Letter To Potrero Residents
Citizens Oversight (2007-12-04) Raymond Lutz
This Page: http://www.copswiki.org/Common/M363
My intention was to mail this to all the voters in Potrero as a response to some of the inaccurate comments in various publications. As I have been under the weather, I will send it this way, and perhaps we can think of a way to mail it out to the voters.
Coordinator, Citizens’ Oversight Projects
Dear Residents of Potrero:
The voters in Potrero are in the middle of a vote-by-mail election which has direct bearing on the disposition of the Blackwater West project. A number things have been said in the Potrero Hotline, the Backcountry Messenger, and in a Blackwater-sponsored publication called Blackwater West, as well as various letters you may have received by mail which deserve a response, but it is impossible to respond by submitting letters to publications which you won’t receive before the election deadline. Therefore, this letter.
It has been said that "outsiders" with a political agenda are manipulating the situation for political gain. Some say that at our rally, many of the protestors were paid to be there. It has been said that we don’t care about the residents and only care about getting our way, and that we’ll be gone, leaving Potrero, when the whole thing blows over. In one cartoon, it is implied that I’ve been telling Carl Meyer what to do, and that there are puppet strings between East County radicals and Potrero activists. I can only guess that the evil eyes in the darkness are supposed to be mine. (and J. Sterling, the mythical Potrero resident who sent that mailer is not even a real person!) All these are deceptions or outright lies.
You may have seen me at the meetings and wondered why I was there, and assumed that if I had anything to say, that it was in opposition to the planning group. “Who do you represent?” I’ve been asked.
Although I don’t live right in Potrero, I grew up in San Diego County, and in fact, both my parents were born in southern California. My father’s mother was Cherokee, and so I am in no way an outsider, either of this county, nor to North America. I live near El Cajon in the unincorporated county area.
My background and training are as an electronics engineer, and I sell products into the neurofeedback industry, typically to psychologists who treat ADHD, autism, migraines, and other ailments that have to do with the function of the brain. Over the last ten years or so, I’ve been working on a novel entitled Coils of the Serpent that integrates both religion and science, finding DNA evidence in the Bible. (That book is now to be released this Spring.) I’m no career politician, but I don’t mind being called a patriotic activist.
I will be frank with you and say that I am no friend of President Bush, and I have always been against the war in Iraq. In fact, in 2000, when Bush first took office, I told my Republican coffee-pals that Bush would come up with some sort of crisis so that he would be re-elected in 2004. Well, we had 9/11 and Iraq. That seemed to do it for a lot of people, and we got Bush for another four years. “Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream,” they would say. Now, I’m in the majority (about 70%), as more people are seeing through the run-up to the war in Iraq. I am especially upset at the mishandling of the budget. I am a fiscal conservative, and I like to keep the lid on spending. It seems that neither party can limit spending once they get in office, but this past six years has been a new record of drunken-sailor spending.
In January, 2006, I wanted to get more involved somehow, so I went to a meeting of the East County Democratic Club. Unfortunately, they said they were planning to fold the club as the president at the time (The Rev. Peter Moore Kochlacs) was going to run for office and could not operate the club. I walked out of the meeting as the new club president. I didn’t know what I was getting into.
In time, I setup meetings, renewed our charter and grew the membership. The service area of the club starts at El Cajon and extends all the way to the Imperial county line, including Potrero. At the end of 2006, we had over 100 members. Unfortunately, it is all but impossible to elect progressive officials in this area as voter registration is tilted heavily to the right. We could see corruption and mishandling of the public trust in many areas but had no idea of how to get it under control.
That’s when I started Citizens’ Oversight Projects, or “COPs.” The idea is simple but very powerful when you put it into practice. You see, as a citizen in a democracy, it is your duty to oversee the entire government from top to bottom. It’s really an impossible task for any one person. But if many citizens take part, we can have a dramatic effect. Each “COP” would just choose one governmental body, and attend meetings, perhaps once or twice a month. It’s unfortunate, but most governmental meetings are not regularly attended by any citizens who are there only to oversee their operation. As a result, some of the groups end up as nothing more than insiders giving goodies to each other to promote their business, their particular religion or philosophical bent.
