Planning group has 7 running for 5 slots
Union Tribune (2008-08-28) Anne Krueger
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Blackwater deal divided community
By Anne Krueger
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
August 28, 2008
Blackwater Worldwide has left Potrero behind, but the controversy engendered by the company's aborted plans for a training camp in the rural community remains.
Two of the five planning group members who were recalled by voters last December because of their support for Blackwater are now trying to return to the board. They face five other candidates – including two who defeated them in the recall election – in a race for five seats on the nine-member board.
Former planning group members Gordon Hammers and Thell Fowler are trying to return to the board in the Nov. 4 election. William Crawley and Terry Stephens, who won election in the recall, are seeking a full term. Appointed incumbents Karey Giguere and Janet Warren also are running, along with challenger Doreen Ortmeier. All of the candidates are seeking a four-year term on the board, which makes advisory recommendations to county officials on land-use issues.
Before Blackwater brought its proposal to the community off state Route 94, Potrero planning group meetings usually got little attention and only a few people showed up.
That changed in December 2006, after the planning group unanimously gave an early approval, with conditions, to Blackwater's plans to build a military and law enforcement training center on an 824-acre chicken and cattle ranch.
Residents said they didn't want the security contractor in the community, or the noise and traffic that a training camp would bring. The issue drew national attention because of Blackwater's role as a contractor in the war in Iraq, and hundreds attended a protest against the company's plans.
Five members of the planning group who favored Blackwater were recalled, to be replaced by five others who opposed Blackwater. Three other members of the board were removed when backers of the recall discovered they had been improperly seated.
In March, Blackwater officials pulled their plans for the training camp after tests showed the facility wouldn't meet county noise standards. Blackwater is now operating a Navy training facility in a 61,600-square-foot building in Otay Mesa.
Hammers, 70, the former chairman of the planning group, said the planning group needs his 20 years of experience on the board before he was recalled.
“I'm trying to bring some balance to the board,” Hammers said. “They don't have my knowledge base. They're just kind of groping for direction.”
Fowler, 70, who served on the planning group for 12 years before the recall, also said his experience can help the board. He said Potrero is still trying to recover from the divide that Blackwater's proposal created.
“Our community broke up quite a bit,” Fowler said. “Our community can heal. It has shown it could heal.”
Crawley, 34, a security guard who was elected in the recall, said he is doubtful that Hammers and Fowler will return to the board.
“The public knows who they are,” he said. “I don't know how they think they're going to win.”
Crawley said he wants to keep working on Potrero's community plan as part of the county's update of the general plan, a guide for future growth. He said he wants Potrero to remain a rural community and encourage agriculture.
Stephens also said she wants to ensure that Potrero stays a small community. She said she wants to stay on the planning group “to protect the growth and make sure it doesn't become an industrial kind of growth.”
Warren who was appointed to the board, also said she wants to continue working on the community plan.
“I kind of like Potrero as the open space between Tecate and Campo, and I'd like to keep it that way,” Warren said.
Warren, 59, said she started a Web site for the planning group, and is now conducting a survey of Potrero residents to determine what they want for their community.
Giguere, another appointee, said she doesn't want Potrero to change.
“I love living here and I think it's a great place and I just want it to keep being a great place,” she said.
Ortmeier, 65, a retired U.S. Customs inspector, said she wants to see an end to the divisiveness that the Blackwater proposal brought to Potrero.
“I want to try to bring it back to a quiet, peaceful, friendly community,” Ortmeier said.
Anne Krueger: (619) 593-4962; firstname.lastname@example.org