Update, August 21, 2015: Donna Tisdale notified us that the backcountry "celebration over the death of Soitec's Boulevard projects was a bit premature. Today, County staff informed me that Soitec is going to remove the 160 cargo containers full of potentially toxic batteries from their Rugged Solar project and will resubmit the revised EIR for certification by the Board of Supervisors. (Back in February, Soitec self-terminated their Tierra Del Sol Solar project just 1 month after receiving Board approval due to a lack of buyers.) Staff is trying to docket the revised EIR for the Board agenda by October so they can meet the Court's order to report back by November 2nd on how they plan to comply," adds Tisdale, who concludes, "The battle to save the backcountry continues."
By Miriam Raftery
Photo: A Soitec solar panel in Newbury Springs, California
August 20, 2015 (Boulevard) – The last of four massive solar projects proposed by Soitec Solar in Boulevard may now be officially dead.
On August 7th, Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil overturned County Supervisors’ approvals of Soitec’s Rugged Acres and Tierra del Sol projects, because the approvals violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Soitec and the County failed to file an appeal by the August 14th deadline, says Donna Tisdale, chair of the Boulevard Planning Group and founder of Backcountry Against Dumps, which filed the lawsuit aiming to halt the project. View the court's judgment.
“Soitec’s Boulevard projects, approved for 1,200 acres, are now dead and buried!” Tisdale wrote in an email to project opponents. Any new projects proposed for those sites would need to start all over at step one,” requiring a new environmental impacts review, a lengthy and costly process. “I have asked the County for details on when they will set aside their voided approvals, as mandated by the court,” Tisdale added.
May 16, 2015 (Jacumba) – A bridge over Interstate 8 near Jacumba has been renamed to honor Eric Norman Cabral, a Border Patrol Agent who died of a heart attack caused by heat exhaustion suffered while tracking a group of suspected undocumented immigrants in the area.
January 29, 2015 (Jacumba Hot Springs)—Take a trip into California’s past at the Desert View Tower, a quirky and whimsical relic of the past that is still open to the public in San Diego’s East County. Located just off Interstate 8 at the In-ko-Pah exit, the tower is poised on a rocky overlook surrounded by desert on all sides.
Built in the 1920s by Bert Vaughn, a real estate tycoon who owned much of Jacumba, this 70-foot watchtower has become a tourist attraction and a local landmark on the outskirts of the small town today known as Jacumba Hot Springs.
January 17, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) – San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) announced last week that the new East County (ECO) Substation project has been energized and is now operating as an integral part of SDG&E’s electric transmission system.
November 11, 2014 (Jacumba) – Consultants hired by renewable energy companies in recent years have consistently claimed that there are no golden eagles in the Jacumba-Boulevard Planning areas, where several major energy projects are proposed or planned.
But two separate residents of Jacumba now report seeing a pair of golden eagles in the past 10 days—including on documented with a photograph. The first sighting was over the town itself and the second was directly across from the Jacumba Solar project and a proposed power line tie-in to the ECO substation.
November 6, 2014 (Borrego Springs) – The proposed placement of sexually violent predator Gary Snavely in Borrego Springs has been withdrawn by the Department of State hospitals after the conclusion of public comments, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has announced.
By Miriam Raftery, photos by Danielle Cook and Wayne Brammer
September 7, 2014 (Jacumba Hot Springs)—This high desert town in San Diego’s East County is normally characterized by dry washes. But tonight around 7:30 p.m., the town’s Centennial Committee chair Danielle Cook reports, “I received a call a half hour ago from another Jacumba resident, Bill Pape, saying to "get down to the bridge right away, there is a flash flood here and about 20 of us are gathering to watch it.”
September 3, 2014 (Jacumba) – “It’s impossible to gauge the size of this substation from this photo. It’s huge,” Wayne Brammer writes of the still-under-construction ECO substation project that SDG&E is building in rural Jacumba.
A quarter of all rural stations were closed –at the same time—during April
An East County Magazine special investigative report
By Miriam Raftery
July 31, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) – The County Fire Authority has touted its successes in preventing the May wildfires in North County from destroying thousands of homes despite a county-wide disaster declaration. Granted, a lot has improved since the devastating 2003 and 2007 firestorms in our region--the worst in California's history. But if fires were to start in East County today, the outcome could be tragic. An East County Magazine investigation raises serious doubts over inadequate volunteer firefighter staffing and the ability to respond even to routine house fires and medical calls in some rural communities.
Last October, our investigative report,"Closed for Fire Season" revealed that Boulevard’s fire station was closed for two months during fire season and Jacumba’s station also had some dark days- -including one when a resident died of a medical emergency after a delay in emergency services arriving. The County responded by funding emergency staffing and according to Supervisor Jacob’s staff, these two stations remained open every day for at least several months thereafter, an ECM records check in late April revealed.
But on July 9, Craig Williams, an information technology provider for the Campo Fire Department, advised ECM that “without any notification to the community leaders." two days ago Cal Fire “moved the overtime, off-budget, paid Cal Fire firefighters out of Boulevard to Jacumba Hot Springs. Now Boulevard is stuck with Fire Authority `volunteers’ only, just like Campo.’”
