30 days in September, and at least the first seven days in October – during peak fire season?
- Why were both Boulevard and Jacumba Hot Springs fire stations unmanned on September 30, when a man found unconscious died after medical help took an hour or more to arrive, according to eyewitness accounts?
- Why haven’t funds promised by SDG&E to mitigate dangers from new energy projects been spent in the communities most at risk?
- Why, even when stations were open, were there only two-man crews which firefighting professionals say is inadequate for structure protection or rescues from a burning building?
- How many other stations across East County may be similarly short-staffed or closed?
Our investigation raises grave concerns about public safety, but so far, officials have not provided any satisfactory answers.
October 9, 2013 (Julian) – As searchers comb Volcan Mountain for a missing airplane tonight, thunderstorms have knocked the University of California’s hpwren atop the mountain offline—perhaps permanently, ECM has learned.
“This site was badly hit by lightning,” the webcam website states. “The Volcan cameras may be outfor good, as we checked and they did not power back up after main power was restored. We can check them out further once we get them off the tower, but we have no hardware budget to repair or replace them any more.”
October 9, 2013 (Julian ) –Amid cold, stormy conditions, a ground search is being conducted by Sheriff’s Search and Rescue in the Julian area for a Piper Mooney plane. The small plane took off from Palm Springs for El Cajon’s Gillespie Field, but never arrived.
“They’re starting a ground search up in the Julian command area,” Lieutenant Dave Schaller with the Sheriff’s office told ECM tonight. “We’re unable to get ASTREA up in the air due to the weather.” Lighting has knocked the webcam atop Volcan Mountain offline and snow is forecast to dip down to around 5,500 feet tonight. Volcan Mountain is 5,350 feet.
By Miriam Raftery
October 6, 2013 (Descanso) –The aroma of burning wood filled the air as ranchers pulled their iron brands out of a flaming pit at the Buckel Ranch in Descanso. Old-timers said it was the only time ever that ranchers from all of East County’s historic ranches gathered in one place. The occasion? Tammy Cooker, owner of the Descanso Junction Restaurant, invited these seasoned cowhands to burn their brands into tabletops for her popular eatery now undergoing a remodel.
Cooker has earned the community’s loyalty, having opened her restaurant just before the Cedar Fire, then keeping it open to serve up firefighters, displaced residents and stranded motorists. Located in a century-old building, her restaurant closes down tomorrow and will hold a grand reopening celebration October 10-12. The revamped interior will celebrate our region’s historic roots.
October 5, 2013 (San Diego) –San Diego Congressman Issa (R-49) got a scolding from a federal judge after he asked to have a lawsuit that he filed be heard despite a federal shutdown.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied Issa’s request, noting that “while the vast majority of litigants who now must endure a delay in the progress of their matters do so due to circumstances beyond their control, that cannot be said of the House of Representatives, which has played a role in the shutdown.” Issa voted for a controversial spending bill passed by House Republicans that sought to defund the Affordable Care Act, prompting the shutdown after the Democrat-controlled Senate refused to approve the measure.
October 5, 2013 (San Diego) – A proposal by Supervisor Dianne Jacob to encourage beekeeping will be heard by the County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, October 9. Find meeting details here.
European honey bees have an important role in the $5.1 billion agriculture industry in San Diego County. Currently, crops pollinated by bees account for approximately one-third of food eaten. There has been a sharp decline in the bee populations throughout California, prompting municipalities and beekeeping organizations to step-up efforts to promote safe beekeeping in both urban and rural areas.
Supervisors to hear proposal Tuesday urging fast transfer of planes for firefighting from Department of Defense to U.S. Forest Service
By Miriam Raftery
October 5, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – Shut-down of the federal government over the spending bill impasse has caused furlough of 2,000 California National Guard technicians who maintain helicopters and cargo planes that respond to major wildfires statewide. Major General David Baldwin has said that “lives are at stake” because of these “inane cuts and work stoppages,” the SF Gate reported.
“The federal government needs to grow up, settle its budget mess and remember one of its primary obligations – public safety,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob told East County Magazine. “Any furloughs or other cutbacks that undermine aerial firefighting would be a major concern, especially as our region approaches the most dangerous stretch of the wildfire season.”