Early in 2007, we started to set up some “Citizens’ Oversight Panelists” who would attend specific meetings. El Cajon City Council is one that we have been working on, and it’s one of the worst in terms of outright cronyism and corruption. We also have COPs attending the Valle de Oro Planning Group, Jamul/Dulzura Planning Group, and Grossmont Healthcare District. I’ve been contacted from Kansas and Pennsylvania about the idea. When we heard about the situation in Potrero, I started to attend and videotape the meetings and upload them to the Internet so that many other people could see what was going on. Since then, I’ve had the good fortune of making some great friendships in Potrero that will probably persist for years.
Do I have a political agenda? Yes, I would like to see more citizens involved in our government so that we can keep our tax dollars from leaking out into insiders’ pockets and so we can solve some of the big problems our country has. I really think this agenda is not at all partisan. Even some Republicans can understand that we need to limit spending and cover our costs without borrowing from our children. Because of that, we will probably turn Citizens’ Oversight into a purely nonpartisan effort.
It is wrong to say that we came to Potrero to oust the Planning Group because of political persuasion. That’s not the case at all and misses the point of this election. Indeed, I don’t believe that the Potrero Planning Group did a very good job informing the public and reviewing this huge project prior to taking a vote on the matter. The official statement from the Potrero Planning Group—Form 534-—that was submitted in December, 2006, was devoid of any comment on the project save a single chicken-scratch sentence stating that the community had some concern about noise, and approved the project 7-0.
San Diego County is huge—population wise—being larger than 21 other states. Iowa and San Diego County have almost exactly the same number of people, 2.9 million or so. But there are 109 counties in Iowa. We have just five Supervisors on a single county board. That means we have 1/100 the representation on a population basis. Iowa is about 10x bigger, but that still means that on a land-area basis, they still have 10x the representation that we do per square mile. It’s too bad that the Planning groups are considered only advisory and that we have almost no way to have our voices heard. You can talk all you can at the Planning Group Meetings but since they are only advisory, what good are they? Sure, you can go down to the County Administration Building at 9 a.m. on Wednesday and talk for two minutes to the Board, but you could talk till you were blue in the face and nothing would probably happen anyway because the county is mostly controlled by the Chief Administration Officer, Walter Ekard, and other than replacing him, the board is powerless on many issues.
The Planning group approved it much too quickly. Ask any negotiator, you don’t tell someone they have a deal until you at least try to get some concessions. The PCPG had no concerns other than noise. They did not require that Round Potrero Road be fully paved or widened, they did not require a fence to isolate the Cleveland National Forest, they did not get written limits on chopper operations, or any assurances that the pumping of wells on the property would not deplete the common aquifer and cause all the wells in Potrero to dry up.
Later the planning group reviewed their original vote. That only happened after the community brought in signed petitions and served them with recall notices. Today, they act like everything was done up front, but that is simply not true. Nothing would have happened were it not for strong community opposition.
The opposition started in Potrero, by Potrero residents. I helped by constructing a web site and taping the meetings and giving some guidance to both the Planning Group and the residents in opposition. The idea that Carl Meyer was taking direction from me or anyone else is patently false. I’ve only talked with Carl a couple of times. He’s very self-sufficient. He doesn’t need me to tell him what to do.
It’s important to understand that strong opposition to the project is the best way for Potrero to get the best shake from this situation. If you go into the room with a huge corporation like Blackwater and you come out with the first deal they slap on the table, you’re not doing your job. For this reason alone, the existing slate of the Potrero Planning Group deserves to be replaced.
Yet, even with that strong evidence, I think it is best not to think of the recall election as an election about the current members of the Potrero Planning Group. Instead, consider it as your opportunity to weigh-in on the Blackwater West project. This recall election is the ONLY way to get any direct representation. The Potrero Community Planning Group could have performed a structured poll of the community to gauge the will of the people and then be representatives of the people, regardless of their own thoughts on the matter. I can tell you right now, it won’t happen with the current board, and they did not do any such poll. This recall election is a gift to Potrero. Treasure it. This election is the most effective way for the community to weigh in on the project. Indeed, if the board is recalled, Blackwater should pull the project from the planning dept.
Now about some of those other issues. No one was subcontracted at the rally to be there and paid. If anyone was paid, you could point at the Blackwater employees, such as Brian Bonfiglio, passing out hats and pins across the street. And contrary to statements in the media, the rally did not produce “tons of trash.” We had trash bags and picked up. The County Park nor the property owner complained. Our march stayed to the right, allows cars to pass, and was very respectful of the community, even respecting the property-line chain added by Bonfiglio.
