Activist a common sight recording local meetings
Ray Lutz is government watchdog
By Anne Krueger
, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 12:04 a.m.
Sean M. Haffey / Union-Tribune
Ray Lutz is an East County activist who is known for videotaping government meetings and posting the videos on his Web site. He also raises questions about how the boards conduct their meetings.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey - Union-Tribune
Angry residents addressed the Lakeside Fire Protection District board meeting Tuesday over the firing of the fire chief.
EL CAJON — It was 7:30 on a Friday morning, and all but one of the people at a meeting of an obscure government agency had to be there.
At the back of the Grossmont Healthcare District auditorium in La Mesa sat Ray Lutz, an El Cajon-area man who’s made it his mission to keep an eye on the way local government officials run their meetings.
With his video camera rolling, Lutz stood up and went to the lectern to criticize the board for a recent vote. “You’re not doing what I think you should be doing,” Lutz told the five-member board.
He got up again to raise questions about another issue up for a vote, and got into a sharp exchange with Barry Jantz
, the district’s chief executive officer, about the propriety of the decision. Ultimately, the board let Lutz say his piece, then voted as had been recommended.
Afterward, board member James Stieringer seemed unperturbed by the verbal fireworks.
law certainly gives him a right to be abrasive,” Stieringer said. “I think he serves a purpose. He causes public agencies to rethink their processes and procedures.”
Lutz, 52, has been challenging elected officials since 2006, when he formed a group he calls Citizens’ Oversight Projects, or COPs. Lutz says too many government agencies do their business with no one in the public watching them.
“It is really our duty to oversee these bodies,” Lutz said, his voice choking with emotion. “If they know Lutz is thinking about us versus no one is paying attention, that’s going to make a big difference.”
Lutz has created a Web site, copswiki.org
, in which he posts his correspondence with public officials, videos of government meetings he’s attended and links to news articles on topics he’s following.
Even some of the officials Lutz criticizes say he’s knowledgeable and passionate but can try their patience. El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis said the only time he’s ever had to turn off a microphone for a public speaker was one time when Lutz appeared before the City Council.
“You get three minutes to talk, but you don’t get three minutes to abuse us,” Lewis said.
Lutz said friction is sure to develop because he’s questioning the way the boards operate.
Lutz is a lifelong East County resident who lives with his wife, Jill, and their two sons in a home just outside the El Cajon city limits. The couple run a Montessori preschool just down the street.
Lutz, who has a master’s degree in electrical engineering from San Diego
State University, formed his own company about 10 years ago to market a biofeedback device he invented that measures brain waves. The device is sold to psychologists to treat patients with conditions ranging from autism
to attention-deficit disorder and migraine headaches.
“It’s a very small niche, so the volume (of sales) is not as much as I’d like,” Lutz said.
Lutz said his interest in government and politics began in 2005, when he was president of the Grossmont Community Concert Association, a group his father formed that puts on shows at the East County Performing Arts Center. Lutz said he didn’t like the El Cajon City Council’s decision to turn over management of the center to Art Beat
, a subsidiary of Christian Youth Theater. With a backdrop of national news events, such as the government’s flawed response to Hurricane Katrina
and abuses of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq
, Lutz said he decided to become politically active.
He became president of the East County Democratic Club, which only had a handful of members. The group now has about 150 members, which Jess Durfee, chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party
, attributes largely to Lutz.
“He’s a one-man force to be reckoned with,” Durfee said.
Lutz’s political activism went into high gear after the former Blackwater USA
started plans for a training camp on 824 acres in Potrero, a tiny community off state Route 94, about 45 miles east of San Diego. Lutz and other opponents were critical of the North Carolina-based company with multimillion-dollar government contracts to provide security in Iraq.
Lutz began attending meetings of the Potrero planning group, an advisory group of elected residents who had given initial approval to the military and law enforcement training center in December 2006. He drove 30 miles from his home to the Potrero Community Center, set up his video camera and demanded to speak at the meetings. As opposition to the project grew, he helped organize a protest that drew several hundred people.
Some residents who opposed Blackwater’s plans welcomed Lutz’s efforts to prevent the center from being built. Others — particularly four pro-Blackwater planning group members who were ousted in a recall — saw Lutz as an outsider and resented him.
“He’s a troublemaker,” said recalled board member Thell Fowler.
Blackwater officials decided to drop their plans for the training camp in March 2008, but emphasized that the decision was made because of problems complying with the county’s noise ordinance.
Lutz said he’s absolutely convinced the opposition led to Blackwater’s decision not to pursue its plans.
“Those (environmental) problems would not have surfaced if people had not been on top of it,” he said.
Blackwater, since renamed Xe
, now operates a training center in a 61,600-square-foot building in Otay Mesa. Lutz also was part of the opposition that led Southwestern College officials to end an agreement in October that allowed police academy students to use shooting ranges at the facility.
Lutz ran for state Assembly against Republican Joel Anderson
in November 2008 but received 39 percent of the vote. He said he has little interest in campaigning for office again.
“I think I can make more progress not running than running,” he said.
Current events have brought Lutz back to the issue that ignited his interest in politics: the operation of the East County Performing Arts Center. The El Cajon council recently removed Art Beat
from managing the center, and now plans to close it for two years for renovations and to search for a new manager.
Lutz, along with his video camera, attended a public forum held by El Cajon city officials seeking comments on improving the arts center.