On Tuesday, Supervisors will hear a proposal by Supervisors Jacob and Greg Cox asking the U.S. Department of Defense to transfer seven surplus C-27 aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service to bolster firefighting resources in San Diego County and other areas.
October 4, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – SDG&E has notified East County Magazine’s Viejas Alerts that proactive power outages are possible due to high fire danger conditions. A Red Flag Alert is in effect today through Sunday and a high wind watch has also been issued.
Make sure you have flashlights and portable radio with batteries to stay informed during a power outage. This is also a good time to sign up to follow ViejasAlerts at www.twitter.com so you can get text message alerts on your mobile phone. If you have internet access you can also check our website for reports on fires at www.eastcountymagazine.org .
“We expect the highest winds between 4 a.m. and noon Saturday,” Stephanie Donovan, spokesperson for SDG&E, informed ECM. Gusts of 50 to 70 miles an hour are expected in some places.
The utility has made outbound calls to 5600 customers warning of possible power shut-offs in the following areas: Descanso, Mt Laguna, Viejas, Barrett Lake, East Jamul, Potrero, East Ramona, San Diego Country Estates, some portions of Santa Ysabel and North Wynola and Wynola, Japatul, Boulevard, Valley Center and Lake Wohlford. Click "read more" and scroll down for details.
COURT DENIES GOVERNOR’S REQUEST FOR EXTENSION OVER PRISON OVERCROWDING, BARS STATE FROM SHIPPING INMATES TO PRIVATE OUT-OF-STATE PRISONS
By Miriam Raftery
Hear our radio interview with Sheriff Bill Gore on the impacts of this decision: http://k002.kiwi6.com/hotlink/xp8o8x2sl7/sheriff_gore-prisoners-final.mp3
October 1, 2013 (Sacramento) – A three-judge panel has denied Governor Jerry Brown’s request for a three-year postponement of a federal court order to release or transfer prisoners to ease overcrowding. Instead, the judges gave the Governor a mere 30-day extension and further prohibited California from shipping prisoners to out-of-state private prisons, though transfers to local county jails with space will be allowed.
In an interview with East County Magazine’s radio show on Friday, Sheriff Bill Gore said California has among the highest recidivism rates in the nation at 72%. The state is “just warehousing people” he said. Instead, he believes the state should have rehabilitation programs such as drug and alcohol rehab, literacy, anger management, education and job training to give prisoners a better “chance of succeeding when they get out” by getting employment and not committing new crimes. Such programs have been rolled out locally.
By Paul Kruze
October 3, 2013 (San Diego)--In an attempt to make heads or tails out of the fallout from the resignation of former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, the Green Experts Academy held a forum entitled “San Diego Civic Crisis: Where Does The Green Sector Go From Here?” at the Cricket Communications headquarters in Kearney Mesa on September 26th.
By Miriam Raftery
September 30, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Spears and San Diego Police Officer Michael DeWitt risked their lives to save two deputies who were shot and wounded by a child molestation suspect in Lakeside last September. The deputies, Ali Perez and Craig Johnson, both survived thanks to their colleagues’ heroism.
On Thursday, Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris presented the Medal of Valor – California’s highest law enforcement award – to Deputy Spears and Officer DeWitt for their courage above and beyond the call of duty.
September 27, 2013 (San Diego's East County)--The National Weather Service today issued a Red Flag Warning due to high winds, dry brush and increased fire danger in San Diego County. The Red Flag Warning will be in effect from 12 p.m. Friday, September 27 through 6 p.m. Saturday, September 28 for the following communities: Ramona, Valley Center, Fallbrook, Escondido, El Cajon, Alpine, Potrero, Campo, Santa Ysabel, Descanso, Julian, Ranchita, and Warner Springs.
“Firefighting agencies throughout the state will be on high alert this weekend,” said Cal Fire Captain Mike Mohler. “This is the first Red Flag Warning of what is shaping up to be one of the most challenging fire seasons in many years. High winds can turn a spark into a devastating wildfire in just minutes, so we’re calling on San Diegans to be extremely vigilant in the high fire-risk areas of the county.”