People said that we didn’t discuss the issues about Potrero. Unfortunately, they missed the entire first day of the event at the Potrero County Park where we had several seminars and lengthy discussions. People who actually attended our event were very pleased. Even “conservative Republican” Ken King, who is running for the 52nd congressional district against Duncan Hunter Jr. was at the rally and expressed his opposition to the project based on property rights. He said it just isn’t right for such a huge project to be placed in an area where residents counting on adherence to the master plan. It just shows you that you can be against the project and be from either side of the aisle. This is not a partisan issue.
Another angle the pro-Blackwater group is trying to work is to say that the Stop Blackwater residents aren’t good citizens because they didn’t volunteer at the Potrero Volunteer Fire Department. Thell Fowler commented at the recent meeting that I was amiss because I didn’t stop by the PVFD. He forgot to mention that we delivered about eight tons of relief supplies using a U-Haul truck that we rented on our own dime and drove the supplies from Escondido. Brenda Wise mentions how some people helped, but seems to forget our contribution. “I didn’t notice that you were driving the truck,” she said later. Well, maybe you remember when we shook hands that night and you thanked us for the delivery. Others found that the atmosphere was not as stifling at other relief centers where people did not wear Blackwater hats and pins.
We are in the middle of an intense public relations campaign by Blackwater. All the reports that Blackwater was the first on the scene to provide needed supplies quite late in the week after the fire storms (where was the official relief effort?) and they had established some tents in Barrett Junction where almost no one wanted to stay were bad enough. But when you couple this with other evidence, such as the firing of the editor of the East County Californian and replacement with a gutless editor who accepted the mandate to stop reporting on Blackwater because it was no longer an important news story, then you start to wonder how much influence a company with over a billion dollars of tax-payer revenue can have in our county.
Blackwater wants to make you think it is patriotic to support their company. Is it automatically patriotic to support a company just because it makes it’s money on tax dollars? Or is it the idea that they use military personnel who have been trained by our tax dollars and then put through Blackwater finishing school so they can be deployed internationally. Blackwater splits hairs when they get so defensive about the word “mercenary.” There is no question that one of the Blackwater companies, Greystone, Ltd., deploys soldiers internationally, taking “ex-pats” from other countries and deploying them elsewhere. They get around this problem by making sure they say “Blackwater USA” in each sentence about being a mercenary.
There are many people who have contacted me and are concerned about the trend to outsource core competencies of the military, such as training. In fact, I find vets tend to be the most adamant that the whole idea is wrong. During the 1990s, a great many military bases were closed during the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program, primarily designed by Dick Cheney. Now, we find that we have too few training facilities. In over 200 years of our nations history, that problem was solved, but never by hiring corporations to open those facilities in and near residential areas. In all those closed bases (many of which are ruined land on the super-fund cleanup site list) I would hope that we could reuse some of that ruined land as a training facility, away from residential areas, and so that another precious valley is not ruined in the process.
Assurances that they will only use the valley for training law enforcement and military was dashed to bits at the Sept. 13th Planning Group meeting when I asked Bonfiglio if Blackwater may entertain border security contracts and perhaps use Round Potrero Valley as a base of operations. In so many words, “yes” was his answer. He made is sound like I was making the case for lax border security. That’s not the point. The point is that the acreage used in their current plans may be vastly increased if they get any of these contracts and use Round Potrero as a base of operations. Traffic on Round Potrero and Potrero Valley would then be seriously increased as well.
In the end, it is important to send a clear message that the voters will not stand for shabby handling of such a huge project. We must put Blackwater on the defensive and halt this project in its tracks and take a fresh look at what sort of training facilities are required and make sure they get built on governmentally controlled sites, away from residential areas. I’m not against training facilities. I’m not against the military. I am against putting military training facilities in Round Potrero Valley and outsourcing that business to a private firm.
Now, if you haven’t voted yet, please do not trust the system to handle your ballot correctly. First make a photocopy of your completed ballot. Then hand deliver it to the Registrar of Voters office. This is especially true on the last several days of the election. You can’t rely on the mail to deliver your ballot to the office in time (and we don’t know how many BW operatives work for the postal service!)
They don’t honor the postmark. On December 11th, it is not just a suggestion that you should hand-deliver the ballot. You must do so, and you have to do it yourself (although a resident can help several other residents by bringing in their ballots as long as it is signed appropriately on the envelope.)
Please, let’s stick together on this and stop the invasion of our county by Blackwater.
Citizens’ Oversight Projects