Worse, a new investigation by ECM reveals that this is the tip of an iceberg--with many stations understaffed and some closed for months.
July 22, 2014 (Jacumba) – Several registered sex offenders have been released recently in East County, with promises from authorities that electronic monitoring would protect people in the community. But on Monday, a sex offender being monitored by authorities broke into a 70-year-old woman’s home in Jacumba and molested her, the Sheriff’s office has announced.
A year ago when KNSJ radio launched, the station promised to air our live wildfire and emergency alerts. Saturday is their anniversary party - please send a message TODAY asking them to honor this promise!
In the July 2013 Chariot Fire the station did go live and I reported on the fire on Mt. Laguna. For a few weeks, KNSJ aired our alerts with a delay of an hour or so, promising to improve technology to get real live alerts. Later KNSJ stopped airing wildfire alerts at all. I’ve pleaded with KNSJ to air Viejas Wildfire Alerts as promised, which we offer them free, to save lives and keep you safe. In the backcountry when power lines burn and some have no cell service, battery-powered radio is often the only way to get news during fires.
KNSJ’s CEO says having the federal emergency broadcast system in place is enough, but it’s not. It wasn’t activated during recent fires in East County. KNSJ's CEO and Board refuse to even guarantee a start date for alerts or an exact dollar figure that would guarantee these would air. They ask for more money, without delivering on promises made to donors who already gave to support getting alerts on the air. KNSJ also has zero live broadcasting, even for breaking news during fires.
TAKE OUR POLL AND SEND A MESSAGE TO KNSJ: Should the FCC ask KNSJ to keep its promise and air live Viejas Wildfire & Emergency Alerts & have live news broadcasts during wildfires?
June 4, 2014 (Jacumba Hot Springs)—Slipping away to the high desert community of Jacumba Hot Springs proves a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Not too long ago, Jacumba nearly became a ghost town after a resort hotel from the ‘20s burned down and Interstate 8 was built, drawing traffic away from Old Highway 80 through the heart of Jacumba. But then a revitalization committee petitioned the state to take back the town's historic name -- Jacumba Hot Springs. Since then, these movers and shakers have infused new life into a town named by the Kumeyaay Native Americans who once camped here in the winter months: Jacum—a place of healing waters.
Now celebrating its centennial year, the town recently hosted the Healing Waters & Arts Festival--a successful event for the community and guests alike.
May 24, 2014 (Jacumba Hot Springs) – Jacumba Hot Springs (Jacumba) celebrates its Centennial with a major festival on Saturday, May 24th in downtown Jacumba. The Healing Waters & Arts Festival will stretch along Old Highway 80, from the old pink bath house ruins on the west end of town, east to the community park.
Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Parking and attendance are free. Attendees will enjoy Kumeyaay Bird Singers, Native American flute players holistic healers, New Age vendors, drum circles, bounce houses for the children, and many unique crafts, clothing and jewelry vendors. Also featured are multiple music venues, art walk with open studio tours, delectable food trucks, Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum display, Campo Motor Transport Museum displays, raffles for prizes and more, all in a beautiful high desert setting.
May 20, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) -- This week’s Destination East County includes many outdoor activities from hiking and fishing to car shows, festivals and outdoor movies! Memorial Day activities are included and two local theatre groups have final weekend performances.
May 13, 2014 (Jacumba) – Tanya Wilkins Aiau snapped this image a 4:45 p.m. on May 5th of a brush fire near her Jacumba home--a fire that she reported to 911.
“I was just passing the Golden Acorn on east bound I-8 when I saw smoke. I didn't have any cell phone service and couldn't tell exactly where the fire was from that distance,” she said. “When I rounded the corner by the billboard (advertising the Rio Bend RV park) at the West end of Walker Canyon I could see flames. I used a call box to call in the fire; the first firetruck passed me while I was on the phone."
May 9, 2014 (Jacumba)—This community walk will include a visit to Jacumba Lake, the Train Station, spectacular 15 foot rattlesnake sculpture created by sculptor Ricardo Breceda, the former site of the Jacumba Hotel and finish up with a tour of the mysterious Chinese Castle.
May 5, 2014 (Jacumba) A series of brush fires broke out on the side of the interstate about 4:30. The fire was initially reported as a single start, but soon it was clear that it was at least three starts. The fire is on the north side of Interstate eight half a mile east of McCain Valley Road.
April 29, 2014 (San Diego’s East County)-- The day started with smoke in the far East County, near Jacumba on Old Highway 80. Cal Fire responded only to find a structure fire on the other side of the border fence. Per the incident commander, the structure was fully involved and crews remained on scene to make sure it did not pose a threat. Since the house had good clearance, there was no threat to vegetation, or the United States.
The second fire was in Ramona. It was a compost fire at Dye Street south of Ramona Street. It was extinguished in short order.
The third and most serious was near the Carlton Hills Golf Course in Santee. A parking lot at Carlton Hills Southern Baptist Church became the Incident Command Post for the blaze, which briefly threatened apartments nearby.