During the Red Flag Warning, Cal Fire urges all Californians to exercise extreme caution outdoors in order to prevent wildfires. A few helpful reminders and fire prevention tips include:
September 27, 2013 (San Diego) – A candlelight vigil and fundraiser to help victims of the terrorist attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya will be held tonight at 8 p.m. at Flavors of East Africa, a Kenyan restaurant at 2322 El Cajon Blvd. , San Diego 92104. Ten percent of all proceeds from food sold tonight will be donated to the Kenyan Red Cross.
Update September 27, 2013: Supervisor Jacob's office has contacted us to advise that she met with County Veterans Services this week to request more equitable staffing. Her staffer advised that Jacob plans to introduce a measure asking Supervisors to approve sending veterans' service representatives to county libraries throughout our region.
By Miriam Raftery
September 25, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – When Claudia Millerbragg, whose brother was killed in Viet Nam, decided to volunteer to help local veterans, she was shocked to discover that County Veterans Services sends representatives to a dozen different communities – but none to rural East County.
At a Homes for Our Troops event in March honoring combat vets who each lost both legs and now live in a rural area in El Cajon, Supervisor Dianne Jacob said that San Diego has the largest military installation in the world. “In East County we have the highest concentration of military and veterans in San Diego County,” she added.
If East County has the most veterans, why does our region have the fewest services for them -- and no services at all in the poorest rural areas with no public transportation?
“We supported the renewable energy plan but we wanted it done in the right. The stakeholders advisory group is biased and stacked. It’s all industry…” – Donna Tisdale, Chair, Boulevard Planning Group
By Alex Riggins
September 26, 2013 (San Diego) – The County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 on Wednesday to approve a work plan for a comprehensive renewable energy plan. The plan includes options for creating an alternative to SDG&E such as a publicly owned utility district, as well as plans for the type, scale and location of energy development. A cost analysis and comparison of various energy options was removed, however.
The work plan will analyze ways in which the county can move forward with renewable energy options. It was approved unanimously after the Board heard public comments and deliberated for nearly two hours on Wednesday morning. The plan drew support from the energy industry and concerns from rural residents.
ENVRIONMENTALISTS WEIGH CHALLENGE AFTER SAN DIEGO CITY COUNCIL APROVES CASTLEROCK PROJECT AND TRANSFER OF LAND TO SANTEE
By Nadin Abbott
September 17, 2013 (San Diego)—The San Diego City Council voted 7-0 to approve the controversial Castlerock housing project on the border of Santee and San Diego. The resolution proposed by Council Member Scott Sherman (District 7) and Council Member David Alvarez (District 8) reads in part, “approve the Staff’s recommendation (Annexation being the preferred scenario).”
It is clear that San Diego would prefer the project to go to Santee. One key reason is fire response, which San Diego Fire Department cannot do in a timely manner, due to the location of the nearest fire stations and how busy Santee roads can be at rush hour. With annexation, Santee will have jurisdiction to dispatch fire engines and other emergency services.
Environmental concerns, conflict of interests by Lightner raised
By Miriam Raftery
September 16, 2013 (San Diego) – San Diego’s City Council will hold a hearing today at 2 p.m. on the controversial Castlerock housing project. The project is proposed by Pardee Homes near the boundary between Santee and San Diego. The Planning Commission previously recommended annexing land for the project to Santee. Council has the option to approve, modify or disapprove the project and if approved, to determine whether or not it should be transferred to Santee’s jurisdiction.
Campaign contribution forms reveal that Council President Sherri Lightner accepted $4300 in donations from 12 Pardee Homes employees during her primary challenge. “If Pardee reimbursed its employees, the contributions would be illegal. Regardless of the contributions legality, we believe Pardree’s contributions are an inappropriate attempt to purchase your vote for a quadruple up-zone on Castlerock,” wrote Van Collingsworth, executive director of Preserve Wild Santee, in a letter to Lightner.
Comments submitted jointly by the Chaparral Institute and Preserve Wild Santee raised serious concerns over water supplies, traffic, environmental and public health impacts if the project is built near Mission Trails Regional Park.
September 14, 2013 (San Diego's East County) -- Looking for a job? Seeking business and economic updates on our region? Check out tapes of our recent "Job Talks" broadcasts from our East County Magazine radio show, now available to hear online.
