Backlash over plans prompts recall vote: Potrero group had OK'd training center
Union Tribune (2007-07-31) Anne Krueger
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By Anne Krueger
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
July 31, 2007
EAST COUNTY – Anger over the proposed Blackwater USA training facility in Potrero has led to the county's first recall election targeting planning group members.
Voters in the backcountry community will decide whether to remove five Potrero Community Planning Group members who voted last December in favor of Blackwater's plans to build a center to train law enforcement and military personnel.
The recall is the latest incident in the Blackwater controversy, which began last fall when the North Carolina-based government contractor submitted its proposal to build the center on a former chicken and cattle ranch.
The Registrar of Voters Office verified late last week that the required 132 recall petition signatures had been submitted. Gordon Hammers, chairman of the planning group, said the group will order the recall election at its Aug. 9 meeting.
Three other seats on the nine-member planning group were declared vacant when county officials determined that those members, who had served more than a year, had never been officially appointed by the county Board of Supervisors.
The recall election must be held within 125 days after the planning group orders the election. If it is successful, only one planning group member, Jan Hedlun, who took office in January and is the group's lone Blackwater opponent, would remain on the board.
The county would pay for the recall election; its cost has not yet been determined.
County officials said the election is a first for the county's planning groups. Planning groups are advisory bodies that offer recommendations to county officials on land-use matters.
Blackwater USA's proposal to build a training camp has stirred a fury in Potrero and beyond. The 824-acre site would have pistol and rifle ranges, a helipad, an armory and a defensive-driving track.
The planning group voted unanimously to give preliminary approval to Blackwater's plans in December. As word of the project spread, many Potrero residents said they feared the base would cause excessive noise and traffic in the community of fewer than 900 residents. Other critics oppose Blackwater's role as a military contractor in Iraq.
After intense criticism, planning group members agreed to reconsider their December vote. That is also scheduled for Aug. 9.
The ultimate decision on the project will be made by the Board of Supervisors after the completion of an environmental review process, which is expected to take a year and a half.
Carl Meyer, a 35-year resident of Potrero, said he and others began collecting signatures because planning group members didn't share their concerns about Blackwater.
“The community has a desire to have their community planning group represent them,” Meyer said. “If they don't, they've got to take the consequences.”
Hammers, the group's chairman, said those seeking the recall spread misinformation about Blackwater while gathering signatures for the vote.
“They used scare tactics,” Hammers said. “Once the people find out that all those things were not true, the people who told them are not going to be admired for it.”
The recall is being sought against Hammers and planning group members Thell Fowler, Jerry Johnson, Mary Johnson and Janet Wright. Planning group members Emil Susu, Eric Berger and Mike Rubalcava were removed from the board because they were not properly appointed.
Fowler said the planning group submitted its meeting minutes to county planning officials after each of the three was appointed to fill a vacancy during 2006.
County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents East County, said she never got letters from the planning group seeking approval of the appointments, as required by county policy.
Anne Krueger: (619) 593-4962; firstname.lastname@example.org