Update 5 p.m. A new fire is reported in the Carlton Hills area of Santee. For timely updates visit www.Twitter.com and follow ViejasAlerts. As of 5:30 p.m., 5 acres have burned in Santee from a blaze that started in the San Diego River bed. Forward spread was stopped at the Carlton Hills golf course with help from four helicopters droping water before the fire reached 125. Fences were burned but no structures were damaged. There were no injuries.
The Ramona fire has been extinguished.
April 29, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) – A full wildland response by Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service has been ordered for a vegetation fire that reportedly began in a compost pile in Ramona. Heartland Fire is also on the scene.
April 5, 2014 (Jacumba) – Tom Lemon sent this surreal looking shot of a buffalo sculpture and man-made caves at the Desert View Tower, long a favorite roadside stop of travelers in Jacumba. Visit it while you still can – word is its long-time proprietor may be set to retire in the near future.
March 17, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) – Could big energy projects proposed in East County lead to the decimation of federally endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep?
From 1972 to the present, the Carrizo Gorge band of these bighorns has plummeted from about 120 sheep to less than 40. “Off-road vehicles, trespassing cattle, poaching in the 1960s and ‘70s, drought, disease and Mountain Lion predation have worked together to push this population o the edge. We hope we can save this group before it is too late,” Mark Jorgensen, advisor to the Bighorn Institute and former Superintendent of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park wrote in the Desert News.
In his comments submitted on four solar projects proposed by Soitec in Boulevard, Jorgensen writes that “Construction of yet another group of solar projects will further impede the free movement of wildlife by reducing habitat connectivity and ruining wildlife corridors.” He further notes that Soitec’s sites are very near lands purchased and set aside specifically to protect species the endangered bighorn, golden eagles and other species in peril.
March 3, 2014 (San Diego): The Fire Safe Council of San Diego County, in partnership with the Resource Conservation District of San Diego County, is offering a free Defensible Space Assistance Program (DSAP) for low income seniors or disabled residents.
February 21, 2014 (Jacumba) - Back by popular demand, the Jacumba Hikers will lead a Jacumba Walk-About on Saturday, February 22. Walkers will meet at 8:00PM at Mr. Jalapeno's Restaurant, 44461 Old Hwy. 80, Jacumba Hot Springs. Breakfast is available starting at 7:00AM. This hike will take you to the Chinese Castle, the natural hot springs, Jacumba lake, the Cook's House, Sand Wash, Railroad Station, through the Jacumba Hot Springs neighborhood with stops at the Jacumba Spa, library/community park, border fence, and ending at Mr. Jalapeno's.
February 17, 2014 (Jacumba) – An 80-year-old woman in a motorized wheelchair crossing Old Highway 80 in Jacumba was struck and killed by a white van turning onto the highway at 6:38 p.m. last night. The victim, Jimmie Dyampert Genet of Jacumba, died at the scene.
“Jimmie was a larger than life character who was liked by everyone,” said Danielle Cook, a Jacumba resident. “I used to see her in the pools at the spa or rolling down the road towards the store and Post Office. She will be missed.”
February 15, 2014 (Jacumba)—Wayne Brammer sent in these photos of SDG&E’s new Eco Substation in Jacumba. The project is (so-named for hooking up to industrial-scale renewable energy projects. But to most backcountry residents, the project is an ecological disaster that destroyed the landscape and used three times more water (90 million gallons total) than SDG&E estimated.
“This thing is a monster and they’re wasting water all over the place, not just here but all the way to Boulevard,” writes Bramley, referencing other energy projects in the pipeline. “We really do need to separate from the city and have our own county,” he concluded, linking back to a reader’s editorial on this issue.
February 10, 2014 (Boulevard)--Yesterday, we reported how three authorities state Soitec's consultant is wrong, Boulevard does not possess enough water for their proposed solar project. Now a video from the February 6 community meeting, at Boulevard, reveals that Soitec's consultant, Dudek, recently underestimated the amount of water needed at SDG&E recent ECO substation project by more than three times what would be the final total. (The original estimate was 30 million gallons and the actual amount was closer to 100 million gallons.) Dudek is also alleged to have seriously underestimated the amount of water needed for the Ocotillo Wind Project. If this is true, how can we assume that Dudek's estimates for the Boulevard project are correct?
The site lists upcoming festivals in this historic high desert community, plus a historical timeline, attractions and tips for visitors. Festivals include a Blues Fest on May 3, a Healing Waters and Arts Festival on May 24, a Fall Centennial Festival on October 4, and a Feliz Navidad Christmas festival on December 6. Scroll down for more details, and visit the Centennial webpage for additional information. The site will be updated throughout the year with even more details, including a separate page for each of these unique festivals.
January 30, 2014 (Carrizo Mountain)—The Jacumba Hikers will be hitting the trail this Saturday at 8 a.m. for an “extreme” hike to Painted Gorge/Carrizo Mountain. Heat and movement over time has created fantastic shapes and colors as the sun illuminates and plays shadows upon this geologic wonder.