Recent guests include Tom Lemon with the San Diego Building Trades Council, Johnny Simpson with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, East County Chamber leader Eric Lund, job hunting experts Reina Menasche and Antonio Villana, Cindy Gomper Graves with the South Coast Economic Development Council, and La Mesa Chamber of Commerce president Mary England. Click "read more" and scroll down for links.
By Nadin Abbott; editor Miriam Raftery also contributed to this report
Photo credti: UCSD's HPWren webcam atop Lyon's Peak
An advisory evacuation clearly means that authorities believe those homes are at risk of burning. But by not opening shelters-- or closing shelters unannounced in the middle of an emergency--officials are sending a disturbing signal: If you leave now, you’re on your own.
September 10, 2013 (San Diego) East County Magazine has encountered disturbing issues with emergency shelters found closed during three major evacuations in the past two months alone. How many other times has this have occurred—and what can be done to better protect residents during disasters? Today, we brought the issue to the County Board of Supervisors at a public hearing.
By Miriam Raftery
September 11, 2013 (Jacumba Hot Springs) – “The people of this town came together,” said famed sculptor Ricardo Breceda after hoisting a 1200-pound metallic rattlesnake sculpture into place in front of the Jacumba Community Park.
Best known for his larger-than-life sculptures of present and prehistoric wildlife in the Anza-Borrego desert, Breceda yesterday sold additional sculptures to Jacumba Hot Springs art fans – works that will soon grace rocks and roadways in this high desert community seeking to reinvent itself as an arts colony.
It all started with a winged dragon.
Update September 11, 2013: This agenda item has been postponed until September 25th due to the absence of Supervisor Greg Cox.
Hear ECM’s radio interview with Supervisor Dianne Jacob on this issue: http://k002.kiwi6.com/hotlink/uuv0z6n9db/diannejacob-energyplanhearing.mp3
By Miriam Raftery
September 7, 2013 (San Diego) Updated September 8, 2013 –On Wednesday morning, Supervisors will consider approval of the first phase of a “Renewable Energy Work Plan” to support renewable energy development – and determine just what types of renewable energy the County should pursue. This includes an overview of energy resources available in the unincorporated areas including East County, a cost analysis of renewable energy options, and consideration of consumer choice alternatives for purchasing power from a source other than SDG&E, such as through community choice aggregation.
MEASURE TO AID VULNERABLE RESIDENTS IN EMERGENCIES, REPORT ON DISATER PREPAREDNESS ON SUPERVISORS’ AGENDA TUESDAY
By Miriam Raftery
September 8, 2013 (San Diego) – After visiting the Rim Fire (photo, left) to learn more about large-scale disaster responses, Supervisor Dave Roberts announces he is introducing emergency preparedness legislation on Tuesday, September 10, along with Supervisor Ron Roberts.
“Our initiative seeks to assist our most vulnerable residents in the event of a disaster,” said Dave Roberts in a newsletter to constituents. Also on Tuesday, the County’s Office of Emergency Services will update Board members on community preparedness and improvements made since the 2007 firestorms as the height of fire season approaches.
Vulnerable residents include those with physical, cognitive or emotional disabilities. A survey by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found a staggering 26 percent of San Diego County residents report they are disabled due to a physical, mental or emotional condition. A 2009 survey asked if people were prepared for a major disaster and among those who replied “not prepared, 30.3% said they were disabled. County records also list 25,000 individuals who need a personal care assistant to be independent.
September 4, 2013 (San Diego) – On the heels of a hefty rate increase that took effect September 1st, SDG&E wants ratepayers to pay for $808 million in costs of decommissioning the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations. Ratepayer advocates, meanwhile, say ratepayers should receive a refund for charges assessed when the nuclear facility was off-line for more than a year before being shut down permanently.
The California Public Utilities Commission will hold two hearings on Tuesday, October 1 at 2 p.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. Both will be held in the Al Bahr Shriners auditorium, 5440 Kaerny Mesa Road, San Diego 92111. The commission will consider whether or not ratepayers should be charged for the decommissioning costs, as well as whether ratepayers should receive refunds for charges assessed while the nuclear facilities were offline for more than a year before the shut-down decision.
By Paul Kruze
September 5, 2013 (San Diego)-- A small but passionate group of local environmentalists and workers for Sullivan Solar Power, a local solar panel installation company, gathered in front of Sempra Energy’s downtown corporate offices on August 28 to protest the energy conglomerate’s backing of California Assembly Bill 327. Opponents here and at protests elsewhere in California said the bill would irreparably gut incentives for energy conservation and rooftop solar development.
Introduced by Assemblyman Henry T. Perea (D-Fresno), the proposed bill was approved by the California Senate Energy Committee late last week, with major amendments. If passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, it would replace what utilities and other supporters say are outdated restrictions on how electrical rates are decided and approved.
By Nadin Abbott
September 5, 2013 (San Diego)—The special election set for November 19 to replace Bob Filner, who resigned August 30, is starting to shape up. To date, 21 people have thrown their hat in the ring. But thus far, only three candidates have strong name recognition.
The first, and no surprise to any observer of San Diego politics, is former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher who previously ran for Mayor against Filner. The second is Second District Councilmember Kevin Faulconer. The third is former City Attorney Mike Aguirre, recently recently has represented consumer groups fighting utility companies and big businesses.
On behalf of East County Magazine, we wish you and your family a very Happy Labor Day!
The first national Labor Day was adopted by Congress in 1894 and signed into law by President Taft, following a tradition began by New York in 1884 followed by several other states. Today we honor the contributions of American workers to our nation.
This year is a special occasion, since it marks the centennial celebration of the U.S. Department of Labor. The first Labor Department Secretary was a former coal miner who helped found the United Mine Workers Union.
Founded 100 years ago in 1913, the Department o f Labor has helped usher in many reforms and protections for workers that modern-day people may take for granted--such as the 40-hour work week and overtime pay, worker’ compensation for ill and injured employees, the Equal Pay act for women, laws to prevent discrimination based on race, outlawing child labor, enabling those with disabilities, and adopting OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Act to protect workers from dangers in the work place.
September 1, 2013 (Jacumba Hot Springs) -- Next year marks the century milestone of the founding of Jacumba Hot Springs. Although the community of Jacumba was settled in the mid- 1800s, the first time the community appeared in an official document as Jacumba Hot Springs was in a State of California Railroad Commission document dated1914.
Four major festivals are planned for the Centennial: a third annual Blues Festival May 3, a Healing Waters and Arts Festival the weekend of May 24, a Centennial Fall Festival October 4 and a Christmas Festival December 6. More details on the festivals will be announced at a later date.
By Miriam Raftery
September 3, 2013 (San Diego) – Yesterday a local scanner tracking service reported several apparent shark sightings off Torrey Pines Beach. In the interest of keeping readers safe we posted the report promptly with no way to obtain confirmation on the holiday weekend.
ECM today has reached both state and city lifeguards who say they are unaware of any reports. It now appears our usually credible source was inaccurate and we regret the error.
We could not get verification prior to posting our initial report on Labor Day evening when we were simultaneously reporting on a live shooter on Mt Helix near my own home office, flash flooding in the backcountry, a wildfire in La Posta and additional weather-related incidents. This story was posted by a bleary-eyed editor in the early pre-dawn hours who got no sleep due to the shooting incident here including eight wakeup phone calls from emergency authorities that continued until 3:30 a.m.
For those interested in the history of shark attacks in our area and California overall, below are some fascinating facts.
By Miriam Raftery
August 27, 2013 (San Diego’s East County ) – A proposed tiered equine ordinance aimed at making it easier for backcountry property owners to stable horses will be on the agenda for Supervisors to consider on Wednesday, September 11.
“When it comes to allowing stables, we need to take a more sensible, tiered approach so more people can take part in equine activities,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents East County, has said. “As a former horse owner and long-time rider, I think these changes will also strengthen the economic vitality of our rural areas.”
Customers encouraged to save energy to earn credit on bills
August 30, 2013 (San Diego) – San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) has called a ‘Reduce Your Use’ event day tomorrow (Aug. 31) due to hotter-than-average temperatures.
While SDG&E has adequate electricity resources to meet the demand, residential customers can help reduce strain on the electric grid by reducing their electricity use tomorrow between 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. By doing so, they will be eligible to earn a bill credit of $0.75 per kilowatt hour saved.
Here are some quick tips to help save energy at home: